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Sandman’s El Paso artwork could soon fade permanently

El Paso man known as the Sandman has been creating images with sand on streets for years. (Credit: KFOX14)

His one of a kind artwork doesn't last long, but it has a powerful message behind it.

El Pasoans can see Alberto Avila, aka the Sandman, using parking lots and medians between busy intersections as canvases on the eastside. He takes his tools and gathers supplies from nearby; a dustpan, broom and rake along with rocks and sand.

You won’t see him out as often because he’s not in good health although he has high spirits.

Currently, he’s fighting for more time to create these designs and spread his message because he could be gone at any time after being diagnosed with stage advanced liver cancer.

The 65-year-old has been inspiring others with his artwork and personality for 15 years. He said the talent came to him later in life after hard times.

“This is a God given talent I received at 50 years old, not as a little boy and I never wanted to be an artist. My only experience with art was in first and second grade,” said Avila.

He's from El Paso, but this passion started near the beaches in Coronado, California, where he was recovering from a heroin addiction in the '90s.

“I was in a bad place and people would call me a loser because of my life choice. One day a spirit came to me and told me to do something and do draw something. I went outside and started picking up all the trash and the broom goes down and does this. Then again like this and I step back and I see it,” said Avila as he drew a Christian fish symbol.

He continued to pick up trash clearing canvases on streets, parking lots, medians and using only sand and rocks started to created different artwork. Different designs including symbols, messages even names and proposals on request. Over time came the name Mr. Sandman.

“I was in mission beach and some ladies called me the sweeper. Like that he's the sweeper but then one day a homeless man said, 'Mr. Sandman, send me a dream,' and I like that song and liked that name better,” he said.

Over the year his art has inspired many and spread smiles. The message is one from above according to Avila.

The art once a rehab for drugs is now an escape from his cancer and his grandson, Joshua Zermeno, said his grandfather has been in hospice care since January. He was in bad shape months ago, but has been stable recently and his spirit high as long as he can continue his artwork.

“It's very inspiring to see a man who knows his days are numbered. Just taking what life he has to spend it doing what he loves. You know it's not something that can be put in a museum or owned by anyone. It just becomes part of the city and it's here while it is. We're hoping maybe some of the more permanent structures that he does with rocks are taken care of and whoever got to experience it, got to experience it and it'll live on through the photographs and the people who tell his story,” said Zermeno.

Just two weeks ago, as a dying his grandfather went back to where this all began with his mom who had booked flights to take her father back to Coronado. The community there heard about his visit and illness and stepped in to fundraiser for part of the vacation and welcomed him back with open arms. Residents who remember him were missing the sandman and thankful for the years he was there and glad to have him back even if for a moment.

Now back in El Paso the Sandman said he won’t let cancer him from coming out and creating his temporary artwork, but hopes his message carries on long after the sand is gone.

“The best is yet to come. I have to be doing my art. Maybe I could show somebody and the one that's going to show you it'll be my spirit,” he said.

The Sandman’s family said the doctors haven't given him a time line, but while he's feeling well and before he passes he’d like community member to visit him when he’s out at his canvases.

He’s been using the Chico’s parking lot, off of George Dieter Drive and Rojas Drive, as his main canvas.

You can catch him Friday through Sunday in the afternoons when he’s feeling well.


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