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SJMC undergraduate Pablo Mejia contributed this excellent piece for his final project in Photojournalism course instructed by Anna Mazurek. Mejia showcases the artistic talents of “The Man in the Mirror,” Texas State University bus driver, Kim Gardner.
Texas State University students fill the maroon bus from both sides. It’s 7:30 A.M. as bus driver Kim Garner, greets the students that slowly drag themselves to fill the seats. The door closes and the braking system makes a loud, “TSST” sound. Garner looks back in his rear-view mirror making sure the students are prepared for the morning commute to school. He takes a quick look over his shoulder and swiftly turns the wheel, making a left onto Aquarena Springs Drive. The chatter from the radio fills the air as the students pull out their phones and check their social media. Garner pulls up to the intersection, waits for the light to turn green and waves at the other Texas State bus driver across the road. He drops the students off at the Undergraduate Academic Center and completes Route 20.
Kim Garner is 63 years old. He is from Nordic descent and has green, hazy eyes. His blonde hair falls just short of covering his brows. With a full goatee, it’s hard to tell his age. He grew up in Laguna Beach, California with his dad, his stepbrother Stephan and his stepmother. Growing up on the west coast, Garner attended three different high schools. During his senior year, he attended a journalism class in which his teacher recommended he drop the class. She stated that ‘a jock’ would not be able to pass her class. The teacher teased Garner, giving him the task of writing his own novel during the semester. She was surprised when Garner presented her with an outline to a story. For the past 25 years, his paintings have been flections from the novel he first wrote in high school.
“Working through discouragement is really interesting. You could be a very talented person, in any human endeavor. It could be anything, a doctor, an engineer, but you won’t ever obtain anything if you give up.” Garner said as he looked dead ahead, his gaze fixed on the traffic.
Garner sets up his up his latest painting in the living room of his studio apartment. The historic house is split up into individual apartments. Garner and his wife share their home with their two dogs.
Garner empties out a box full of acrylic paint onto the floor. He shifts towards a rectangular paint tray, squirts out a good amount of red and blue and gets to work. Garner’s work is always of substantial size. The stretched canvas he has propped up comes up to his chest. Every so often he takes a step back, paint brush in his mouth, and looks hard at the painting.
“This has been the past 12 years of my life” Garner said. The woman in Garner’s painting is wearing a red dress with a raven perched sternly on her shoulder. For about five years he had painted “Magdalena” without face. He wanted the character to have an original face, something thatcould be uniquely his.
“It has taken me two years to finish out a painting, you can’t rush it. There are moments when your painting is taking on its own voice.” Garner said. “You must have something that’s you, it could be music or anything else. They must look at your work and say that’s a Kim Garner.”
Garner stores some of his painting in a storage unit on the outskirts of San Marcos. He slides the metal green door up and one by one, takes out several large-scale canvases. The paintings are filled with brushstrokes made in vibrant, primary colors. The narrow hallway is filled with
Garner’s last 25 years of work. Garner’s paintings reflect his environment. In his series about a Hispanic woman, “Raquel” is pictured with boots and a cowboy hat. She wears a bandolier and has plenty of guns. In one painting, she is pictured sitting down, holding onto her rifle and large knife with a bottle of liquor nearby. As a painter, Garner has the creative freedom to paint anything he wants. His horses are orange and blue and the mountains are a vivid purple. The clouds he paints are arranged in oddly trademarked shapes.
“As a painter, I can get away with stuff.” Garner said. “I could give this painting to my son who works with troubled children, he could show it to his kids and they could give it a completely different idea that I had.”
Garner remains contemplative as he slows the bus to a halt, flinging open the doors to release the students to their perspective stops. He patiently waits for some students running towards the bus as he returns his glance to the reflection of the rear-view mirror. He glimpses up at the exiting passengers and offers a kindly grin.
“I try to make even just small exchanges over time, you get to know the kids.” Garner said. “Those small exchanges make you who you are.”
“I’m a believer in the word reflection, you must take time to reflect on the things you are doing in order to make the next creative decision.” Garner said. “If you are going to make the world a better place, you must start with yourself.” Garner says good bye to the last remaining students as they empty the bus. He keeps his cool as other drivers speed around him in their commute home.
“Today I could meet someone that is going to completely change my life and I wouldn’t even know it. Life is that unpredictable.” Garner said.
“You have to be aware that who you are and how you act is going to impact who you’re going to meet. If I’m unapproachable then how [will] a person that is going to change your life ever meet you?” Garner looks forward with an open mind about the people he encounters and the experiences that may shape his future paintings. The day winds down as he completes Route 12.