Last summer I was introduced to the wildly creative and inspiring experience of Live Painting. After seeing some of my art hanging for Gallery Night at Lot 10 downtown and enjoying a brew next to my mural in the Beer Garden of The Westy on State Street, the organizers of the annual benefit festival for Carmen Road Artist Quarters asked me if I would do the honors of painting next to the stage at 2016's culmination of art and music in the Finger Lakes. Although I had painted public murals over longer periods of time before, which often draw curious onlookers and passersby, I had never had my process be so prominently featured as an attraction before and was intrigued at the prospect.
It wasn't the notion of having an audience that was daunting to me as much as the inevitably organic evolution of the piece that was to unfold over a period of six or so hours. I usually have a clear plan of a finished piece in my mind and will spend days or weeks meticulously working in fine detail until I feel satisfied with my work; this experience was going to be raw, unfiltered, and was to end when the music stopped and the dancing crowds dispersed, having little or nothing to do with my own judgment of my "finished" piece. Despite the initial anxiety of this new challenge, my anticipation quickly turned to a gleeful excitement at the freedom of such an idea. When the evening finally arrived I set up my paints, kicked off my shoes, wiggled my toes in the lush green grass, and waited for the music to begin.
The crowds gathered, curious about the blank canvas next to the stage and the girl wiggling with excitement beside it. I was nervous and eager and unsure of how to begin, but as soon as the first deep strum of a bass rang out across the warm summer night, I was suddenly overcome with a certainty of movement and motion, fluid and continuous with my strokes and unfaltering as the crowd was in their own swaying and pulsing to the music.
I found that my usual focus on detail and precision melted away as the piece unfolded before me. With every new song - and as the hours passed, every new band - the nature of the painting itself morphed and evolved, taking on a life of it's own; I felt like a vehicle, as much a part of the organic amoeba of a dancing crowd at a concert as I was an attraction. Never having any real musical talent in my life, I finally understood what musicians meant when they spoke of their live music as an entity that is created collaboratively between artist and audience as one.
I danced, sang, and painted (some faces as well as my canvas) the night away, and before I knew it the festival goers were drifting off toward a misty summer sunrise. I set my brush down, stretched out a happy sore arm and a let out a contentedly sleepy yawn, and walked away from the canvas to watch a new day begin; I knew I had discovered a new and entirely unique passion in Live Painting. I would be lucky enough to do it once more before the summer ended at a Benefit Auction for Ithaca Underground, held in a picturesque Cidery Orchard on the eve of a gorgeous full moon. Both experiences were wholly fulfilling, not only creatively and spiritually, but were also satisfying in the knowledge that my participation was simultaneously serving other Artists in the pursuit of their own crafts (the proceeds funding the Artist Quarters for Visual Arts at the former, and the Ithaca Underground for musicians at the latter). As this summer approaches, I am overjoyed to be kicking-off a new season of Live Painting at a Reggae Festival planned for Stewart Park in June to benefit the health of Cayuga Lake, where proceeds will be going to several institutions researching and restoring the water quality of the wetlands. Community yoga and live music will kick off the festival at 10 am on the 24th, and I will be there dancing and painting my way through the day, hoping to see your smiling faces bobbing beside my canvas once again!