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Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2008

An Artistic Journey

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Award-winning artist Amanda Aquino talks animatedly about her recent 60-by- 20-foot mural for the newly built patio in the back of Chez Jacques (1022 S. First St.). With a French flag on the right side of the mural and an American flag on the left, Aquino’s artwork illustrates the personal story of restaurant owner Jacques Chaumet traveling from France to Milwaukee. In a way, the mural, which portrays the provincial countryside in this city neighborhood along First Street, also recalls Aquino’s own journey from Puerto Rico to America with her parents in 1988. Aquino’s parents encouraged her to pursue her creative talent, which she says has led to a “happiness I feel that is beyond wealth."

“The happiest clothes are my painting clothes, full of paint,” Aquino adds. “This is what I am supposed to be doing.”

How did your artistic career begin?

It’s in my blood, from both my parents. I learned from the teachers who taught my dad. When he was young he could have had a college scholarship to paint, but his mother said he needed to take care of the farm. So he always encouraged me, and at the time I was ready, I found out I was awarded a full scholarship at MIAD and graduated in 1998 with a BFA in illustration.

How did you discover you liked to paint murals?

This took some time. After I graduated from MIAD, I took some graphic-design courses at MATC. One of my projects after ward won an Emmy Award for animation. But then I found my true passion was painting murals. Murals tell a story. I want people to look at them and see a personal history. Nothing is more beautiful than painting from real life. It’s priceless to share them with so many people, and I am so happy to do this.

How do you go about painting your murals?

I start by meeting with the client, and getting ideas. Then I do the compositions in a digital format, using Photoshop. I rough sketch the wall freehand, using an art brush with black ink, and then I paint over it with a mix of acrylic and outdoor paint—so it will last a lifetime and be weatherproof. I did paint a mural for Badger Mutual of a French cafe when I was 16, and it is still there.

What is special about the mural you painted for Jacques?

This mural puts together the story of Jacques’ life. I thought of what Jacques looked like as a child, and painted him in the fields of France leading the good life. The roosters surrounding him are the French symbol of France, and this is special because they were taken from The Cock of Liberation that Picasso painted in 1944, when France was liberated. The Milwaukee Art Museum now owns that Picasso painting, Le Coq de la Liberation, as Peg Bradley bought it and brought it to Milwaukee in the 1950s. I painted the rooster traveling with Jacques all the way to Milwaukee in this mural.

What is your inspiration for painting these murals?

I look to Picasso, as his whole interpretation of life is fascinating, and he just painted what he wanted. So I recently focused on painting murals. I would like to be a historical story-teller—painting one-of-a-kind murals that tell a story and would be more personal. And I would love to paint every wall I could. I would get in trouble as a kid painting the walls, and now I get paid for it.

View another Amanda Aquino mural at O’Reilly Motor Cars, 324 W. Cherry St. Contact Aquino at (414) 213-2239.

Amanda Aquino| Photo by Christopher Bluhm