Meet Jill, founder of CircusAid. I met Jill in at art Basel last year. She walked in to my show and we had an instant connection. A few months later she brought me on board as an artist in residence for CircusAid's summer work in Greece. Working with Jill this past month has been the experience of a lifetime. It has not been easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is. Jill and I have very different backgrounds, political views, and we are both very passionate about what we do. The fact that she hasn't killed me yet on this trip says a lot about her but what really speaks volumes is the work she's doing here with the refugees and us volunteers. Perhaps one of the most rewarding things I've seen here is volunteers from all over the globe from different cultures and with different views and upbringings, coming together for a greater good. From team building workshops to debriefing sessions over a meal, Jill is constantly plotting a road map to effectively administer circus therapy workshops with kids and young adults in the refugee camps. "Our biggest asset when planning is planning to be flexible. The structure and scheduling of these camps is always changing, but the work still needs to be done." – Jill Maglio. The growth I have seen in our team and the kids we're working with over the last three weeks is astounding. Being involved in this work with CircusAid has taught me that growth takes time. Sometimes it's a long and painful process. Empathy has always helped me to grow but in order to practice empathy you have to practice gratitude. I am grateful for Jill. I am grateful for CircusAid, and I can point out 150+ gleeful refugee children who would say the same.
Today I got to do three Art workshops with kids in the camps. Art class curriculum: Draw whatever you want and we build on it!
I also got to begin painting a wall! We will finish tomorrow and i will teach some of the older kids how to use a spray can by blocking in colors of my sketch.
PS- this was so sketchy don't try this at home.
It's weird being here, abroad, doing something so meaningful and not being able to actually take pictures of the kids. All their smiling faces, playing with hoola-hoops and jumping all over us. What we're doing here is magical. We are touched by moments every single day. I want to take pictures of each cute little face and tell their names and stories, but I can't. In the refugee camps just taking a phone or camera out puts up a wall that blocks meaningful connection with these kids. On one hand, its a blessing in disguise. I am forced to be present. To exist simply in that moment. No phone, no pictures, just me and the kids. They are guarded; they have been through a lot already. Being present is not too much to ask of me.
Yesterday I was on equipment duty (standing guard making sure the kids don't steal the hoola-hoops, juggling balls, etc.), while I was at my "post" I was sketching in my sketchbook when this kid came over and motioned to my pen. I handed it over and turned to a clean page, eager to see what he would draw. He proceeded to draw a tic tac toe board. As soon as he finished the last line of it he quickly looked up at me with a beaming smile, locking eyes to see if I understood. This 8 year old boy didn't speak English, but his smile and his energy said it all. He was totally in the moment, just happy, just being a kid. Me and him spoke the same language for the next 30 minutes playing games of tic tac toe in my sketchbook. He won a few games and he also learned some strategy. It was awesome. These are my favorite pages in my sketchbook right now.
Reflecting on the experience i couldn't help but smile. I handed him that pen and I expected him to draw something. Maybe because i was drawing, maybe because its a "sketch book", but I just assumed he would draw. What he drew was the guidelines for a two person game. He just wanted to play. He's a kid. We played! He doesn't know English but he knows my name now. I am excited to see him tomorrow.
Before I left on this trip I had started to lose sight of my angst, my darkness. I wrote paragraphs about how hard it was to find inspiration when life was so "good". Approaching week two of my trip I have already found something. Maybe my "good life" wasn't the problem. Maybe I was simply comfortable.
So far what I have faced here is not merely the darkness of the refugee crisis. It is not just the darkness of politicians in high offices playing political games with people's lives and young children living in camps with very little structure for building life skills. Those things are here and that's why we came, but I have been faced with something else. Something insidious that disguises itself so well, something I can't see. It's something that is inside of me. Its something that tells me to flee when things get uncomfortable. It tells me that "I've had enough", but enough of what?
I am living in a foreign country with a team of four strangers, working side by side day after day. We are on a mission with no road map. We are a team with many working parts in uncharted territory (metaphorically speaking). I am surrounded by things that are not comfortable to me. In fact nothing here is comfortable; it's all new.
The darkness inside of me is awake. It is thriving on these moments of "grow or go". In these moments I have a clear choice. I can turn to my spirit, the light inside me, for strength and guidance through un-comfortability. Or I can turn to my ego; my fear based darkness. This darkness treats every foreign uncomfortable situation as an enemy. Attack or run. Hostility and anger are awake in me. It is time to grow, or go. Go back to my comfort zone. Call it quits. Settle for the spiritual growth I have already achieved and choose to go no further. It would be so comfortable! Ah, my bed. The life I have already built.
Can I overcome my darkness to help change darkness in the world? Can I get to the best version of myself to be an effective and uplifting part of circusaid and all the good we are doing here? I'm not ready to go. Week one in the books.
Week two I will follow the light! God give me strength!
Long day of workshops yesterday. I was able to spend a little time observing and drawing. Here are two comics focusing on two specific moments and two specific refugee children.
I hope to continue elaborating and developing this idea
"PAULY YOU JUST DODGED A BULLET!”
As I wake up from my three hour jet lag nap last night. Rubbing my eyes, …what happened?
“THE WORKSHOP WAS TOTAL MAYHEM! THEY SPRUNG 30 KIDS ON US AND IT JUST TURNED INTO A FREE FOR ALL! "
Jill and Kate were talking about the second workshop of the day. The workshop I opted to skip, since I hadn’t slept much since leaving JFK. We sat there talking about what worked and what didn’t. …time to move forward!
I am learning that our biggest asset will be flexibility and our ability to adapt to ever changing situations with SPEED! So what's the next move?
POSTERS! (the English is being translated to Farsee )
We are hoping that posting specific ages, and times, on posters in the camp implementing sign-up sheets will add some structure to this ever changing environment. In a setting with a lot un stable moving parts. I think for day three, this is some serious progress!
I truly am having a crazy experience so far. I feel like I have jumped in with both feet.
ALSO met this little dude Husan today he was like 5 or 6… he was cool me and him are going to be friends. I wish i could take pictures of all this stuff that would be so easy but photography is not allowed especially not of the kids and refugess in these camps. This actually makes my job a lot more interesting! If you want to see all of it you will have to come to my show in October!
ALSO check this photo out
It is from my first day at one of the camps straight off the airplane. A certain irony, and also a certain alignment with how I try to see the world are captured in the photo. So far it has already inspired the start to some new paintings for this show! It keeps hitting me harder and harder too… ill see where it takes me.
Read more about circusaid here
There's some cool graffiti in Athens:
I miss my wife already:
New studio who dis:
Sunset tonight was rad:
I spent the last 8 days in southern California. My good friend bought a new house on the top of a big hill in Chino Hills. Here is where i set up my makeshift studio for the week.
I drew inspiration from the hills and mountains, the vacation vibes of all the people around me, my relaxed wife (who is a teacher and flew out the very same day school ended), and of course, the voices inside my head.
Here are the paintings i made:
If you would like more information on these works click the button below for a catalog with full details and pricing. Cheers!
When I started making paintings I had a lot to paint about. My life had led me to drug addiction, dereliction, and homelessness. Those experiences shaped the man I became and somewhere along the line I started my journey as a full time artist. Eventually, I would make many good paintings. The context of my paintings is usually positive, but they come from a place of extreme negative. I have been through darkness. Coming out of that is what inspired me to paint. I made it out. I truly had something to say!
Fast forward six years, I am having success as a painter. I have climbed a few rungs of the “art world ladder”. My resume is growing. I am on my way. Okay so…. what do I paint now? A lot has happened in my life in 6 and a half years. I have had plenty of new experiences. I got to visit many countries and do many new things but they were all fun things. My life is good now. Where do I find my darkness? When I close my eyes and remember that day I laid in an alley way, drunk, looking up at the sky asking God “how did I get here?" I open my eyes to my new house, with my beautiful wife, surrounded by my cool stuff… homeless junkie is just not reality. My life is not torture anymore. To be honest, that feels like another lifetime. I don’t feel like the same person who was sleeping in that alley way. It is a part of my story and helped shape the man I became, but who I am today...is a painter and I'm sitting here asking what’s next?!
On July 10th I will fly to Athens, Greece. I will live in Athens for a month working with Circusaid - a nonprofit organization doing occupational therapy with refugees in refugee camps. My mission is to build rapport with people who are in a dark time in their lives. I aim to help them find joy in moments, and also to document my own personal experience with joy and moments. My goal is to be present, ultimately to feel. If i can try to understand these people i can help them find joy, even if only for a moment. When i help i feel. When i feel i make good work. The body of work i make will be shown in NYC in October. The goal is to bring these feelings back to the states - to document what we do with art. I am very excited!