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Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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March 14 2016
Photos of Mario © Sanne Derks Photos of Mario © Sanne Derks
How taking up art and giving up drink saved one man's life

"Mario has the capacity to establish an immediate connection with almost everybody," says his former boss, owner of a restaurant in Barcelona, while toasting his beer to Mario’s Free 0,0. Now alcohol-free beer is all he drinks.

Mario smiles proudly and his sunken jaws expand. With twinkling eyes he nods while taking a sip of his bottle. "I never thought he would be able to quit," his boss continues. At first, he was just fond of a drink; it helped him persuade people into the bar. But as his drinking continued, eventually his boss was forced to ask him to leave.

Spain has the highest ratio of bars per inhabitants of all European countries, and for many, it’s deeply problematic. As Mario explains: “Because all your money goes to alcohol, you can’t pay the rent. Finally you get kicked out of your apartment. At first, it seems hard to be homeless, but after three cups of vodka, you don’t realise it any more."

So what happened after he found himself homeless? “When they found me in the streets I was nearly dead,” he replies. He was transported by ambulance in a coma to the Hospital Del Mar, where he was hospitalised for two weeks and started his recovery. He was send to the Hijas de la Caredad, a congregation of Catholic nuns in Barcelonetta.

Gradually, he rebuilt his life. And for the last two years he has spent his days in the atelier of the monastery, where he draws his colourful paintings.

“People ask me what I want to express,” he says. “It’s intuitive. I just start somewhere and in the end I know the painting is finished. I don’t even plan the colours. I can’t reproduce it.”

His expression has given him the fulfillment, joy and meaning in a coherent, stable daily routine. But it is not only that: now he holds several exhibitions per year and sells his paintings for a few euros to the people he meets.

His troubles are not yet over, but they’re getting easier all the time.