Tape art requires a delicate touch and a quick imagination. Instead of a museum, its venue is any public space, usually a large wall. It's meant to have a lasting effect on the viewer, but after a day or two at the most, it's gone forever--just peeled off.
Tape art is what it sounds like. As with any other craft, it expresses the views of its creators. But its practitioners use tape, a kind similar to the commonplace household adhesive often handy for sealing packages.
Three tape artists are coming to Arlington next week. From July 6 to 8, the trio, based in Providence, R.I., will work with teenagers enrolled in the Arlington County-sponsored Teen Expo and Express Camp youth groups at the Thomas Jefferson Community Center.
On July 9 and 10, the artists will make a mural on the parking lot wall of the AMC Courthouse 8 cinema, adjacent to Arlington's Courthouse Plaza at 14th Street and Courthouse Road.
During the last 10 years, the three artists have made 325 public murals, in addition to work done at schools and corporate functions. Their pieces, which often are life-size silhouettes of people and their surroundings made with a deep blue tape, have appeared at Disney World, Graceland and Super Bowl XXX.
Besides its aesthetic value, tape art also is a "social exercise," said artist Struan Ashby, 29. "People have to learn how to negotiate the space."
That's what keeps the profession fresh for the three artists after a decade of drawing silhouettes with tape.
"There's an excitement, a freedom, a latitude to look at a space and just transform it," artist Erica Duthie said. In other art forms, the 28-year-old said: "There's an attitude of being limited by material costs and red tape and politics. And it was completely liberating to walk around the world and see it as potential canvasses and just create."
Self-described tape art inventor Michael Townsend and his crew do not preconceive their work. Therefore, they keep mum about each project. For example, none of the artists could say what they would do at the community center or Courthouse Plaza.
They will have a rough idea of the neighborhood and then plan their design within five minutes of being on location. It may take up to half a day to complete a work.
"The joke is we run on fear," Townsend said of the full-time business called Tape Art. "There have been walls we've had to book one-and-a-half years in advance and had to wait until five minutes before" to visualize and perform the piece.
The murals need to come down within a day or two. So the tape artists create nothing physically lasting. Ashby calls that the "golden rule of tape art," which contrasts with an oft-held belief that art is for posterity.
"It's a self-imposed idea for us," said the onetime aspiring filmmaker and graphic designer. "It's process over product. It removes the preciousness of art. It's not like having art in a museum with a gold frame."
Tape art began as a benign guerrilla activity when Townsend was a freshman at the Rhode Island School of Design. After midnight, he and a few friends took tape and drew images on campus property. Every 24 hours, the work would change.
While a college exchange student in New Zealand, Townsend met his future partners. Convinced they could make a career of tape art, they asked for seed money from an office-product company. They got it and went on a national tour in 1995, making murals in 40 states within six months.
Duthie said tape art is an easy way to encourage people to practice art.
"Everyone has tape," Duthie said. "It's a very familiar thing. If you give someone a piece of charcoal, they get frightened. They think of the great [artwork] made with it."
Tape Art will come to town as part of the Arlington County Cultural Affairs Division's Al Fresco series, now in its 12th year. To enroll in the youth camps, call 703-228-7782. For more information about the Courthouse display, call the Cultural Affairs Division at 703-228-6960. For examples of Tape Art's past work, see its Web site at www.tapeart.com.
CAPTION: The mural "Egypt" was created in Cleveland in 1992 during the Square-to-Square Festival. Artist Erica Duthie says it is "completely liberating to walk around the world and see it as potential canvasses and just create."