The Founder & Director of Home of Hope India, Paul Wilkes, saw paintings Todd Carignan created in Vietnam. He asked him to visit the Home of Hope orphanages in India with his paintbrush ... and the rest is history. The opening reception for the resulting exhibit, Magical India & the Girls of Homes of Hope, is Friday, 10/26 at WHQR's MC Erny Gallery, 6:00pm-9:00pm.
The closing reception is Friday, November 23, and the exhibit will hang at WHQR through December 12.
Gina: I am here with Paul Wilkes, the founder and executive director of Homes of Hope and Todd Carignan, a nationally recognized Wilmington artist. Welcome to Communique.
Paul: Thank you very much.
Todd: Thanks for having us.
Gina: Todd's exhibit Magical India and the Girls of Homes of Hope opens at WHQR's MC Erny gallery. This work was created during Todd's time with Homes of Hope in India last year.
Gina: To start, let's look at this organization, Homes of Hope, founded in 2006 by Paul Wilkes and his wife, Tracy Wilkes. Now, Paul, I understand that you and Tracy became aware of the dire situation for orphans in India when you met an orphan girl who had been partially blinded to make her a “better beggar.” This is what I read about. Can you tell us about that?
Paul: Many people have seen the movie “slumdog millionaire” about the beggar mafia, and this was the case. This little girl was begging on the streets. She was kidnapped, held down, hand and foot. Her eye was gouged out to make her a quote unquote, better begger to get more money for these bad guys. Well, we heard that story as we visited an orphanage one day. This little girl standing there and I grimaced at the story of course like anybody else would do, and she smiled at me, a big trusting beatific smile. And I just said, "that's it." I was a professor at the university. I'm ready for all these fancy publications. Bingo, my life changed. I had my first social security check coming in. I said, I can live on that. This is the rest of my life, and now here we are 13 orphanages later.
Gina: So it started in that moment ... It was like an epiphany, or it was a life changing moment. It was one of those shifters of reality, shifters of what you knew what to do.
Paul: Yeah. Well, you know, some religious traditions, they talk about the face of God. You know, every once in a while you see the face of God and I don't want to get too soupy about this, but in this little face, in this little smiling face in this little trusting, smiling face, I saw a girl whose life had been horrible and it was not going to get much better. They were sleeping on the floor and the orphanage, they barely had enough food. It was day to day for these Salesian sisters that took care of them. And the case of it is, Gina, you look at her and you say, "if not me, who? If not me, who?"
Gina: Who will help.
Paul: That's it. So, you know, the temptation is to get right back in the air conditioned car, go back to your air conditioned life. Most people do that and that's okay. But I didn't and it was the best choice I ever made in my life.
Gina: And now you have 13 orphanages.
Paul: Yes, we're working on number 13. We're fundraising. It's a long story, but 12 and 13 are already paid for, but we're fundraising for 11.
Gina: That's a long story.
Paul: Well, yeah, there's some big benefactors that have jumped in lately.
Gina: Tell me exactly what do these orphanages do for these girls in India?
Paul: First of all, it takes them off the street. You cannot do anything with a girl until you have a roof over her head. And that's what we do. We're in the bricks and mortar business, plain and simple. we have sisters in India from three orders, Salesian, Carmelite, Franciscan, and they are the ones that operate the orphanage, but they don't have the capital funds to build the orphanage. And that's what we do. And that's the most pressing need. And then they go to school. Our girls, the first girls I met are now marrying, one of them just had triplets. They're nurses, they're office people, they're having real careers and getting married. Versus being sold into prostitution being sold in domestic slavery or killed. That's what happens on the mean streets of India.
Gina: And some of the services - I know that you helped raise money for include education, healthcare, job training …
Todd: All of the above. One of the job training places, these are tea pickers. They would earn a dollar and a half for the rest of their life. We teach them how to sew. Now when they go to work, you may call it a sweatshop, but instead of a dollar and a half a day, they're earning $10 a day and they may become the manager of that shop that makes a clothing. So that's the whole idea. Give them that boost that they wouldn't normally otherwise have.
Gina: Now, Todd, you are an artist, a Wilmington artist with international renown.
Paul: And, quite humble.
Gina: Todd, explain the circumstances of your trip to India and how you got involved with Homes of Hope.
Todd: Well I've known Paul and Tracy for a long time. Tracy headed, or founded DREAMS of Wilmington and I was working for her for a long time and so I've known Paul for a bit and yeah, my wife, she's Vietnamese and, or her mom's Vietnamese. She's half Vietnamese and she had taken us on a trip with her. It's probably been 10, 11 years now, but I did a whole series of paintings of my trip to Vietnam. And so when Paul saw those, he was like, "Come over here, let me ask you something. How would you like to do this for me in India?" And I was just blown away, completely flattered and speechless. So when I picked my jaw up off the ground and I told him, yes, you know, what can we do to make this happen? And yeah, he's been very instrumental in this whole this whole thing. It's definitely a collaborative thing between me and Paul and his whole organization. Lauren as well.
Gina: And Todd how many works do we have hanging here now?
Todd: Close to 50 works.
Gina: And are there also sketches?
Todd: Yes. you know, while I was there I just, I had to make the most of my time. So during the day I would do oil paintings. If I was traveling and the oil painting wasn't practical, I would do watercolors and at nights a lot of times it was under a fluorescent bulbs so I decided that I had to do sketches as well, do just graphite drawings of the girls.
Todd: Yeah, I've actually got the six of those all grouped together, just little head studies.
Gina: I didn't see them yet. It looks like most of the work hanging, it looks like a lot of it is oil.
Todd: Yeah. The majority of it is oil
Gina: When I'm looking at the collection of paintings around the gallery, you know, you see this certain quality of color in them that, and this may sound quite naive, but that feels like India. There are certain colors that I feel like immediately conjure up the feeling of India intuitively. Is that true? You as an artist can say, are there specific colors that are kind of unique, that were unique to these paintings as you were capturing your surroundings, people places? Or is it just a cultural overlay that I'm putting on it?
Todd: I don't know. I mean, I'm sure that there are colors that are very specific. I mean they've actually named tubes of paint "Indian, yellow." But I tend to use the same tubes of paint, whether I'm painting, you know, a tropical scene or something up in the mountains or whoever it is, you know, you tend to just adapt. So yeah, I mean I think the short of it is I probably did lean towards certain colors. Definitely more earthy, you know, there's a lot of yellow, a yellow ochre and their skin, you know, and a lot of it's from the sun, you know, and just that kind of weathered feel too. So, yeah. Does that answer your question?
Gina: Sure. There is that yellow, that yellow color that you see and there's a certain kind of red that I feel like is like "only in India" kind of thing, but perhaps it's me being romantic. Todd, which of those paintings has the most meaning to you in terms of how it relates to the trip you actually took?
Todd: Oh Wow. I don't know, that's like asking somebody who their favorite child is.
Gina: Who is your favorite child?
Todd: I love them all equally. Of course, I think the ones that mean the most to me are probably the
paintings of the girls themselves. I actually would sneak them out of study hall so that they could sit for me for 30 minutes or 45 minutes, you know, and I'll always have that memory because I'd have one girl sitting there. And, especially in the beginning, they had no idea what it was that I was doing or what it was all about. And so she'd be sitting there nervously and I'd have a dozen girls around me, behind me, giggling and oohing and aahing and saying, "Oh, you wait till you see this," you know. So I think those are the special ones for me because, you know, when you paint from a photograph, you have that memory of taking the picture, but there's an experience, you know, that's very intimate when you're painting somebody from life. So it's not just my story, but her story as well, and a reaction to whatever they're doing, you know, if they're shifting in their seat or they raise an eyebrow or you know, they're sniffing or they're scratching their face. I mean, all those little things kind of, maybe not to the casual viewer, but as an artist you kind of remember all those things. It all gets packaged into this one painting.
Paul: The one that really got me and we put it on the cover of our Homes of Hope calendar this year is a very gentle, very evocative painting of a girl with an urn drawing water from a well. I mean it could be a Matisse. It's just got a very soft feminine, very Indian. I mean it could have been done four centuries ago as well. And it's a girl, now may not be one of our girls, but it's a girl that may have been in the village, but it just is so, so India and just really, really struck me.
Gina: And Paul, these paintings are for sale.
Paul: Yes they are. And Todd has graciously allowed that some portion of them will go to benefit Homes of Hope and we're very, very happy about that.
Gina: And I bet you are going to buy one of them, Paul Wilkes.
Paul: Well, talk to my wife about that.
Gina: If you get to pick, which one would you pick?
Paul: I'd probably take that one with the urn. But, I hope somebody else buys it and pays a lot of money for it.
Gina: That's Paul Wilkes, founder and executive director of Homes of Hope and artists. Todd Carignan, the exhibit, Magical India and the Girls of Homes of Hope opens at WHQR's MC Erny gallery tonight with a reception from 6:00 to 9:00. The closing reception is November 23rd and the show closes on December twelfth. Thank you, gentlemen.
Paul: Thank you.
Todd: Thank you very much.