Driven by Work; Salvadoran Muralist's Labors Bring International Recognition

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 11, 2005 | Go to article overview
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Driven by Work; Salvadoran Muralist's Labors Bring International Recognition


Byline: Tom Ramstack, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Since coming to Washington in 1984 from war-torn El Salvador, Karlisima Rodas waited tables and taught school before gaining international recognition as a painter of murals. Today, her paintings are on exhibit in museums around the world and have made her one of Washington's best-known artists.

She is driven by her work.

"It has to be stronger than anything," Miss Rodas, 35, said about her desire to be an artist. "It's like things will come against it and you will be shaken, but if you are stronger, then you will survive."

Her murals typically depict faces caught in moments of reverie with waterfalls, trees or other nature images in the background. Bright pastel colors around the faces sometimes give them a mysticism evocative of the Maya Indians of Central America.

Miss Rodas immigrated to the United States with her family when she was 14, escaping El Salvador's civil war, a conflict that claimed 75,000 lives before it ended in 1992.

She began painting at 7 and won artistic honors at Annandale High School. Similar academic honors followed while she was a student at Washington University in St. Louis. After graduation, she moved back to Washington to be near her mother.

In the Washington area, Miss Rodas' murals can be found in schools, in restaurants and on billboards.

Most days, Miss Rodas works alone at her home in Adams Morgan, where she has turned her living room into a studio.

Paint cans, brushes and canvases are strewn across tables and the floor, and there is a hint of acrylic in the air. Some of her paintings, including a nearly professional still life she painted when she was 9, hang on the walls.

Her schedule varies daily, depending on the mural she has been commissioned to paint or the loose ends of a contract she must complete.

"In the beginning, I didn't like the office work," Miss Rodas said. "But then I realized it was part of the business. It has gotten much, much better."

On a typical day, she awakens at about 6 a.m. and takes a walk for morning exercise. She returns to eat breakfast and begins work around 9 a.m.

First, she mixes the colors she plans to use, then arranges her paint cans, brushes and canvases.

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