It took Michelangelo four years to create his masterpiece murals that cover the ceiling of the Vatican's Sistine Chapel. A Manhattan artist believes he can recreate the soaring images in just two months on the ceiling of his cramped studio apartment. Alex Gardega is a NYC based artist with an international following. His media of choice: oil painting, watercolors and glass.
"My whole life I've been obsessed with the Sistine Chapel," Alex Gardega said before climbing a ladder to paint the first lines. "This will be an exact copy." Gardega, 43, has helped beautify the city, creating murals and glass works for churches and historic buildings. He also has done drawings for celebrities like actors Matt Dillon and Drew Barrymore. But his own apartment has been long neglected. "I get paid a lot to make people's environments nice, and my own looks like a mess," he said. Holding a photo of the chapel ceiling for reference against his palette of oil paints, Gardega painted the outline of the iconic Creation of Adam image over his bed in an hour.
Mural of the Battle of Anghari
"It's taking shape," Gardega crowed as he painted the hand of God nearly touching Adam's hand. "I know my anatomy!"
He's been obsessed with Renaissance artists since his mother bought him a $6 book from the local supermarket when he was a boy in small-town Texas. He dropped out of the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan in the 90s because he couldn't afford it, but soon found work as an artist.
He's created glass panels for the elevators in the Chrysler building and windows etched with images of saints for a Queens mausoleum. "I get the jobs other people can't do," he said. He was thrown off stride when his father, only in his 60s, died unexpectedly of a heart attack last year. "I lost my mojo as far as art," Gardega admitted. "I painted a mural and it wasn't up to snuff." The mural, a replica of the starry ceiling at Grand Central Terminal, was for the home theater room of a millionaire client on Long Island. "He wasn't happy," Gardega said. "I went into a tailspin of depression." He and the former client aren't speaking, but Gardega sees his Sistine Chapel challenge as a shot at redemption.
"I just want to take some time for myself and get into my own soul for a while," he said. "I have to prove myself again." Another client, Johnny Hayes, owner of Harley's Smokeshack, a recently opened barbecue joint in East Harlem, is ponying up $2000 to cover Gardega's supplies.
As a renter, Gardega worries about the ultimate fate of his new work. "I'm basically painting a $100,000 mural in this apartment," he said. "Are they just going to white it out when I leave?"
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