St Joseph Cemetary

San Pablo, CA 1970: Fresco

It was in 1970 when I was commissioned to make four murals at the San Pablo cemetery, I decided to have, as themes, the Nativity of Christ the Crucifixion, the Resurrection and Christ as priest offering the sacraments.

The cemetery itself is a columbarium surrounded by gardens. This ciiy of the dead is based on straight streets running perpendicular to each other and, as far as I remember, all of them of the same width, around seven or eight meters. While one side of the street is straight, with six or seven levels of square niches of travertine marble from floor to ceiling running side by side, the other side goes in and out forming small square plazas with, again, rows of niches all around. On the wall facing the street in four of these squares is where I painted my murals.. The technique is ‘fresco’ and lime is the medium that fixes the dry pigments, making over them a film of carbonate of calcium which, in time, becomes a surface like that of marble.

As I recall, I wanted the paintings to be academic and realistic in appearance. I do not remember the reason, I could equally have decided to have them completely abstract. Maybe it had something to do with the idea of life after death.. Who wants to have an abstract life after death? I do, but the Church is very precise in its teachings about the resurrection of body and soul. The fact is that the results didn’t match the intentions. With the exception of the Crucifixion, the other murals were a mixture of realistic areas -such as the hands of the priest figure- and more abstract representations. As usual I had not had enough time to do the work, (cartoons and studies) and in the end I was not satisfied with the results. I had no feed-back. Nobody came around the place at any time to make a comment or to ask a question while I was there. Nobody that I could see, that is.. But during the painting sessions, while facing the wall, I heard on my back frequent whispering and steps which could have been from observers, but most likely were from distressed visitors going about their business. And so I do not know if the paintings were well received or if they provoked some complaints and dissatisfaction. Maybe the niches on the square where the Crucifixion theme was were more in demand than those niches close to the Resurrection painting, or vice versa. Or maybe the niches close to the paintings are still empty after thirty years..! It would be interesting to know.

Will l ever again go to the BayArea? It seems to be a closed chapter in my life.