MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Frederick Gabriel is a self-described “accidental art teacher” at Cutler Bay Senior High.
“I come from Paris, France from an artist family, and I was a freelance artist with Disney, Warner Brothers, Limelight Studios and Miami Vice,” he recalls.
This is a magnet school, but surprisingly not for visual arts. The second floor is lined with painted murals called the “Bay Walls” – all painted by students taking art as an elective. Mr. Gabriel’s vision: To paint away the academic gray.
“We started with Van Gogh, staple of the western world,” he refers to a work in progress, “Sofie and Jessica are working on a Keith Herring, has to raise the earth right we tackle every issue that’s in the news, civil war, to violence to the earth the environment.”
Each of the 65 murals takes about nine weeks to complete. This vibrant, powerful atmosphere created all while Mr. Gabriel dealt with a major health crisis.
“I was diagnosed with two major cancer tumors had this horrendous surgery, eight months of chemotherapy. The whole cancer thing has been a positive experience for me if I look honestly there’s been more positive than negative.”
The Bay Walls project is like therapy for him, and a challenge for students to believe in their abilities.
“They all come thinking they can’t draw, ‘I can’t do this’ you know. You put them together as a team and the sum of their efforts far surpasses their individual capabilities.”
Sarah Juan is a junior and writer for the school newspaper, who is using a brush instead of a pen today. She appreciates the art lesson.
“Mr. Gabriel is amazing has an inspiration to all of us!”
Other students just appreciate looking at it.
“Just to see his vision progress over the past few years it was crazy,” Kristina Alzugaray, a senior and class president, states. “It was a blessing to watch.”
Mr. Gabriel’s belief is that art is truth, that it not only heals but that art can save the world.
“The art that’s made in the room doesn’t promote anything, but if we put it in the hallway and blow it up floor to ceiling, then you get a vision of truth and issues that we are dealing with now. We build way beyond art, we’re building relationships and skills that they are going to use later.”