By Mark Iacampo March 28, 2012
HOHENFELS, Germany -- Painting on walls is something Spc. John Christopher Granados has done since he was a child, but it is a long step from tagging buildings in downtown El Paso to crafting a pair of murals that has all of Hohenfels talking.
A Soldier from Delta Co., 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, Granados separates from the Army this month, but his parting gift to the community will inspire for years to come.
"It's like looking at an aquarium," a visitor remarked, peering through the windows at the artist at work.
The two murals brighten the walls of the children's playroom at the Army Community Ser vice in Building 10. On one side, whales cavort through the waves, joined by dolphins, stingrays and a variety of multihued fish. Across the room, a tiger stares majestically from under snow-covered peaks.
Granados had come to ACS as a client, meeting with Madelene Celestine, Employment Readiness Program manager, for help on his resume.
"I saw on his background that he had won some art contests, and I jokingly said, we need to do something with the wall in there, and he said, I can paint something," said Celestine. "But I had no idea how talented he was."
Working with Celestine and others, Granados brainstormed ideas for the murals.
"Someone came up with the idea of a jungle scene," Granados said, gesturing at the tiger. "Plus, I had done an underwater sea mural before, basically graffiti style mixed with contemporary art, and I wanted to try that again here."
"His unit has been really supportive in giving him the time to do it," Celestine said.
Granados has volunteered his time, nearly 100 hours over four weeks, but the appreciation of his audience is payment enough for him.
"I stand in awe of this," said Lt. Col. John J. Strange Jr. , U.S. Army Garrison Hohenfels commander. "I really appreciate what he's done in terms of his time, and I'm amazed at his talent. Things like this make a positive difference in the way we feel about the place that we live in."
Entirely self-trained, Granados's love of art started at an early age when he accompanied his mother to her art class.
"That just blew my mind," he said.
As he got older, he began to try and reproduce the images he saw in various super-hero comics.
"Wolverine was my favorite," said Granados. "I started learning how to draw the body and the muscles. I learned about proportion from those comics."
Granados took his training to the streets, becoming a well-known graffiti artist.
"There are kids that are just vandals," he admitted, "but at the next level, it really becomes an art form."
Unfortunately, Texas law did not make the distinction, and Granados was eventually arrested for vandalism. When he missed a hearing, he got three months in the county jail.
"I'm a positive person, though," Granados said. "I took it as time to sharpen my skills. I just concentrated on my art, and it really helped me."
When he got out, Granados turned his back on graffiti, but continued to paint on buildings. He started doing murals for local companies, making money by advertising on their shops. In 2005, he was one of five local artists chosen to create a Cinco de Mayo mural for the city's celebration.
Granados founded KMG (Kall Me Gifted), a team of graffiti artists around the country who create murals on demand, both for money and as volunteer work for charities and other organizations.
"I'm trying to make it an international group," he said.
That's one reason he's hoping he can return to Europe as a civilian employee. Another is so he can continue studying the work of masters like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.
"Michelangelo was a construction worker, too, and I'm an apprentice electrician. I have an appreciation for construction and how he mixed it all together to include sculpture in his building," said Granados.
Michelangelo has inspired Granados to consider trying sculpture, as well.
"When I went to the Sistine Chapel, it was like a goal fulfilled in this little El Paso boy's life," he said. "I've seen it in books before, but when you actually go there, it's like -- wow. I think I have passion for my art, but these guys, their passion is beyond imagining."
Granados said his time in the Army has really helped him with his goals.
"I appreciate the Army because they helped me get to where I am. They took me, and trained me, and showed me discipline," he said.
He hopes to continue working with the Army and dreams of perhaps creating memorials in honor of his fellow veterans and fallen Soldiers.
What he really wants, though, is to bring people's dreams to life.
"I ask people, what do you want, and I just want to put whatever they envision on a canvas or on the wall. I like the way people are affected by my work, that feeling that I have touched them. This is what makes me happy."