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So then i went to France, to paint a wall. It was a commission from the municipality. They gave me 40 square meters and the trust that i would convert those in something worth the while.
They were really very sweet. They gave me an apartment to live in during the 3 weeks that i thought i would need, a bike to carry me to supermarkets and construction markets, and they drove me around to find the spray cans and varnish that i lacked.
I lacked quite a few. Because i had made photos of the place the year before at the end of an October day, and inspired by those, i had made a design that required like 60 grey spray cans. But when i came there in June, nothing was grey! It was all optimistic greens and deep sky blues and joyful beiges and OMG what to do with all my grey! A miscalculation i hope i will never repeat.
First we had to scrape off the peeling layer of paint that covered the wall, so with masks and heavy machinery and professional peeling paint off walls - suits, we did the job. I felt very cool!
Then it started to rain, and i couldn’t paint (although i tried) and then it rained even more, and then it rained some more. And with the lack of good colours, the lack of a suitable design and the time flowing like raindrops through my fingers, i started to feel like verrrry nervous.
And then the sun came out. And i made long days, to gain back all that lost time. Hours and hours per day, 8 and 10 hours per day, in the burning sun. Oh, life is hard for a maker of art!!! (My tan is great though)
And meanwhile the people of Thyez were so sweet. Inviting me to dinners, wine, cheese, onion soup, coffee, concerts, pizzas, books in french ( I read one and a half, i feel so cool!) and clean sheets and towels.
And then the job was done, and all the mayors (there are like 2 and a half in that village) and important people came to hear my stumbling explanation in french and my words of gratitude, and to pose together for the photo for the newspaper.
And then we happily went to enjoy the quiches and Spanish vegetarian treats (isn’t that extra sweet of them) and wine and local beers to celebrate that, really, sometimes life is quite simple and we don’t always need to weep over refugees or lost animals or injustice or political prisoners: sometimes we can just come together to celebrate that a wall has been painted. Yes.
I have a spray assignment round the corner. It's a shop with 4 roller shutters. They're friendly people who let me do my thing. The general plan is to their liking, so there I go. With my creaking metal ladder, my spray cans and my thermos with English tea. Outside opening hours of course, that's the only time that the shutters are down. Early in the morning until 9, and between 13.30 and 16.30 ( I love the Catalans and their strange dinner habits), and after 20 at night. Before 7.30. the morning there is no natural light, nor after closing time. That I found out when I got up one morning at 5 and thought myself a hero. I could not even distinguish the yellow from the blue cans.
I have been working 3 weeks on the project and got to know all my neighbours. Many of them have a fixed routine. Between so and so late they pass by, or sit down on the bench in front of the shop. With or without dogs, children or shopping bags. Young, old, limping, on bike, in wheelchair, holding hands. Many couples in Barcelona walk holding hands, you knew that? Especially the older generation, that is so sweet.
They compliment, comment, ask, sometimes concerned about 'gilipollas' who might spray their stupid letters over my artwork. Other shop owners, before so typically Catalan-style timid, open up their smiles and talk to me. The progress of the painting is widely being discussed in the neighbourhood.
'Look, she's painting a boy,' says someone on the bench.
'That's not a boy, that's a girl!'
'But yesterday it was a boy, and ugly!'
A couple passes by. 'That parakeet is my favorite,' she says. 'The face is also beautiful but that parakeet is my favorite.' 'She used to have a parakeet,' he explains to me, and she nods happily.
A scruffy collector of metal waste stops his shopping cart, to tell me my art is worth good money. 'You should contact BBC news, they'll connect you to the whole world for well payed asignments.' He drills his bloodshot eyes deeply into mine. 'You should come with me to my computer. Only i have the code to BBC news.' I might as well not.
One of the neighbours in the stairway of my apartment looks up into the eyes of that gigantic face.
'She speaks to me,' he says. 'Some message only meant for me.'
Every night two old ladies come to chat on the bench. They're still both full of fire and liveliness, although the youngest is already in her seventies. They are dressed up nicely, lipstick and all. The older lady doesn't care about putting her teeth in, though. During these painting days she has told me all about her life. When she came to live in Catalunya, about the daughter that died, what she does and does not drink.
'Do you know how old I am? 96!' Well, that certainly doesn't show. When she gets up to go home she offers me a private look in her bag. False teeth. 'They're uncomfortable,' she says and grins broadly.
In those days that i was still roaming the streets to find information on how to survive as an artist in Barcelona, there used to be this cute little bar in El Born, Lilipep. They had alternative, unsellable art on the walls, books on bookshelves, furniture from the second hand shop and a soft couch to bury yourself in after a hard day of touristic city seeing.
I was sitting at the bar, explaining my situation to the bartender and her friend. 'They're not going to give me the permits i need,' i said. 'So i thought, i'll draw portraits at the terraces. That will draw attention and bring extra clients to the terrace. Loos like a win win situation to me. I asked bars in the city center and in Barceloneta, but they look scared when i propose this. They rent the terrace as part of the public space and only have a permit for their own service. The police fine them for any other activity.' I make the wine in my glass go in circles. I like it here. How long can i make one single glass of wine last? There is no money for more.
'You could do what the Rose Paki's do,' says the friend. 'Hop in and out of a bar. Talk to a couple, smile, offer them a portrait as a unique souvenir from their vacation. You should have a few catchy oneliners. If you do it like this, for sure there will be a few bar owners who'd let you. The rose Paki's are being tolerated after all.'
''Great idea,' i nod bravely. But from the inside i cringe.
We did something alike in Granada, last year, me and my in those days not yet absent husband. I drew one minute- portraits on the back of my flyer that said: Your portrait in 30 minutes. I'd give them away as a present. I actually sold one 30 minutes portrait. And i learned to draw people's faces super quickly (always look for the sunny side of bad luck). Interestingly, the poor looking people reacted friendly and sometimes we would end op chatting amiably. But the posh looked me up and down with disdain. (Sorry guys, it was only a little present).
Collecting rejections, some call it a healthy exercise, but i am not especially fond of it. And now i have to become a Portrait Paki. I can't extend the wine any longer, put the empty glass on the counter and go home disheartened.
I am talking about permits with a Don Quixote producing painter at the Sagrada Familia.
‘Terrible,’ he says. ‘The way the municipality treats street artists, awful! People think this city is all about art, but we can’t sell our work anywhere without a permit, and permits are impossible to get.’
‘So you don’t have one?’ i ask.
‘Not me,’ he says. I’d love to sit here, enjoying the good weather, drawing a little, chatting a little with clients. But here i am, with this case with drawings. As soon as i see the police, i slam it shut and run.’
‘Well, it’s okay. I sell well. In the summer i am at the Costa Brava or in Mallorca, wintertime i spend in the Canary Islands.’
‘You go there for holiday or to work?’
‘Whatever i feel like doing. You see those painters over there? They are members of an association, they have to stick to all kinds of rules. I’m not fit for that. ‘
‘You like your freedom, don’t you.’
‘Oh, freedom, my muse!’ he exclaims, throwing his arms up in the air.
I am inspired. I’m gonna do it like this too. Without permits, just illegal. And if i sell well, like he says he does, i can go travel. Then i’ll do it just anywhere around the world!
I don't have a photo of the Don Quixote producing painter, so i chose one of me painting, a llooong time ago.
Before painting started to provide me with enough money to survive, i did Airbnb for a while. I can not even begin to sum up the wondrous encounters, there are so many of them, and they were so rich.
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