"We hope our community will once again become an artistic and prosperous place where people can paint freely with their hearts."
"I'm Juan Henry Mendez, an artist from a Maya community in Guatemala. There, I grew up, and all my hopes and dreams were born there.
"As a child, I was very curious about pencils and other objects that could mark surfaces. I remember I was always scrawling on walls and my mom scolded me all the time. I was a restless child and, over time, I became interested in art. I was very curious about what the village master painters would create, but they never let me go into their workshops or homes because I was too mischievous and the adults knew it. Like most children, I liked exploring, observing and touching what I found interesting, but no painter liked children damaging their work.
"My older brother also became interested in painting and he was extremely patient in helping me take my first steps in art. After teaching me the basics, he let me paint on my own. I discovered new forms to practice my art. I experimented with materials, tools, ways to handle the brushes and anything that came to mind. This awakened something in me and made me want to try new things.
"I have a small workshop and gallery at home. My wife also loves art and motivates me to create. We have two daughters — the oldest likes sports but the youngest is restless and inherited my interest in art. She wants to learn to paint, but I don't want to pressure her. If she doesn't want to be an artist, at least she'll be able to free her mind from bad thoughts, habits and negativity through art.
"I don't dream of becoming a famous artist. Instead, I want to do something different and do things other artists don't do. I'm very happy to travel with my art. I hope to create more and include my family. It's important to introduce the new generation to art, to let them know that art can be better than having a business. Art can change the way they think, open their minds and even save their lives.
"I'm a co-founder and volunteer in a project called 'Help Me Paint My Future.' We teach the children of alcohol and drug abusers to paint, and motivate them to create their own artwork. I've also worked on writing and illustrating three children's books as part of this project. One of them is about sharing with others. Another is a calendar book about cooperation. The third book relates a story my grandparents would tell about the importance of keeping our customs and traditions.
"Another beautiful part of this project is being able to rescue my town's streets. Gang members and kids paint the walls with graffiti. There are areas with a bad reputation for being dark where people have been mugged. We decided to take back these streets by painting murals all over town and hope that people will feel better passing by those areas.
"This is just the beginning. We hope our community will once again become an artistic and prosperous place where people can paint freely with their hearts.
"I'm a very happy man because I've had a lovely life. I'm grateful to my family and all of the people who support me."