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by Johannah Rosaria / Career July 5, 2017

Woke Dreamer by Garrick Marchena

One of the most talented painters on Curaçao, Garrick Marchena, recently finished a mural of a bird at the new plaza in Punda. In this interview, he gives life advice, tells more about himself, the challenges he faces and his enormous love for Curaçao and Tula.

How would you describe yourself as a person?
‘I’m always trying to be a better version of myself. Continuously learning from my mistakes… I’m not perfect but I try to excel at everything I do. Each day is different so I make the most out of it.’

How did you start out with art?
‘I like to give the credit to my mom. She was the first person I had ever seen do art. She used to make wedding gowns. It was very complicated to do but she absolutely loved it. The cool thing about it was that she used to sketch out her clients. She’d let the ladies pose and sketch them out wearing the dress she was gonna make for them. It was mindblowing to me as a nine-year-old. My love for drawing was born. Because I was very shy and not that popular I used sketching as an escape. My only way out was to create my own world through my drawings.’

What did this perfect world look like as a kid?
‘For some reason, I loved telling stories. I didn’t like still life that much, I liked movement and dynamics. Superheroes, spaceships shooting and people jumping out of planes with parachutes… it was crazy. I was never the main character but always the storyteller, the narrator.’

How have you seen your art progress?
‘It’s pretty weird. Drawing to me is an outer body experience. It’s like I was watching myself get better. I went through a lot of stages where I’d mess up and be like ‘I’m done with drawing, I quit’. Then weeks would go by, I’d miss it, start drawing again and I’d think ‘Wow I got better’. Sometimes even as I’m drawing, I see how to improve myself. It’s mostly good but it can also have a negative impact. I might stop drawing something because I’ll know how to do it better and become discouraged. I still experience that to this day. I’ll draw something or start a project and halfway through I’ll know how I could’ve done it better. Then it’s very hard cause I need to finish it but I’ll feel dismayed. That’s the challenge: pushing through and finishing even though you know you can do better. Even the bird in Punda, as awesome as it is I already know how it could’ve been improved. More color, better techniques… There’s an image in my head and on my way of getting there I know how to get there better, faster and more efficient. I’ve noticed it more and more and it’s kinda driving me crazy. It’s a yin-yang thing, good and bad.’

How do you deal with these challenges you face?
‘I deal with it day by day. I try my best. I gotta feel something though. If you don’t get that feeling of satisfaction then it’s not worth trying cause you’re going against yourself. You have to keep trying. Listen to yourself, don’t be too hard on yourself and be okay with whatever you’re feeling. One of the challenges of being an artist is having a steady income. Whatever project brings income goes first. So I don’t always have the time to improve my personal paintings.’

Why would you feel like quitting drawing?
‘I’d get discouraged or bored. I’d already know how to do something or how to do it better. I love challenges. I love challenging myself every single project every single time. It’s a blessing and a curse, you can’t have one without the other. Every project I do is challenging. I don’t accept all projects because they don’t all give me ‘that feeling’. If the feeling is good I’ll go after it, if not: no thank you. I’m blessed that people give me a lot of freedom. In that freedom, I push myself. Instead of saying ‘I’m gonna do an image, a technique or style that I’ve done already’, I see how far I can go. The thing about pushing boundaries is that you go into unknown territory and you can’t predict how long it’s gonna take. So that’s the challenge usually, especially in my latest projects and I like it, I like always pushing myself.’

How do you learn new styles and techniques?
‘I haven’t had a lot of teachers. I study other artists and how they do things. Especially now that I’ve startedInstagramm, I follow a lot of street artists and muralists. I respect all the artists but I don’t wanna do exactly the same thing they do. What I’m interested in is how they pulled off a project. When you have an idea in your head and a wall or canvas, the challenge is to bring this idea across into reality. You have to solve problems and then art appears. Every artist has their own way of tackling these challenges and I like to study that and see what I can learn from it. Sometimes I don’t agree with all the methods they do but there are a lot of things I can learn, interesting ways of doing it. The few teachers I’ve had have taught me so much that I’m still constantly learning from them. I’ve taken courses from three teachers. Drew Blair is the first person who taught me color theory and to this day I use his technique. I’ll be painting and suddenly stuff that I learned from him will click and I’ll finally get what he meant. I had learned it in his class but I had to do it over and over again until it became second nature for me to understand what he was teaching me back then. Another was Papi Adriana, the few techniques that I was able to pick up from him are priceless. The other two came from New York, they both used oil paint and did classical paintings and figurative portraits. I have always wanted to go more in that direction with classical oil paintings like Rembrandt.’

How would you describe your painting style?
‘Realism style. I also go into the direction of Trompe L’Oeil, trick of the eye, so illusions. For a split second you’ll fall for the trap and think it’s real before you realize that it’s a painting. I’ve done a few of them already and it works really well. Nobody taught me, I learned from myself and by watching other artists. As a kid I drew stories, then I got into comics and thanks to comics I started trying to copy the faces of superheroes like Superman, Batman, Robin and Spiderman. By doing that my brain started seeing things differently and I got into realism. When I was 14 years old I sat my uncle and my cousin down. That was the first time I drew somebody sitting in front of me. I started drawing more and more and getting better and better. That’s how I started drawing realism.’

What does art mean to you?
‘Right now art means life. Art is challenging myself every day and battling myself every day. Art doesn’t stay still, it’s constantly moving, very exciting and very scary at times. It can be scary because of the challenges, the way I push myself. There’s something deep inside of me that wants to push and always try something new. It’s scary but at the same time very rewarding and worthwhile.’

What encouraged you to make art your career?
‘Actually, by listening to people. A lot of people had been telling me to go do something with art for many years but I never took anybody serious because I never took my art serious, it was just a hobby to me. Also, I wasn’t very happy with being a graphic designer, it was becoming a job. When it starts feeling like a job it’s not good anymore. It has to be more than just a job, you have to wake up in the morning with so much drive to go to work and I wasn’t feeling that anymore. One of the turning points was when I got invited to paint in Cuba in 2010. I saw how important art was to the Cubans and how much they appreciated it. For them art means survival. Without art, music or dance they don’t have anything. Their life was really basic when they were isolated from the world in the past. When I met a couple of artists, they didn’t have anything. No art supply stores, no quality paint… everything’s a hustle. They cherished anything they could get their hands on. That made me realize how important art can be for people and their survival to deal with everyday life. That’s why I love painting murals outdoors in the streets. I get to give the average person the chance to appreciate something that they would normally not get access to. Living their normal lives is how they keep their body alive and art is how they keep their soul alive. Art, dance, music and paintings are important, we all need them.’

What advice would you give to people who want to become artists?
‘Listen to yourself. Everybody’s different and all artists know that there’s something pulling them in a certain direction. It’s very tough because society tells you that you can’t live off your art and that you have to have a regular job. But who decides what a regular job is? Who says that a doctor, a lawyer and an accountant are of a higher status than someone who loves to paint or someone who makes things out of wood? That’s crazy! That’s why you have to look deep within yourself and trust that voice from the heart. It’s very scary but you should always try it. That which scares you the most, that’s what you gotta do. It’s scary because it’s against what everybody says and everything that society teaches us. School doesn’t teach us how to survive as an artist, it teaches you how to become doctors and lawyers, but it’s one of the first things they should teach you because it’s important and the world needs art.’

What did you have to survive the most as an artist?
‘Myself. My own self-critique. There are other things of course, like people doubting me. Especially when I paint in public places. The majority loves it but some people don’t understand it and don’t believe in me but you always need to trust yourself and be self-confident.’

How does the society of Curaçao perceive art?
‘We’re at the tipping point. Slowly people are accepting art more and more. I’d like to see more of it of course, like in Cuba where an artist is as important as a doctor or accountant. But it’s getting there. Also, I’d love to see more artists come together and help each other. When I first started out as an artist I saw separation between artists, which is never good. There’s so much talent in the world and everyone has their own unique talent and no one should be afraid to share, do collaborations and work together. When I see the artists from abroad that I follow on instagram come together and make beautiful art projects, I see how they help each other by pushing one another. They bring out something inside the other, get outside their comfort zone and let go of that ego. They’re humble. Not everybody’s ready for it but it’s a positive process to go through that fear. I’d love to collaborate with John Pugh, one of my absolute heroes of trompe l’oeil. He’s one of my biggest inspirations in 3D painting. And huge incredible street painters like El Mac, he travels around the world and paints. That’s what I’d love to do, got to Japan, Australia… and paint Curaçao there.’

What’s your favorite art piece?
‘My first official painting in 2008, Santu Pretu, because it was my gateway. When I painted that I was like ‘Wow I can do this’. A new world opened up to me. The last painting, the bird in Punda combined with the poetry in Indian-style letters, was also really nice. The message behind it is really cool.’

What’s your inspiration?
‘Right now I’m into birds of prey. I like Curaçao’s nature, it’s beautiful and amazing. I’d like to share this beauty with the local people and everybody in the world but especially the local people. A lot of us wake up and we go to work and we go back to sleep and we don’t even realize how lucky we are to live on an island like this. So a lot of my inspiration comes from that, I’d like to open up people’s mind to appreciate our island more. That’s why I’m so into Curaçao’s birds these days. I’ve lived here for so many decades but I didn’t even know that these birds existed. How can you live your whole life without knowing about this bird that lives on the same island as you? That’s a sin.’

What beauty do you see in Curaçao?
‘Natural beauty. You can see that something greater than ourselves created this by how amazing this island looks. How the wind blows, how blue the water is, the plants, the birds… we have all these beautiful things that people should appreciate more. They can appreciate it by opening themselves up to it and looking up once in a while instead of always mindlessly staring at concrete.’

What are your other hobbies besides art?
‘I love music, dance, keeping my body in shape and keeping my body in constant motion. I love all kinds of music, everything that has soul, rhythm and beat. My family loved to dance, I always enjoyed watching them and that stuck with me. I grew up listening to music from the 60’s and 70’s like Earth Wind and Fire, Commodores, Ruben Blades. This music is the root of hip hop, which I fell in love with later. I listen to a lot of music while I’m painting and I experiment with that too. I’m a b-boyer for life and the b-boy mentality of ‘Express and survive’ keeps me young. It also helps me paint difficult murals and keeps my body from getting in the way of creating art.’

How does your painting process go?
‘It starts with a feeling, a feeling I want to share. I figure out how I can let others feel what i’m feeling. It starts with some ideas, sketches and I go on from there.’

What’s your motto in life?
‘Try to be the best version of yourself every day.’

Do you have any future projects that you’re excited about?
‘I’m doing something with Selikor right now to raise awareness about people dumping trash. It’s a scary thing cause I’ve never done something like this before. I’m doing it with kids from neighborhoods where there are problems with people dumping trash. And i’m excited about stuff that i’d like to do for myself. I have everything ready to go but there are a lot of projects that have to go first. One personal project involves Tula and the other involves our native Indians. I wanted to go deep into history and honour them, give them respect by painting them. I wanna give Tula his respect by painting him in a way I haven’t seen painted yet. Tula is more than a person, he is a feeling. I don’t think people on this island have given Tula enough respect and recognition. I haven’t seen anybody teach the lessons this man has to offer in the way it should be. This man is a hero, but he is mostly portrayed as a victim, which he’s not. I want my paintings to show that he is much more, he was amazing.’

What do you think is the most amazing thing about Tula?
‘History proves that his train of thought was hundreds and hundred of years ahead of his time. He was on the level of Gandhi and Martin Luther King jr. and Malcolm X. He wanted to see equality, no such thing as race and that everybody would be equal. In that time where people were treated worse than animals, it was unheard of. If you made a mistake, you’d get killed. But he was thinking ‘Nah we should all be treated as equals because that is how god created us. You just happen to be a different skin colour but that doesn’t mean anything.’ What I like about this guy is that what he used to fuse this idea is this island, we should all be Curaçao as a whole. He had that vision back then already. While the slaves were thinking about getting less punishment, his mind was set on merging all the cultures into one Curaçao. He wanted to see one race, ‘The Curaçao race’, which has nothing to do with background or colour but simply represents the love for the island. The revolution could’ve gone a different way, they could’ve taken revenge and killed all the white people. He could’ve taken revenge on everybody but he didn’t and he managed to convince everybody not to do it, how do you do that? He knew what was going on on the other islands and how Haiti gained their freedom through violence and massacre, but he consciously chose to do it a different way. That’s the definition of ‘hero’ to me. Why doesn’t that get taught in school? That he was on that level and that he knew that there is no barrier between race. The kids need someone like that to look up to. People think Tula failed, he didn’t fail! He gave up his life for something much bigger than himself! That’s the definition of a hero, why can’t Curaçao’s kids learn that? That’s exactly why I want to paint Tula cause I want to bring that message across. Of course it’s going to be challenging, but I’ll do my best.’

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