Labour of Love


Nowhere near Italy, inside a mundane Iowa storefront wedged between a financial plannerís office and an abandoned antique store, an arched plaster ceiling glows with colour.

Familiar scenes leap off the surface: the Creation, Adam and Eve, the Flood.

Paco Rosic, a young Bosnian immigrant and graffiti artist, has spent the past four months producing a detailed replica of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel in the small city of Waterloo, Iowa. Arching his back, he paints over his head just as Michelangelo did. But instead of working with a paintbrush like the great master, Mr. Rosic used 5,000 cans of Krylon spray paint, a favourite weapon of graffiti artists. He calls it the Sistine Chapel de Paco.

“For me, this was my dream, I wanted to do it,” he says, his voice echoing in the vast space below his creation. He got the idea at age six when his mother showed him a picture of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican.

“When I saw this piece, I wanted to know how it felt. When I was painting, it felt like I met [Michelangelo].”

Mr. Rosic, 27, and his parents used their life savings, took out bank loans and remortgaged the family home to realize his vision. In January, they paid US$67,000 for the rundown building in downtown Waterloo, 200 kilometres northeast of Des Moines. It formerly housed an antiques store called Toad’s Treasures.

The renovation work included installing a 2,500-square-foot arched ceiling to serve as Mr. Rosic’s canvas. It is half the size of Michelangelo’s. Before shaking his first can of spray paint, the artist travelled to Italy and secretly snapped a few pictures of the Sistine Chapel to guide his work.

Back in Waterloo, he worked on the frescoes 10 to 18 hours a day. When his left arm tired, he propped it up with his right. Some nights, his arms were so sore he could not lift them to eat. His girlfriend, an acupuncturist, fed him and gave him treatments to ease his aches.

He has become a regular customer at the Wal-Marts and hardware stores that stock spray paint around Waterloo. He would often buy every 12-ounce can of paint on the shelves, only to return a few weeks later for more and discover the store had jacked up the prices. When Krylon found out about the project a month ago, it sent 122 cases of paint.

Mr. Rosic asked for colours with names such as Ballet Slipper, Bright Idea, Grape Frost, Woven Tapestry and Travertine Tan. All of the empties are crammed in his garage.

“When I saw this piece, I wanted to know how it felt. When I was painting, it felt like I met [Michelangelo].”

His cellphone has been buzzing with calls after pictures and videos of his unfinished work rocketed around the world on the Web. All Mr. Rosic has left to finish are a few columns — six or seven hours of work.

“I’m right now inside trying to finish,” he said this week. “I locked all my doors, actually, because people keep coming. It’s crazy. I just want to finish.”

The attention to Mr. Rosic’s project could be a boon for Iowa.

“This is our Field of Dreams. It will bring people here,” said Scott W. Smith, an Iowa producer who made a film about Paco’s creation earlier this year. “Many people can’t go to the Vatican; most people can’t go to the Vatican.”

The ceiling will serve as the centrepiece of Galeria de Paco and Coffee Shop. Mr. Rosic’s parents, Jacky and Anna, will run the kitchen. There will also be a jazz club and a studio.

The Bosnian-born Mr. Rosic spent the first 12 years of his life near Sarajevo. The family left the war-ravaged country for Germany in 1992, where Mr. Rosic became a hip-hop dancer and graffiti artist. They resettled in Iowa in 1997.

Despite his 5,000-can accomplishment, Mr. Rosic is still thinking big — even bigger. Now he has replicated Michelangelo’s work, he wants to create his own stylized take on the masterpiece with characters in modern papal clothes. All he needs is a full-sized ceiling under which to work.

He estimates it will take four years just to complete his own sketch.

“A lot of people ask me if I did this to get famous or for attention,” he says. “I never wanted attention or anything. I did it from my heart.”

Paco Rosic's Sistine Chapel Project

See a video interview with Paco Rosic here.

Visit his website here.



Mary Vallis "Labour of Love." National Post, (Canada) September 30, 2006.

Reprinted with permission of the National Post.


Mary Vallis writes for the National Post.

Copyright © 2006 National Post

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