Gabriel Gomez laughs out loud as a familiar local calls him out on his shirt. He wears a soccer jersey of the team Real Madrid, a popular soccer team from Spain. When asked about it, Gabriel smiles and shrugs. “I have no affiliation. I just liked the shirt.” He continues painting with ease, the midday sun casting his shadow on top of his watercolor painting. He strokes his brush over the small canvas, the lavender trail outlining small clouds behind the arch.
Gabriel leans back on his small wooden stool. He crosses his arms over his chest and observes a near passersby. “People say you’re going to be poor as an artist, but I was more poor working at a company,” he explains. “I used to work at a rug company for 20 years.” He describes his experience as miserable and that he always wanted to study art in his late midlife, Gabriel decided to begin his education in art.
“I went to the school of Artes Plásticas here in Antigua and learned how to paint there. I’ve been painting 7 years.” Gabriel smiles and puts his hand over his eyes to shade them from the scorching sun. “No one believed in me.” He shakes his head. “Not my wife, or my daughter. No one. I almost got divorced when I started to work as a street artist.”
Every day Gabriel places his small work station at the side of the road in front of Antigua’s most popular landmark: The Arch. Some days he sits underneath it, other days he places his work station two blocks down. He paints watercolor with colors that aren’t present in his surroundings yet highlights their beauty. Purple clouds, orange puddles, lavender undertones and green highlights.
“When I started to sell, the Americans would come up to me and tell me it was good but then they would buy from another artist,” says Gabriel. “So I practiced and practiced until I got better. We all teach each other here.” He looks down the road and spots another fellow street artist. His paintings range in size and price. He points at a blue jay and says, “that one is $20.” No painting passes the price of 20 US dollars.
“My eldest daughter is a nurse. I paid her whole education by painting,” says Gabriel. “When she graduated she came to me and apologized, crying, with her diploma.” Gabriel looks down at his black leather shoes and taps his foot a couple of times. “She told me how she realized that painting could be a job with dignity.” He nods to himself and resumes painting.
Gabriel usually sticks at his favorite spot under the arch, in front of the Hotel El Convento Santa Catalina, where he paints Antigua, Guatemala with different colors but always with the same smile.