I am not certain where I first met him.
But isn't that true of a lot of our closest relationships? It seems they have existed forever.
The "him" here is my artist friend Ed Gilliam. We have been meeting for breakfast once a week for a couple of years. But I cannot remember if I first met him through his art -- or through his work with the local Indian school. Whichever it was, I thoroughly enjoy the opportunity to sit down with him and share his knowledge of the world.
This last week we talked almost exclusively about a project he just completed. Several years ago he had painted a large mural on one of the buildings at the Indian school. Like most of his murals, it was quite good.
But something went terribly wrong with the paint. Whole sections of the mural started flaking off. And there was no stopping the decay.
He decided to replace that mural with a new one. That is the project he just completed.
I had seen it while it was in progress. Watching him work and re-work sections. Getting his picture of Mexico just right.
No mural is complete unless it has a theme. And this mural is a vision of Mexico as seen through Ed's eyes. And a personal vision it is.
Ed is not a classic muralist. His work is informed by the classic Mexican muralists. But Ed combines a bit more cubism and angular technique than would a Rivera or Siqueiros.
That is apparent in his basic construction. His pieces are generally organized around clearly delineated vertical columns that give his work a structural cohesion.
The central figure in the mural is the patron saint of Mexico -- Our Lady of Guadalupe. But a saint that is more of the people than merely for the people. She exists in the same visual plane with Emiliano Zapata, perhaps the most radical of the revolutionary leaders, and a woman guerrilla fighter from the revolutionary era. Both are on her left.
On her right are two figures representing non-violence (in an almost Hegelian balancing to Zapata's methods). Both figures are very personal to Ed. One is a representation (not really a portrait) of Ira Sandperl, who died last month. Sandperl and his Institute for Nonviolence had a strong influence on Ed's view of the world.
Initially, the figure held a document. But Ed considered that far too cliché -- as if non-violence could be imposed as a negative by law. Instead, he chose paint brushes to emphasize that non-violence is a form of creativity, and that it would only be a reality through its positive creative aspects.
Our discussion reminded me of Jesus' teachings in The Beatitudes. If we could achieve that type of positive life, we would not need to worry about the "thou shalt nots."
The mural is filled with similar moments.
For instance, the figures representing Mexican music may look familiar to some local residents.
No mural would be complete without a nod to one of the common threads that binds Mexico together -- its Christian faith.
If you want a good look at Ed's technique, you can see it in this grouping of Mexican faces. Representing what Mexico is really about. Its people.
And no mural would be complete without its moments of whimsy.
I highly recommend taking a morning or afternoon to carefully study this piece.* It is all there. Order. Design. Tension. Composition. Balance. Light. Harmony. And, most of all, color.
A job well done, Ed. Out of decay, you have created a thing of beauty.
* -- Remember the school grounds are home to some Indian families. Please respect their privacy.