Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Art In The Open

If you've read the Washington Post recently, you may have seen mention of PandaMania. That's one of those popular fundraising activities where local artists decorate large Fiberglas animals that are set up around town and then auctioned off.

Vandalism of such statues is not uncommon, as was the case with the wolves set up around Raleigh during the Red Wolf Ramble. And now, the D.C. pandas are being vandalized.

I've seen contracts between organizers and artists which often spell out construction and decoration guidelines for the artists which are aimed at minimizing the damage to the sculptures by vandals.

But those measures don't salve the hurt feelings of artists who have put their time and heart into the adornment of these figures, only to see them defaced.

It's impossible for me to fathom the mindset of anyone who would vandalize artwork. But the problem is a real one and it's forced me to reconsider my desire to participate in our local Public Arts program.

This program seeks to exhibit original art (not brightly decorated pandas and bovines) in public spaces about town. Some month's it might be an ambiguous outdoor installation in a public park or a giant flower made from recycled metal. Some, it is wall art, hung in the clerk of court's office or over the water fountain at the public library.

And that's what I've been after. No kidding.

For several years, I have been submitting slides for consideration by the Public Arts committee. Sure, that has partly been because I wanted the exposure. But there's more to it. I have really wanted to give something back to my community and maybe make that cold, beige wall in a municipal building a little less cold and beige.

My enthusiasm for the program is somewhat dampened by my fear that someone will have a waterfight by one of my watercolours or decide to alter one of my paintings with a Sharpie.

A few days ago, I went by the library and saw this month's exhibition. They're pastels and one of them, in particular, caught my eye. It's a portrait, so delicately rendered that the sheerness of her shawl reveals the dress beneath and the curls of her white hair seem to stir in the breeze.

Funny thing about pastels- they're fragile as hell! Like butterfly wings. Sure, they are sprayed with fixative. But too much will ruin the colour and finer touches will simply blow away. It takes layers of delicate pastel with light sprays of fixative to build up a portrait like the one at the library. Those fine wisps of hair were probably not fixed at all.

You don't hang pastels any place where they are likely to be jarred. And never, NEVER, turn them over and give them a shake--remember Etch-A-Sketch?

I probably won't go back to the library while those pastels are there. They are far too vulnerable where they have been hung and I couldn't bear to see them damaged.

That's not to say that I don't support public arts programs or that I think that all art should stay behind velvet ropes. Far from it! I wish that cities would start commissioning public art again.

But, as an artist, I just don't feel like I can risk my work. Not financially, emotionally.....or spiritually.

No comments: