We Love Us Some Coin: On Grand Cayman, Designer Carl Myers Talks About His Guatamalan Centavo Mosaics

One of Carl Myers' new coin mosaics coming together on-island yesterday. The image is of Michael's wife Tamara making a funny face. It's titled "Amarat," Tamara backwards. The piece is part of a pair; the beautiful pose is coming together today. (photo credit: Michael Schwartz via iPhone)

As we close in on the home stretch to open the new restaurant in the Cayman Islands, we’re going to be blogging a lot more on the people making the transition from Miami and their roles getting the operation going. Michael was down on Monday and Tuesday this week to check in on construction.  Along went our designer, the fabulous Carl Myers, to supervise the fabrication of his coin mosaics.

As in Miami, the walls of the Cayman space (situated on The Crescent in the ‘New Town Centre’ of Camana Bay on Grand Cayman Island) will be adorned with brand spanking new shimmering portraits.  We were curious about the inspiration behind them, and how they came to be in the first place.  So we emailed Carl a few questions, and he kindly obliged.

When did you first get the idea for the coin portraits?  The ‘idea’ of creating ‘mosaic’ images came to me in the early ’90s.  An idea for a piece would be clear in my mind, but when my hands touched wood and nail or ink and paper, the vision evaporated.  I searched and searched for methods to express my ideas that seemed to be so clearly visible in my head, but nothing worked.  Finally, I needed to document a moment in my life and preserve an important image.  To this end, I made my first portrait in 2003 with a wood panel, glue and gold leaf.

How many have you completed to date? I’ve created over 50 pieces in various mediums.

How have they evolved both in terms of their look and the process of putting them together? The primary evolution of the work is the exploration and use of different materials.  I am constantly wondering if an object or found material is ‘suitable’ and interesting enough to make a new piece.

What have you learned that you didn’t know when you began? It’s not as easy as it looks! Beyond that I can’t think of anything ‘new’ I’ve learned, but I have become far more patient.

Is it important to you that they use recycled or found objects? mmmm…..no. (my bad?)

Are there layers of meaning for you in the art works beyond face value? Yes…I am very attached to the work….not because I created it….but because of who it represents…..or where I was at a certain time in my life…….Although it is nice to be able to sell pieces, it was never my intention, as I would be perfectly content to keep them.

Mr. money bags. (photo credit: Michael Schwartz via iPhone)

How do you collect the coins and how long does it take to accumulate them? Funny thing……I seem to have made a ‘dent’ in the National coin supply in Guatemala.  Thankfully I have ‘friends’ at the Central Bank who have helped me locate new coins.  But there have been a few occasions when we are scrambling to collect coins for a piece.  Obviously, I prefer the ‘freshly minted coins……we don’t have to polish them.

Which currency (and denomination) are used at MGFD Miami? And what about in Grand Cayman?  Both locations use the ‘Guatemalan Nickel’ (cinco centavos).  Guatemalan currency is the ‘Quetzal’, and one USD is approximately equivalent to 7.5 Quetzales.

Why the particular people you chose to feature? I photograph living people, religious icons and sculptures.  The ‘living’ are my friends and family, people that are important to me.  Because they inspire me…or they bring inspiration to a commission…..or just because.  The ‘facsimiles’ I photograph are primarily colonial wood figures of various religious figures as Christ, the baby Jesus and The Virgin Mary.  When traveling I take thousands of photographs of museum statuary.

Describe how the pieces come together. Do you fashion them after a particular photo? Do you make a drawing first a la ‘paint by numbers’? First, I take photographs of religious icons and people.  I then pixelated and manipulate the photos by adding and/or subtracting either the figure or the ground.  It looks easy.

Carl in action! (photo credit: Michael Schwartz via iPhone)

How long do they take to make? Once I have the image finalized (and that can sometimes take years) we can produce a piece in 1 (ink on paper) to 120 (jingle bells) days, depending on the medium.

What other pieces exist elsewhere (besides the forthcoming Cayman restaurant work)?  I have collectors/commissions in Guatemala, Belgium, Switzerland, Mexico, England and the U.S. (Palm Springs, Miami, Maryland, and New York.)

Are there media other than coins that you use or would like to use in the future to fashion the images? Yes!….I have used gold and silver leaf, casino dice, straight pins, buckshot and resin, rice and beans, jingle bells, and ink on paper.  We also recently completed a ‘carpet’ made of sand, rice, beans, corn and fresh flowers for the Semana Santa processions in Antigua, Guatemala.

What makes for a good subject? any subjects that intrigue you for future portraits and why? A sparkle in the eye, a beautiful profile…. and people that I love or have yet to love.

What’s the most number of coins per piece that you’ve used per piece? The least? The coin pieces average about 8000 coins each.  I have made images with casino dice that have fewer than 1000 pieces.  The pieces made with straight pins can have over 50,000 pieces.

Who are the people making the art in the pictures Michael sent, and where on-island are they being made? They are the laborers on the job site here in Cayman.

Ever had to start over? Uh, yep…..

Ever keep a mistake?  Yes, but not for public display…..just because it makes me smile.


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