Today Mario Orozco earns his living through his paintings and calls himself Danish. But during his journey, he has experienced a lot.
The commune Christiania in Copenhagen is famous for colourful designed houses, graffiti and lots of artists among its inhabitants. Still one painter stands out, Mario Orozco, who is present everywhere in the freetown.
In the stands of the green light district, the name of the drug market in the commune’s centre, you can buy his painted Christiania postcard. His work is exhibited in the biggest coffeeshop Manefiskeren, and his house, because of his artistic design, is a destination for tourists.
In three days Orozco completely painted the walls in a variety of bright colours, so that they – even in Christiania, where colourful houses are kind of normal – attract a lot of attention. Many visitors appreciate his work. They don’t just pass by, but stop to take a closer look and snap some pictures.
Next to his house, he has planted a big sign with the letters “Photo OK :)” in the ground. This is not usual at all in Christiania, where taking pictures in some areas, like the green light district, is strongly prohibited and a camera can get you in trouble, if you meet the wrong people.
Orozco, with his house, just hundred meters away from the drug market, is not one of them. It is part of his open-minded attitude. To our magazine’s request for an interview, he responded with the words, “Sure, come on in,” while he was sitting in his cosy jeans and shirt on his sunny balcony. He didn’t need an appointment or long explanations. He likes to tell his story to people.
When Orozco arrived in Christiania in 1981, earning money was a big problem for him. “I hadn’t the proper training as a painter and lacked experience. I also had no other education, so it was difficult,” explains the 50-year-old artist. “Denmark had a very good social system. I could have gone to the government and gotten money. I felt that was wrong, I would rather earn my own money.”
In his search for work, he started to sell cannabis in the formerly alternative commune. “It was just to earn some money to pay the rent,” he says. “Back then it was more relaxed, there were some tables and when you felt like it, you could go down and sell some hash.”
During that period, he continued working on his painting and was rewarded. Today Orozco can earn a living with his art. In addition he is programming music. “I have a music studio and have been doing a lot. But I haven”t been working on that for a while, because it is really hard to make money with music, you know. Everybody is downloading for free,” he complains.
He got his artistic talent from his parents, who were also both painters. “So it was kind of passed on to me. They taught me how to do it. I am inspired by them a lot, like by impressionism and expressionism. I try to capture feeling rather than detail,” he explains. Currently, he is taking part in a joint exhibition with his father. “People can come and see how he has influenced me. That is quite interesting,” he says, eagerly anticipating the event.
Visitors will see mainly his pictures of various landscapes. “I have been painting Christiania mainly, but I have also started painting in Copenhagen and Greece a bit. I also do some portraits, mostly of my friends,” he says while he showing his pictures, which he stores in his house.
Seeing his home from the inside is fascinating. It is not a place to live, but a place to paint. The two floors in his small house are so stuffed with his work that you can’t find a spot without any illustrations. Even a free place, where he could sleep, isn’t visible.
“It is a mess, but also because I am leaving for Greece tomorrow,” the artist admits. Due to his exhibitions, many of his paintings are currently at other places. So you keep wondering what Orozco’s place would look like, if he would actually have all his paintings at home.
In the summer he displays them in front of his house. “Sometimes I also paint there and sell my pictures and postcards,” he says. The tourists, who pass by, are an important source of income for him. “I am profiting from the fact people are not allowed to take photos. So my pictures are a good memory,” he explains, while het sits again on his sunny terrace. Sometimes Orozco stops telling his stories and greets friends, who are passing by. “Life here is really nice. As I came here, I felt at home right away,” he remarks.
An international life
Before Orozco moved in to his current home 15 years ago, he travelled a lot. “My father is Mexican, my mother is Danish and I grew up with them in Greece. When I was very young we moved to the United States. There they wanted to check my availability for the army in case of war, but I didn’t want to. I also had a Danish passport, so I came to Christiania. But before I could stay at my current home, I also had to move here at least seven times,” he recounts.
In the coming years, Orozco wants to start to travel again. “I like European cities, like Venice and Prague. I want to paint them,” he says. But he wants to keep living in Christiania. “I love it here, so I want to settle here. In general I just want to paint more and more,” he states. But to achieve this goal he might need a new home or to reconfigure his old one. Currently you can’t imagine that many more paintings would find space here at all.