New Master: Why I'm Painting an Exact Replica of Sistine Chapel Ceiling in My Apartment

Alex Gardega is a man obsessed. But what will happen to his oeuvre in November when he moves out?

One day this past January I decided to paint the Sistine Chapel on the ceiling of my rented Upper East Side studio apartment. I do a lot of professional high-end murals. I just painted a 400 square foot waterfall for a client and recently finished three ceilings for different people. I’m always working for someone else so I started thinking that I’d like to do this for myself. Even though it’s not my apartment, I just wanted to experience painting for me.

I don’t know if it’s some kind of reincarnation thing, but ever since I was a little kid I’ve been absolutely in love with the Old Masters: Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. When I went over to see the Sistine Chapel in Rome I just started crying—it was that overwhelming for me.

I’ve lived in my apartment for two years. I have to move out in November, and I want to finish the painting before I leave, but I keep getting sidetracked with side jobs to make a living. So I started a Kickstarter campaign to see if I can raise money to focus and not have to take other jobs, and my friend at Harley's Barbecue in Harlem helped with supplies.

I’m mostly self-taught and I’ve learned more with this project that in art school. I’ve looked at the Sistine Chapel a million times in books, but when you really start to break it down, that’s when you learn. It’s like if you’re a musician studying Mozart. But painting a ceiling is much harder than painting a wall. What I’ve been doing—which is crazy—is climbing to the top of a ladder and looking up, but it’s really hard on the neck and back.

My landlord doesn’t even know it’s up there yet, but there’s nothing in violation. So the big question is: when I leave, are they going to white it out? It would be heartbreaking and kind of surreal, but if they do decide to get rid of it, I want to be the person to paint over it.

They might just rent it as is, though. It’s a nothing little studio on the Upper East Side, so I can imagine, especially since they’re going to raise the rent, that they might want to keep it. If a homeowner asked me to do this in their house, I’d charge $30,000 for it. My dream is for this to become some kind of Upper East Side curiosity. Like a minor landmark—that's my hope.

Photos courtesy of Alex Gardega

Center for American Progress Action Fund

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