Carlos Garcia is perched on a ladder, mobile phone in one hand and paintbrush in another, and he’s bringing order to a blank space with a series of anarchic strokes.
Reds, yellows, purple and orange will eventually conspire to make this wall resemble a Cayman sunset, and Garcia has just one line of tape to set off a border above an underwater sea-life motif.
This is the beginning of a new mural painted by Garcia at Morritt’s Tortuga Club and Resort, and at this early stage of the work, he is free to lay on the sky colors in long and wide brush strokes.
He carries the phone to show himself an image of how he wants the final product to look, helping him to scale the sunset and still leave room for the underwater images to come. None of the work is sketched out, and he will freehand each of his images in time without outlining them first.
“The more you train and the more you draw, you’re going to get a facility for sketching before you start,” he says. “In this case, I don’t need it, because to make clouds and those types of things, you don’t sketch at all. Will I sketch the more detailed stuff like the fisherman and the fish underwater? I don’t think so. I don’t want to make lines. I think it’s better when you go fluid through the whole process.”
Garcia has previously painted a lobby-wide depiction of turtles and passing fish at Morritt’s, and he can tick off a group of other locations that already bear his brushwork. There is another group of undersea images decorating the lobby of Atlantis Submarines, and there is the free-flowing graffiti work complete with portraits of music icons Bob Marley, Biggie Smalls and Tupac at Ultra Lounge.
The artist has also painted vivid murals on the walls of Cayman Cabana, Singh’s Roti Shop and the Cotton Club nightclub, and he’ll later work on scenes at Margaritaville Beach Resort and Bodden Town Primary School. But for now, he’s just trying to bring several contrasting colors into one unified image.
“For me, I think the hardest part will be the top,” he says. “I have too many colors and I have to mix so many colors. It’s not like when you’re doing the deep blue of the sea. You’re going dark to bright. In this case, you’ve got orange, yellow, red and a kind of bluish color. You make it like a sunset spreading.”
It’s an endlessly fascinating challenge for Garcia, a self-taught muralist who began painting within the last decade. The artist lived in Cayman from 2004 to 2009 and helped his mother in her clothing boutique, but he didn’t get heavily into painting until he went back to live in his native Honduras.
He began his own clothing line called Chile Venenoso – Spanish for poison chili – that featured hand-painted designs on shirts, hats, jeans and shoes. From there, he graduated to canvas and he branched out shortly thereafter into wall art as a way to further diversify and test his ability.
“After this job, I hope it’s going to take me to another one and another one,” he says, while painting the sunset scene of a fisherman and underwater sea life at Morritt’s. “I want my work to spread all over this island. I want to let people get to know me and inspire other artists.”
Six months ago, Garcia came back to Cayman to work for Camilo Osvaldo Naranjo, the manager of Loyalty Ink tattoo studio. Naranjo hopes to assemble a team of artists who can work in disparate mediums like body painting, handcrafted clothing, custom furniture, murals and interior design.
To that end, Garcia has been painting murals all around town, sometimes with the help of artist Tommy Melendez Santos, and it all began with their work at Morritt’s and Atlantis.
The whole process of mural painting began to achieve critical mass, says Garcia, after their experience at Latin Taste Restaurant on Mary Street in George Town. The artist did some interior decoration work there, and when he was done with his paid work, he asked the owner if he could paint the outside wall for free.
“I told him, ‘Please just give me the wall. I’ll paint it for you,’” says Garcia of the outside wall that eventually became a stylized parrot and turtle. “He said, ‘Go ahead.’
“And after that, everything changed in the plaza. People loved it and went there to take pictures with the mural. That’s the whole point of it. I like to get involved with those type of things. I’ve only been here for six months since I left my country, and it’s like starting again. But I have my portfolio, and in that way it’s easy for me to go and talk to these people about what I do and what my proposal is.”
If it’s just a one-panel wall, Garcia says he can paint it in as quickly as eight hours. But the two paneled painting at Morritt’s will eventually take him a couple of days to complete. The theme of underwater sea life repeats itself in his art, but his work at Margaritaville focuses on sectioned fruit.
The work at Cotton Club is a painting of a woman dancing, and in a way, Garcia’s work has become a spectator sport. People watch as he paints the scene at Morritt’s, and he says he’s used to it.
“People think it’s so easy when they see me painting,” he says. “They say, ‘Oh, you do it so fast.’ But that’s because I’ve basically been painting every day since 2009. Your hands get very educated and you make good movements. You have support in your arms. But when you do it for so many hours a day, you start feeling pain. It’s like any other work. Physically and mentally, you get tired too.”
The funny part for him is seeing the way his family reacts to his newfound skill.
Just a few years ago, he says, he asked his sister for the opportunity to paint a wall, and she rebuffed him because he wasn’t a professional yet. Now, he has a body of work he can show to anyone.
“They’re very proud. I feel they’re proud of me when they talk about me,” he says. “It’s very funny because at the beginning, they didn’t believe what I was doing. They had never seen me paint in my life. They were like, ‘Are you for real?’ But since then, they know I can paint.”
Interestingly, as Garcia and the artists from Loyalty Ink paint the town, there is also an organized art movement from the creators of KAABOO Cayman. The first edition of the Caribbean music, art and culinary festival is scheduled for February, and its artists have been in town painting their own murals.
Amandalynn, KAABOO’s artistic director, painted the butterflies and foliage on the side of the Camana Bay underpass, and she assisted Ian Ross in creating the gigantic green canvas of geometric patterns at the former home of Mitzi’s Fine Jewelry on West Bay Road. Another KAABOO affiliated artist, Jet Martinez, painted the elevated floral pattern across from the Bay Market in Camana Bay.
KAABOO takes about 18 months of advance planning and painting to become an immersive art experience, says Amandalynn, and the Cayman event has had considerably less than that. But they’ve benefitted from their prior experiences in California in preparing for the Cayman show.
“I know a lot of people,” says Amandalynn of choosing the artists whose works will be displayed at KAABOO. “When you start painting murals around the world, you tend to gather a family of artists. I spend a lot of time on the Internet and I talk to friends, and we’re always showing each other artists. I have so many artists I’m a fan of that I could never have enough festivals to fill them.”
Ross, like Amandalynn, is based in California’s Bay Area, and he was thrilled to have the opportunity to come to Cayman and create a work that could last for decades. His jungle green painting at Mitzi’s consists of several interlocking patterns that play into and off each other, and it took the two artists about a week and 15 gallons of paint to get it looking the way they wanted it to look.
“I tend to really try and expose myself to the work and the moment and react to what it’s doing,” says Ross of his giant mural. “I guess the most time-consuming part is that decision-making process and figuring out what it wants to do and where it wants to go and how to scoot along in that direction. My work carries one into the next [pattern] and into the next. And they’re slow reads; the longer you look at them, the more you see there. For me, the toughest part is stopping. I really enjoy doing it.”
Mitzi’s building was the final mural painted in the run-up to KAABOO Cayman, but Amandalynn plans on coming back in December to paint some structures that will ultimately decorate the concert venue.
The festival will also feature a lineup of visual artists that will have their work displayed at the concerts, and Amandalynn hopes to bring Cayman art to the attention of the greater outside world. That group of artists will be announced in October and will be selected by voters within the KAABOO family.
“We’re trying to focus mainly on Caymanian artists and maybe involve some of the muralists who have come and painted,” says Amandalynn of the chance for artists to have a prominent place alongside the bands that make up the KAABOO brand. “You submit your portfolio and there’s a jury. I’m part of the jury, but I’m not the final say. If I had the final say, we’d have way too many artists involved.”
But can you ever have too many artists in a gallery?
Garcia, who’s changing public spaces on the island at a prolific rate, knows how art can change and galvanize a community. He says that as his skill grew in his native Honduras, he sought out empty walls to express himself, and he was pleasantly surprised at the way people reacted to his work.
Slowly, he says, the paintings he did began to represent the way his neighbors felt about themselves.
“The impact these things make in the community is so great. People love what you do,” he says of brightening the world through murals. “They like to see a wall that was ugly turned into a beautiful thing and they like to take pictures of it. It’s the vibe. And the young people, you kind of influence them. They just come and take the brushes and then they start painting. That’s what I want to do here.”