Nicarao in Gotham

Liberty raises her torch in New York.
The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Emma Lazarus, 1883 

So came the exiles, looking for a better life.  Exiles like my husband's great-grandfather who crossed the Atlantic alone in 1913 at the tender age of 11, or like painter Franck de Las Mercedes who at 13 years old traveled by land from Nicaragua in 1985 to escape war and be reunited with his mother.
Trinity Church, the Financial District.  New York City.
In the shadow of the buildings I meet Franck for the first time.  He gives us a tour of the city as he sees it, and the journey and conversation make us wander through all corners of the island, even braving a storm! I have heard so much about him but no tales will compare to hearing first hand of the richness of his experience, the pain of his memories, his instinct for survival.
First Baptist Church, Upper West Side.  New York City.

Franck de Las Mercedes was born in Masaya, Nicaragua, cradle of Culture and Art, ancient dominion of the wise "Cacique" and philosopher (chief) Nicarao, and home of the magnificent Volcán Masaya.  Masaya to this day is the guardian of Nicaraguan traditions, her streets alive with the sound of Marimbas and the joy of dance:
Baile de Los Diablitos (the dance of the Little Demons).  Masaya, Nicaragua.

Regardless of distance or time, Franck carries within him the essence of his native land: the colors, the fire, the seismic energy, and the satire so characteristic of his city:

Franck poses with his portrait series, and wears a traditional dance mask.
This joie de vivre is also mixed with pain, and in a dark lounge in  Hell's Kitchen Franck remembers the bombs that obliterated entire city blocks, the bodies scattered on the street, and the day his mother (an outspoken teacher) fled the country to save her life.

All this horror manifests itself in the colors that flow, like blood, in works such as "Passion and Warfare", and in "Wounded Soul", where the glorious bi color of the water slowly stains with kindred blood:

"Wounded Soul".  Mixed media.  24 in x 30 in.

"Passion and Warfare".  Acrylic on Canvas.  50 in x 68 in.

and in the chaotic explosions of paint (part bomb, part pyroclastic blast) that shake his canvas:

"Explosif" Acrylic on Canvas.  50 in x 60 in.
Wounded as he may be, Franck's spirit is not broken.  In the rebellious and satiric tradition of Masaya, Franck dons "La Máscara" (the mask) which in Colonial times granted freedom of speech and protected the wearer from punishment at the hand of the Conquistador.  His portrait series is an homage to poets, artists, musicians, and friends unafraid to speak their mind, many times contrary to their establishment and their government:

"Egoretrato".  Portrait of Ego (self-portrait)
Poets of Nicaragua.  Rubén Darío (left) and Pablo Antonio Cuadra (right)
Franz Kafka (left) and John Lennon (right)

Franck tells me of his first years in New York, the culture shock he experienced in the big city, coming to terms with being an "other".  He also talks about the life and the energy of the city, and I sense that the Mother of Exiles has been for him a source of healing, hope, order, and peace:

"Empire King" Acrylic on Canvas.  52 in x 62 in.  Franck's abstract tribute to New York.  Notice the silhouette of the Empire State Building.
New York has also given Franck a purpose: to turn his "Childhood Ashes" (as one of his paintings is titled) into a message of Peace:

"Priority Boxes" project.
Franck is best known for his "Priority Boxes Project", which seeks to initiate an international dialog, to challenge people in reconsidering their ability to influence change, and to question the fragility, value, and priority given to concepts like Peace.  Free of charge and to every corner of the globe, Franck sends painted US Postal Service Priority Mail boxes, empty of material content, but full of sentiment.  The response to such a simple idea, has been overwhelming; Franck has sent over 10,000 boxes since the project started in 2006, and continues to do so as people request on behalf of friends, colleagues, and institutions who may need a message of Peace, Healing, or Hope:

The night wore on and it was time to leave, time to leave Franck and leave New York.  I'll cherish my encounter with this intriguing person.  Even though my artistic sensibilities lie elsewhere, we understood each as artists, but more importantly we understood each other as progeny of the same feathered-serpent god and pale faces, scarred by the same wars, and healed by the same exile.

Empire King.  The Empire State Building.  New York City.
To view more of Franck de las Mercedes's work, or to learn about the "Priority Box Project" visit his website.

Many thanks to my dear friend Eva Calderón for introducing me to Franck de Las Mercedes. 
All images of New York and Nicaragua by NPL. 
All images of Artwork are the property of Franck de Las Mercedes and reproduced here with his permission.

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