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From Colombia to Canada with a paint brush

From Colombia to Canada with a paint brush

Posted by PanamericanWorld on March 15, 2016

Back in Colombia, Mao Correa got calluses on his hands from wielding a paint brush to create the intricate works of art he sold by the hundreds in Latin America and the United States.

Now, in his new home in Canada, he gets calluses from wielding a hammer — building decks and fences to make a living.

But art is still his true passion — and he recently made use of his newly honed carpentry skills to build a gallery from scratch in the basement apartment he shares with his wife in North York.

Even the metal fence bordering the narrow alleyway that leads to the backyard entrance has become an open exhibition space, with abstract paintings hugging the red-brick walls for the pleasure of visitors resting on the orange couch in the middle of the yard.

“Welcome to the Mao Art Gallery,” said Correa, 45, greeting a visiting reporter. “It is not easy for immigrants to get back into their old profession without a professional network. But Canada is a country where you can do whatever you want. It’s possible.”

An established artist from Santa Marta, Correa studied drawing at the National University of Colombia in Bogota and has exhibited his work since 1994.

In 2013, he was invited to Canada to lead a workshop teaching students how to create art through recycled materials. By chance, he reconnected with his elementary school classmate Adriana Salazar, who sponsored him to Canada after they got married in Toronto in March 2014.

As a new immigrant, Correa said, he tried to look for subjects to paint that are well recognized by Canadians regardless of their backgrounds or knowledge and exposure to art.

“I was at this garage sale in August last year and bought this book about Mona Lisa. I thought most people would recognize her. If I re-created Mona Lisa in paintings, everyone here would be able to understand and recognize her,” he said, referring to his first collection produced in Canada.

Correa said it’s expensive to rent space in commercial galleries in the GTA, and friends always wondered why he was hiding his work in his basement apartment. That’s when he decided to renovate the 700-square-foot flat into a gallery with wood panels and spotlights.

Correa started painting as a little boy, obsessed with cars and women’s bodies.

“We went to a Catholic school. He never did anything but drawing on his notebooks. One time the nun asked him what happened to his homework,” said Salazar, 45, who met Correa in Grade 5.

“She opened his notebook and saw the sketches of nude women — the nuns. He was expelled from the school.”

Correa, who has sold more than 500 original paintings in his career and held six mini-shows in Toronto, said he got expired paints for some of his paintings and scrap wood for framing through his daytime job in trades.

At the recent opening of his home gallery, Correa showed his work to 70 guests from the community and sold 10 more pieces.

“This is just fantastic. People always say art is expensive, and this is one way to make art more accessible to the masses,” he said. “They can come to my gallery and look at these original pieces up close.”

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