Many Hands Make Art Work
Thursday, August 17, 2006
Outside of Gallery Neptune in Bethesda on Friday night, four artists sat at a long table across from four models. One of the models wore a crisp blouse and pink lipstick and held a closed-lip smile for the full 20-minute sitting. Another model was a little girl with blond Goldilocks curls who could barely sit still for the whole session.
Luckily for her, she didn't have to.
Five minutes into the session, artist Rob Stelboum signed the bottom-right of his drawing, put down his pencil and said, "Okay, that's it. Switch!" The models took their unfinished portraits and moved one seat down the line. Now each sat across from a different artist who would start drawing on top of what his or her colleagues had already begun.
"Being an artist is usually a private relationship between you and your art, and you don't want to give that up," Stelboum, 48, says. "But here, we're giving up control over the work. . . . You learn so much. You stretch so much."
Stelboum, Brandon Bloch, Alex Slater and Ming Zaleski make up a group called the 4traits. They've done these assembly-line portraits in public about 10 times over the past two years, plus lots of informal sessions in Dupont Circle cafes or outside the Barnes & Noble in Bethesda.
Elyse Harrison, owner of Gallery Neptune, saw the 4traits working at a July event at the Gallery Restaurant & Lounge in Silver Spring. She had so much fun watching them draw that she invited the group to her gallery for the Aug. 11 Bethesda Art Walk.
The 4traits usually give their work away, but Harrison thought they should put a donation box on the table. At the end of the night, they'd collected $135.
Bloch was charged with the task of finishing the prim lady's portrait. Somehow along the way, the picture ended up with a comic-book-style, black-ink upper lip and a light pink, colored-pencil lower lip. He had five minutes to make this portrait jell. He shaded the lower lip with a pen to make it match the rest of the mouth. He used a toxic-smelling silver marker to draw her long, straight hair. When Stelboum yelled, "Time!" Bloch handed the portrait to his happy customer.
"Problem solving," he says, as he stands up for a five-minute stretch break before four new models come sit for their portraits.
The Art of Dance
Last spring, Brandon Hill was flipping through a book about performance art and was cracking up. He and a friend were reading a chapter about a man dragging a woman by her hair and proclaiming it Art. They decided they could do better.
Hill, a 22-year-old Baltimore resident, is the art director for a group that creates paintings by break dancing on canvas after soaking their hands and feet in paint.
"It's still pretty big," Hill says. "We get together to paint every other week, and if we're not meeting up, it's because Peter [Chang] is at a jam." Chang is one of two break dancers in the group. The other two do art direction and shoot still photos and video.