Sometimes, the place you least expect to find beauty can turn into an experience whose memories will last a lifetime. Such was the case for me when I visited a garage in Kearny a week ago. Yes, the kind of garage where cars are stored, where oil stains are common and the scent of chemicals may often be found.
But this garage was different. So different.
Its walls were painted a beautiful navy blue, its ceiling a touch of grey. All of the three walls — two long ones that were deep and the one you see upon opening the manual entrance door — beautifully painted as they were were among the most stunning walls imaginable. Perhaps they are more incredible than the walls of any garage in Kearny, Hudson County, or heck, Jersey and far and wide.
It’s because on them are countless works of art Maricio LaBorde has painted over the last seven years. With few exceptions, they are replicas of those painted by Vincent van Gogh in the 1800s. They were as vivid as any of van Gogh’s one might see in a museum in New York, Paris, anywhere.
Some might even say they were even more vivid than the originals.
LaBorde, who spends weekdays in Jersey and weekend in Poughkeepsie, New York, says he has painted 382 of the 800 or so van Gogh is known to have completed (It wasn’t until after his death van Gogh became famous. And he didn’t start painting until the last 10 years of his life.)
And LaBorde, himself, though he comes from a family of artists, didn’t begin to pick up painting, which he calls a “hobby,” until seven years ago. Truly, it’s hard to figure what of all of this is most remarkable — for either van Gogh or for LaBorde.
“My father used to paint,” LaBorde says. “Little things. It was his hobby. I do have a brother, a little older than myself and he is an artist. He’s a natural artist, whereas I am a copier, though I do have some of my own paintings. I’m not natural at it.”
One would hardly realize he’s not a “natural.”
He says when he started painting about seven years ago, he would give some of his painting away to employees, donate some to non-profits for raffles and the like. But then space was becoming limited to display his work.
That was around the time he realized he had a garage and converted it into the town’s greatest, unknown art gallery.
While van Gogh tried to sell his artwork initially (and not-so-successfully, by the way) LaBorde has taken a different approach. He was not made so much as 1¢ on his paintings. When I offered to buy one, it was a swift, “no,” and when I asked him to keep me in mind if he decides to sell, finally, he said, “I will have to contact you and about 2,000 people.”
van Gogh’s ear
In the course of our discussions about van Gogh and LaBorde’s love for him, of course, we turned to the incident when he cut off his ear whilst living in the south of France. We never knew of how it happened until LaBorde explained how it all occurred.
“He goes to a bull-fight event in southern France and it’s very close to Spain,” LaBorde says. “And he sees the bull fighter, the matador, after he kills the bull, he would cut off the (bull’s) ear and he would toss it into the public.”
The very next day, van Gogh, known at the time to frequent brothels, did like the matador, sort of.
“He goes and he cuts off his own ear and gives it to a prostitute,” LaBorde says. “He wraps it up in a napkin and gives it as a gift, all bleeding and everything.”
But it was right after this incident van Gogh was put into an asylum for a year.
It was there, in this French asylum, van Gogh painted, “Stary Night,” which most consider his most famous painting all them all. It residents in the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan now.
He would then go on paint friends, family and others.
One of those includes “Potato Eaters,” a family of peasants gathered at table to eat — potatoes. They were so destitute, it was all they could afford to put on the table.
But this is what van Gogh most treasured in his life — being among the poor, the most destitute, despite not coming from a poor family of his own. It may have been his greatest downfall, too, because it allowed him to hide his mental illness for long periods of time. Doctors of modern times have speculated he had what we now call bipolar-mania.
But he would also paint sunflowers, which could be found almost anywhere in the south of France and including when fellow artist Paul Gauguin came to live with his for a while. The two developed a strong bond.
Why van Gogh?
We had to ask LaBorde what it was about the eccentric van Gogh that drew him to him.
“I am struck with how he captures the movement, the colors, the thickness of the paint,” he says. “He wuld mix the colors on his palette and in one stroke he would get what he wanted. One stroke. He could see it on his palette and it just comes out.”
Is it only van Gogh?
While the vast number of LaBorde’s pieces are, indeed, van Gogh replicas, he does occasionally paint originals. We got to see two, both of which have van Gogh elements and both of which have local significance. One, seen on the cover of today’s edition, is of the Brooklyn Bridge which has elements of “Stary Night.” The other is of the brushes of the Kearny meadows.
There are others, too. But these two stuck out because of connected geography.
Each piece, original or replica, was remarkable in its own way. And LaBorde hopes to show others his work, especially to aspiring artists. Teachers, want your students to see the collection in person? Groups and organizations, how about a visit to a gallery? Give LaBorde a call at
Also be sure to visit www.theobserver.com to see more photos of LaBorde’s work.
Learn more about the writer ...
Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.