It’s Friday, tennis day. It’s 4 p.m. and Mael’s class starts in half an hour. I take advantage of this time to talk with him. His greeting is shy, perhaps something normal for a 12-year-old, but in 30 minutes I realize that the child that is in front of me is an old soul, an inexplicable artist and someone who possesses a serenity and humility that even I wish I had.
The game does not start yet and Mael takes me to his gallery in Guiones of Nosara, which is across from the tennis club, where more than 20 abstract works of art with impressive character and power make me ask the worst question: “Who taught you to paint like this?” He laughs: “No one. I taught myself.”
His name is Mael Victory Von Der Weid and although he speaks perfect English, French and Spanish, he is Costa Rican by birth and a Saprissa fan at heart. He was born in San Jose, but he has French blood from his mother, Martine Viellard, and Swiss on the side of his father, Thierry Von Der Weid, who owns Cafe de Paris hotel and cafe.
The paintings he has done at the age of 12 are impressive, but seeing the ones he painted at the age of 4, when he began his artistic career, is unheard of, even without seeing the approximately 250 works that he has already done to date.
Although he loves Nosara and living near the sea, Mael is not the typical beach bum since he prefers playing sports on dry land like tennis and soccer instead of surfing.
Some artists say their work came about because of a muse that appeared and inspired them, but Mael sees his talent in a more simplistic or honest way: his passion for painting is the result of luck. “My mom took painting classes and one day she got sick, so I took that class. After that class, that same day, I painted something like five paintings and didn’t stop painting. I was four and a half years old,” he explains.
Amongst so much that visually grabs your attention in his exposition, there is one that can never be sold. “It’s called Mi Reflejo (My Reflection). I like it because it is my portrait. I feel like I see myself there every time I see it,” says Mael.
The time to say goodbye arrived and Mael, keeping a low profile, manages to blend in with the other children. That’s how he does it at his school, Academia del Mar, where he is in seventh grade, but he takes eighth-grade math since numbers also come easy to him. While the photographer takes some portraits, Mael does not try to pretend or to attract attention. More than that, you could say he forgot that he was being photographed. He is just another one of the kids, without airs of grandeur or of being a fortunate child prodigy.
While Mael receives instructions from the teacher, his father, Thierry, watches him through the chain-link fence. While the fatherly pride that radiates from him for his only son is obvious, Von Der Weid says that he does not idealize his little one.
“The difference with Mael is that he discovered what he is good at and what he is excellent at. He discovered it super early, while there are people that take 80 years to discover what they are good at. He found it in painting,” his father commented.
It’s Saturday, soccer day. Mael trains in the morning with his school team. He likes playing defense since he considers it easier. Now without his cleats and with his sports jersey off, he invites me to his most intimate spot: his studio. The walls are high and Mael has everything perfectly organized. He does not like disorder.
There, Mael has his parents’ permission to paint whatever he wants and do whatever crazy thing comes into his mind. The studio floor is completely filled with colors and could even seem like another piece of his artwork. On one side, there is a wall of windows that has a beautiful view of a small forest.
Classical music is part of this space where Mael can spend up to six hours painting. “Classical music is very melodic, but at the same time it is very intense, rising and falling, rising and falling. I like this for painting,” Mael says. Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga are not among his idols. He admires and is inspired by the deceased abstract artists Joan Miro and Wassily Kandinsky.
He has not taken many painting classes nor does he intend to study art or painting at the university level. “I don’t like school. I think that at 18, when you finish high school, it’s already enough. Besides, most famous painters did not go to university.”
As Mael grows, he thinks his artwork is improving instinctively, and with experience and maturity, he has begun to use brushes less. Now he uses tools such as spatulas and sponges, as well as incorporating materials and objects in his work.
Although he doesn’t really like being watched while he paints, he let me see how he finished one of his pieces. His technique is so developed that anyone might think that abstract art is a simple genre.
Shoes aren’t his thing, nor clothes for that matter, so it is common for Mael to paint in just a pair of stained shorts, which has now become his uniform. When he paints, his characteristic serenity transforms into bursts of color.
To his mother, her child, beyond being an artist, is her life teacher because on occasion he has taught her great lessons. However, one of the things she most admires about him is his transparency as a human being. “Mael follows his emotions a lot. If he feels good, it is because he’s in a good place and with good people. If he feels bad, he immediately wants to leave, so he follows his instincts and that’s what I like about him, that he is the most true,” she explained.
“Sometimes when we talk, he answers me in ways that to me are life messages, but I think all kids are like that, because they are pure and even more so here in Nosara with the life he has, which is far from the city,” she added.
Meanwhile, Mael has finished the painting he was working on. Of course, he organizes everything and puts it all in its place and estimates that he could sell the painting in his future exposition. He still doesn’t know the price but he is the one who decides the figures for all of his works and he has sold paintings for up to $3,000.
Collecting things is one of hishobbies. In his room, he has a wide variety of stones, Pokemon memorabilia, snow globes and LEGOs, here with his parents Thierry Von Der Weid and Martine Viellard
During my time in his studio, I forgot that I was talking to a child. His answers are short, yet sensible at the same time, while he is sure of his artistic work. However, upon visiting his room, I was transported to the childish side that he still retains. His bed is perfectly made by him, in addition to being decorated with different sizes of stuffed bears.
Collections are part of his pastimes. In his room, he has a large variety of stones, Pokemon memorabilia, snow globes— the ones you have to shake to see the snow fall— and LEGOs, which are his favorite toy.
As a good only child, although he is very good at socializing, he likes to have his periods of solitude and privacy, both to paint and to play.
Although his signature is not the same on all of his paintings, since in some it appears gigantic and in others it is hidden, Mael’s great seal is the tranquility with which he lives his life, the serenity with which he enjoys his talent and the simplicity that he shares with his peers. Without a doubt, his ability is beyond dispute, but his greatest talent is the nobility that distinguishes him. Take one example:
“Mael, why do you think you are a good painter?” I ask.
“Because people tell me so,” Mael says amidst laughter.
Every time he paints, he ends up covered in paint from head to toe. His parents buy him the best quality of paint to avoid health problems in the future.
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