July 25th 2017
4:30 PM – 8:30 PM
Wisconsin Ave and Van Buren St
It’s another balmy Saturday night, and while I’m showing off downtown to an old friend visiting for the weekend my eyes are peeled for somewhere we could eat outside. As someone in the natural sciences, I say everything is better outside. Give me dinner and conservation in humid breezy open sky over a shouting-match in a fridge of a restaurant any day.
After waiting for bridges raised over rowdy river boats we make it to Rock Bottom, a hopping spot right on the river, and get to snag a patio table. The clock face of City Hall shines like a second moon, more of a decoration than a timepiece on an improvised summer night. Over cheese curds and local beer we swap stories of life since graduation, which inevitably includes City Self-Portrait. And he suggested something I had been considering lately.
All the places and events I’ve painted at so far I’ve chosen to catch a lot of people, which includes lots of families whether I intend that or not. So I started to wonder how I could try to get different groups of people. Kids always make the paintings whimsical and bursting with color. What would happen if I tried to get only adults? Or went out on a glitzy Friday evening? Or found an event run by a senior center? Or set up outside the Pabst or Marcus Center theaters as a show gets out? Or caught business people coming out of their towering office buildings for lunch or their commute home?
Having families and kids paint with me is wonderful and often gives me bold and rewarding contributions to work with, but it’s important in any project to take a minute to reassess what I originally wanted and to set goals for what’s next, even when things are going well.
Parents encourage their kids to paint but not themselves, which means I get lots and lots of kids, who almost always go big. What would it look like to keep it to the grown-ups? I want to create with all Milwaukeeans, not just the youngest. While I will consider where I’ll want to paint next, I should also think of whom I’d want to painting with. There’s a subtle difference there, and it could take this somewhere truly new.
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First stop was back to Wisconsin Ave, only a block or two from where I’ve painted before but this time on a Tuesday evening – how exotic. I suppose I wanted to see what would happen if I set anchor down in the tide of polished business people walking and busing home alongside suitcases and colleagues. It was strange but good to be back after my weekend off from painting while visiting Chicago. Feeling rusty I had to triple-check that I remembered everything I need, and it took a while of wandering until I actually settled on my street corner. At the start most who stopped to watch were “too late for a bus” to paint, although one woman was already running for one and still stopped to add a little before dashing on, laughing over her shoulder that it would be my fault if she missed it!
Only a few takers were commuting from work, but I did get my first painting with only help from adults. They all had imagination, absolutely, but every single person asked for the smallest brush I had, wanting to leave their mark, even if only a little one. The first taker giggled through laying down sidewalk. A photographer/painter walking her puppy added the first streetlamps. Another photographer at work capturing the same city block added a meticulous Superman breaking the sound barrier. Delicate flower boxes across the street expertly grew from the hand of a woman who used to paint blooms on her children’s polished toenails when they were little. Thanks to a group of young women, giant lizards and a flashy butterfly made the city somehow more tropical. And the creatures continued with a purple tentacle reaching out toward another’s lightning bolt. The airplane-turn-starship is thanks to someone who came along with an armful of maps and flowers. And a fully detailed streetlamp was one of the last installations before I strung the rest of the lights up and down the street and called it a night.
Special thanks to: