One Man’s Trash Is Another’s Art

By Michelle Trauring

Meet Javier Esmeralda—an artist by trade and a visionary by nature. His home studio sits in the heart of Montañita, Ecuador, where he lives with his wife, two daughters, a curious dog and a lethargic cat.

Most of his materials aren’t much more than scrap: cardboard, paper and cement molded into figments of his imagination when he isn’t working strictly with paint. His large-scale artwork surrounds his family on their block, painted on and carved into adjacent walls and alleyways.

But the 43-year-old has bigger plans than his street art for the coastal surf town. Montañita is in a state of mourning and recovery, he explained, referencing the recent double murder of two Argentinian backpackers, Marina Menegazzo and Maria Jose Coni, and it desperately needs a lift.

Art may be the answer, he says. This is a slice of his world, in words and pictures.

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“The hunger. The hunger is the most important for inspiration. When you have a hunger, you have everything. The mind says, ‘I have no money, but I need to work. I need art.’ This is the hunger. Hunger is the best.”

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“This is for a new monument here in Montañita. This is San Isidro Labrador, a holy man for us. It will be 12 meters. But I don’t have the money. This project is $100,000 to $200,000. Every weekend, I will need volunteers, people coming with me, making the monument. And sand, water, cement, concrete, rocks, steel, bamboo.

“Montañita have problems right now. You know, the girls, it’s horrible. This is very important for people from here. This is what they need. It will be at the front of the town, in the mountain. When you see the mountain, it will be like Christ the Redeemer in Brazil.

“When people take a picture, or they be seated at the monument, they will say, ‘Wow, it’s amazing. It’s beautiful.’ Or, ‘It’s bad. Stop it!'”

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“This is my daughter, Jamely. See?”

“It’s a mix. It’s from Javier, which is his name, and Melina, which is my mother’s name.”

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“Imagination. It’s all imagination.”

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“I, never in my life, was an artist. I didn’t have a master. My master is for myself. My inspiration? My family, my daughters, my wife, my friends, it’s like this. They are everything. I have my cats, my dog. They’re like, ‘Hey, Papi,’ you know?

“But my art is for my country. This is for my place. My daughter is from here. I need my daughter to say, ‘This is my Papi. My daddy making that.’ I don’t need to make this monument for me in the future. I need it so people respect my family, respect my life. I don’t need more.”

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