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Activist with a paintbrush

Artist Edwin Gil hopes latest project will heal help his torn native country

By Mark Price

Colombian-born Edwin Gil has become one of the city's best-known artists over the past two years, partly due to his keen business sense, but mostly because he's not afraid to take chances on politically-minded projects that cost more than they earn.

Among the best known was his publicly funded mural “Home Sweet Home,” which invited 2,500 Latinos to re-create a large United States flag by pressing their paint-covered hands to canvas.

The goal was to help the city's growing immigrant population feel more connected to their new country. Gil believed in it enough to pay nearly half the cost when his Arts & Science Council grant fell $6,000 short.

Finishing the piece left him exhausted, but he earned something unexpected in the balance: international media coverage.

As a result, Gil has been invited by a government-sponsored program in Colombia to do a similar flag mural there. However, this piece will be on a grander scale, requiring him to take a 30-foot-tall, 35-foot-wide canvas to select cities in the United States, Europe and Colombia. In each, Gil will invite native Colombians to place hands in paint and use the combined prints to re-create a Colombian flag.

The idea, he says, is to help unify that nation's splintered population, which is working to reintegrate paramilitary soldiers who disbanded a long-standing feud against the government in the late '90s. Gil recently returned to Colombia and met with representatives of the former guerrillas, and found it inspiring.

“Many of these guerrillas were taken from their homes when they were 13 and 14 years old and told that if they did not fight, they would be killed or their families would be killed,” says Gil. “I asked them if they even know what the war was about, and they do not know. They were just puppets.”

The Colombian mural is expected to cost $50,000, most of which will come through donations or grants. His plan is to finish by July 20, 2010, the 200th anniversary of Colombia's independence from Spain.

Gil will continue doing his smaller-scale art, sold at the Coffey & Thompson Gallery on Fourth Street. He's best known for abstract, moody paintings that are strong on color and short on detail. His latest phase is the series “Process Flowers,” inspired by a plant he saw growing through a crack. “I accidentally walked on it when I was having a bad day, and when I passed it again later, it had a beautiful red flower. I saw that as a message about life.”

Info: edwingil.com.

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