What Color is Your Freedom?

What Color is Your Freedom?

October 05, 2018

One Canvas. Many Hands. United with Color.

Last spring, my friend Monica sent me the link for the Sac Open Studios Tour and said "DO IT!!!". I'd been thinking about participating as an artist on the tour for a few years now, and those two little words of encouragment were all I needed to sign up. I've shown my work at coffee shops, vet hospitals, dog daycares, and many events around town, but this would be my first time opening up my studio to the public. With no idea what to expect, I was both excited and nervous with anticipation.  After I registered, Monica asked me if I was going to do a demonstration during Open Studios. And it was in that exact moment when the idea was born to do a community art painting. It sounded much more fun to invite the public to paint with me than to show them how I paint. I wanted people to have an opportunity to experience what it was like to stand in front of a canvas, with paint and brush in hand, deciding where to make their mark of self-expression. The thought of many people working on a single canvas ignited something within me.

But what were people going to paint? It seemed important to have the canvas sketched out ahead of time, to help provide some guidance. Rewind to just after the election in 2016, when I was moved to create a few art pieces, one of which was a 4x4 foot painting of the Statue of Liberty. Well, after starting that painting, I got caught up with life and commissioned work, and had to put it aside. Fast forward to this year and the decision to do a community art piece, when my brilliant wife said, "why don't you turn that Statue of Liberty painting into your sketch and title it, What Color Is Your Freedom?". Brilliant.

I spent a solid two weeks working on the sketch, mapping out shapes in the Statue of Liberty, so people would have some sort of direction when they showed up to paint. I wasn't sure if people would want to paint in or outside of the lines, so I set it up for both. Already aware and appreciative of the existing collaboration for the creation of this piece, I poured my heart into this sketch. And, then – I let it go. When I shared my sketch with Monica, she shared with me her favorite verse from the poem, "The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus, that's at the foot of the Statue of Liberty.  Monica used to take middle-schoolers to NYC and have them memorize The New Colossus, and then scream it out to the ocean from the base of the Statue of Liberty. I was so moved by this story that I had to find a way to weave it into the painting. Hence Monica's favorite verse on the right-hand side of the canvas.

On the first day of the two-day open studio tour, there were people lined up at 10 am, ready to paint. I couldn't believe it! Throughout the course of the two days, nearly 150 people showed up to paint. It was incredible to watch the transformation of this art piece. One of the most touching moments was when 5-year-old Carter introduced himself to another 5-year-old, Cooper. I can still hear Carter's sweet and kind voice say, "Hi, I'm Carter! Would you like to paint with me? I'm painting with the color green. What color would you like to paint with?" I was immediately moved to tears and was so inspired by just how easy it can be, to be kind to one another. I will forever be touched by Carter and Cooper's instant friendship and collaboration.

Once the weekend was over, I was literally vibrating from the core of my heart with an overwhelm of emotion and joy. Over the course of the next week, I spent a little more time with the painting, filling in with color areas that were left blank, in an attempt to pull it all together – to make everyone's additions shine. The colors I used to complete the painting were selected by those who wanted to participate but weren't able to make it. So I added burnt orange, cobalt blue, sky blue, sea green, lemon yellow, purple, electric blue, buttercream, periwinkle blue, holland blue, cotton candy pink, Jedi black, and cardinal red. Bursting from the seams with color, this painting embodies so much creativity, inspiration, and hope! Often, the final mark on a painting is a signature, or in this case, a hundred and fifty signautres. So I painted the edges black and am in the process of handwriting the first names on the edges of all who signed in for this project.

Monica also gave me the idea of doing a time-lapse video. So my brilliant wife set up the GoPro and created a time-lapse of approximately twenty hours of painting. Once the painting was complete, I uploaded the videos from the two days of painting along with a picture of the completed painting, added some snappy music, did some clipping in iMovie, and then strung it all together. I've watched this video numerous times since making it, reliving how everyone approached the canvas with respect and creativity. Watching everyone work together to create something so profound moved me beyond belief.

I will forever be grateful to my dear friend Monica, my wife, and to all who participated on the project. Including all my amazingly supportive friends and family who volunteered to help during the weekend to make sure this community art project was not only possible, but successful. I have big dreams for this painting and am still working out the details of what will happen with it next. I would love for it to be on public display for all its artists to see, as well as for the general public, to show that when we come together as a collective, we are one. I would also love to auction off the original painting and have the proceeds go back to the arts or to a cause that embodies the message behind this painting. Peace. Love. Collaboration. Inclusivity. Community. And so much positivity. If you happen to have any ideas on where to display this inspirational (4x7 foot) art piece, please get in touch. I am open to any and all ideas! I hope you enjoy the video (above) and are as moved as I was by the power of community and what can happen when we work together.