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Tuesday, 02 February 2016 Written by // Felix Garmendia Categories // Art, Gay Men, Felix Garmendia, Living with HIV, Opinion Pieces, Population Specific

New York's Felix Garmendia has a strong connection with art – and sometimes it has shown itself in mighty humorous ways


There are many ways to ease the adversities of illness. Many people use all kinds of things in order to improve the quality of their lives. Some things fall into the “spiritual” category, others fall into a secular daily life ritual. 

We tend to surround ourselves with the kinds of objects that make us feel something, that prompt a reaction in us. If you are at home, look around the room where you are right now. What kind of feelings do you get? Can you see objects with a special “energy” that trigger memories? 

We gather things for many reasons. Some of them are utilitarian, others we acquire just because we like how they make us feel, or simply because they make us FEEL. Think about your favorite object. What is it? Why is it special for you? How does it make you feel? 

Humans have been attracted to “interesting” things from the beginning of time, “beautiful” things which enhance our bodies, our living space, ourselves. This is where the ancient magic of art becomes a healing tool. As human beings, we have learned to decorate our bodies and our living spaces as a way to create a pleasant environment or identity that enhances our existence in this world. 

We learned very early to admire the beauty of nature. Nature becomes our first museum, our first spiritual clinic, where we use nature’s images, sensual offerings, and emotional responses as a panacea for all kinds of emotional, physical or spiritual ailments. We, as a race, learned to express ourselves very early and from the marriage of magic and nature, art was born. Art is US and we are ART. This relationship is a perpetual Fibonacci spiral of life that repeats itself over and over again as a human need to express a feeling. Art is a human need as much as oxygen is. 

As a former art teacher, I saw many times how “special” students blossomed in their creative process. The colors, the textures, the visuals full of sensual stimuli made many sad little faces in my classroom smile. Art has in fact been very close to my heart since I was a child. In many ways, I’m not different from the ancient cave drawing, I’m indeed a stroke of ancient color in that magic. A museum was my first shelter from a world where I never fit in. I reached out for art very early in my life to heal myself. 

I’ve had the opportunity to visit some of the best museums in the world. I’d like to share with you the following two stories that describe my relationship with art and myself, two of many examples of how art have touched my life. These memories are etched in my skull forever. If any part of these narrations brings a smile, I will feel very happy. More than happy, more like JOYFULL because it will further prove my belief that art has the ability to heal. Art has the ability to help exorcise pain and sadness from the soul.


The almost prismatic beauty of a Monet is magical. I live in N.Y.C., where we have “The Museum Mile” hosting some of the most celebrated pieces of art in the world. One of my favorites is “Reflections of Clouds on the Water-Lily Pond" by Monet. This magnificent piece consists of three panels. The entire piece measures over 40 feet long, by almost seven feet tall. It’s enormous! It’s part of the permanent collection of the M.O.M.A. (Museum Of Modern Art). It’s also presented alone in a gallery where your eyes, in a fantastic trickery of art, lose themselves into splashes of light, color and reflections.

The first time I saw it, I was confronted with beauty and artistic magnificence. The feeling was overwhelming. The water was so “real” to the point that it seemed to be moving.

Now, going back in the story. Earlier that day, on my way to the museum, I made a stop in Central Park. It was a beautiful summer day, beautiful sky, beautiful surroundings and in harmony with nature - and in the middle of a huge city like New York.The world was perfect.

I crossed the park, made a stop and behind some old tree, indulged in one of my favorite ways, and crossed 5th avenue on my way to my lilies.

I sat alone on one of the sitting facilities offered by the museum for the full enjoyment of this masterpiece.I sat and swam amongst lilies, felt the fresh air on my face, engulfed the vibrant colors that the light made glistened like jewels and had a mystical experience with this impressionist painting.

I was very thankful for my short stop in Central Park where I indulged in one of my favorite pastimes. I’m sure many of you are wondering what was that? For those of you who know me, it's not that much of a mystery, the time was 4:20 p.m... If you are unclear about the 4.20 (420) reference, look it up.



Recently, my friend Carroll posted a picture on Facebook of Rembrandt’s famous painting “The Night Watch”. Carroll's posting was very interesting as it depicted a group of adolescents at the Rijks Museum in Amsterdam. They were all concentrated on their cell phones while ignoring the masterpiece - a big comment on today’s generation.

I remember the time I saw it. It was 1984 and I visited Europe especially to try to go to as many art museums as I could. When we arrived in Amsterdam, I couldn’t wait to run to the Rijks Museum especially to stand in front of the “Night Watch”.

When I arrived at the museum, I was as excited as a kid - so excited, that my stomach started to bubble with anticipation. I had to procrastinate the magical moment with a precautionary visit to the toilet. I covered the toilet seat with a ton of toilet paper and proceeded to try to unsuccessfully read the graffiti written in Dutch on the walls of the stall. In a hurry, looking forward to finally see “The Night Watch”, I pulled my pants up and ran to the Rembrandt galleries. 

I found “The Night Watch” immediately. In a state of artistic ecstasy, I started to admire this magnificent masterpiece. After a couple of minutes of standing in front of the painting, a guard touched me on my shoulder and pointed at my belt. When I looked down, I was totally embarrassed by the scene. Looking at the floor, I realized that in my urgency to run to see the painting, when I pulled my pants up, a "l-o-n-ggggg...." piece of toilet paper was stuck in my belt. The train of paper was like seven feet long, and when I saw this, I also realized that the whole group of people inside the gallery were all staring at me. I turned red in embarrassment, collected the trail of paper, and put it in my pocket.

I stared at “The Night Watch” for a few more minutes and exited the museum thinking to myself how much the museum’s guard will laugh telling the story of the crazy American that accessorized his outfit with a train of toilet paper.

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