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|El Jardin del Eden [The Garden of Eden] -1974.
This image shows only half of the entire mural. It was painted on the walls surrounding the altar of the Iglesia Fuente de Salvación Misionera Inc. located in el barrio Lijas de Las Piedras, Puerto Rico. At the time this was the largest protestant (Pentecostal) temple in the island. This is also John's first mural at the age of sixteen.
The mural, done in acrylic paints over smooth rendered concrete walls, was created in a style reminiscent to medieval tapestries. It is approximately 2,275 square feet in size, 21 feet at its highest point. Under the radiant tropical sunlight, the mural's bright colours reflected beautifully on the polished terrazzo floors thus creating a mirage effect.
John spend six months creating his first masterpiece, an awe-inspiring feat of work from someone who had never painted before. Doors to restrooms and offices were made almost invisible in the mural. Signs that read "damas" and "caballeros" respectively [ladies and gentlemen] were later added so that visitors could find their way into the restrooms. In this picture notice the sign posted for the ladies' restroom on a tree at the extreme right of the painting.
At the temple's inaugural celebration attended by over ten thousand people, among them government representatives and delegates from 54 churches between Chicago to Buenos Aires, the mural became a sensation. By the time the week-long celebration was over, John had been approached for several mural commissions.
During the next two three years he painted over two dozen murals, half of them in temples, and several smaller paintings. But the "mural de Lijas" remained his most popular and visited artwork -the one that launch his career. Since he was still a high school student during this period (and was also enrolled in advance college and theological courses during the evening), John only accepted the largest size commissions (regardless of subject matter) which he painted solely on weekends.
These murals were John's schooling. To complete a commission in a short time he learned to paint fast. He also painted before a large audience. He equated the experience to theatre and greatly enjoyed the exchanges with the viewers. This mitigated the fact that he hated painting; the smell of the paint made him sick (John has always been very sensitive to smells).
Because of his limited time scheduled for painting, he planned every mural like a play before opening day. Consequently the execution of a mural became simply a matter of skilful mechanics, almost an unconscious process that bored him the more it took to complete a job. But regardless of his distaste and boredom of painting, one could never guess it from the finished work.
In July of 1977, at the age of nineteen, John moved to Cleveland from Puerto Rico to study art at the Cooper School of Art. His admittance portfolio was pictures from the Lijas mural. Ironically, after a disappointing year of study at the University of Puerto Rico's Humacao Regional Campus, his skills as a painter became his ticket into the great adventure he always craved -literally, visiting new worlds.