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A Speed Painting Tribute… different

23 Jan

As Speed Painters we have the privilege of performing for some of the most fun and exciting crowds – and most of our performances are just that: fun and exciting!  Incredible singers belting it out while we paint, crowd clapping, cheering, singing along… incredible and, yes, fun!

But this blog is about a request and a performance that was different.

This request came to us steeped in… well, tragedy.
The voice on the other end of the phone was humble and heartfelt, can we convey a message to a convention audience… sentiment really, one that could help a large group of people heal and pay their respects? The story, although straight out of a newspaper headline (literally as it turned out) had a shattering impact on the company and it’s employees – two of their people, a pair of young women, were killed while on the job by an eighteen wheeler running a red light.
During their annual event they wanted to honor these two women, pay tribute to them, and – we realized later – give everyone a chance to say goodbye.

Could we paint their portraits, but do it to honor the solemnity of the occasion? “Not too slow though, they wouldn’t have liked that, but not over the top… there’s over 1,500 people going to be there… we need your help.”

Over the next few days certain decisions became obvious. First the music: no live singers, no “motivating” music, just a simple, beautiful ballad . Second, we would paint both portraits at once, one at each end of the stage, each painter staying solo with their 6′ x 6′ canvas. Lastly, we would keep it contained at 6 minutes.

On site Michael and I ended up waiting backstage over 4 hours. That’s a lot of butterflies. Michael joked about how he was sick before speed painting Michael Eisner (“He was the CEO of DISNEY at the time and there he was sitting a couple feet in front of the stage.”) but this was nervous in a different way… humbling. And suddenly they’re waving us on and it’s bright and quiet and I’m walking up to the familiar blank canvas. The smell of our paints. Image of a young woman in my head.
I realized only a dozen people knew what we were painting, what would the rest think? And then I was gone.

While we were painting we didn’t dance or jump, didn’t do any sort of theatrics, we simply painted.  Just us, our brushes and our “subject matter”. For a few moments we held them – just as we strived to for the hours of studio rehearsal – a feature at a time, pouring our hearts into every stroke. With 1,500 people there, somehow, it was the most intimate performance we have ever done.

The music ended and their was silence. We turned. Funny how the noise of a crowd can sound different in different situations, it hit us as a rolling building thunder – part clapping, part cheering, part crying, not for us of course – partly for their company that took the risk in creating such a moment but mainly for the memory of their lost friends.
It was truly a beautiful, and humbling experience.

I hope they would agree.

Author Jeff Smith

Michael Ostaski and Jeff Smith are Speed Painters with the act The 3 Painters

Honoring Heroes

2 Aug

We recently had the privilege of performing The 3 Painters speed painting show for an amazing group of people.  Over the course of the event we paid tribute to several different groups of veterans, including many from WWII.

As part of our performance we painted a tribute to one of these groups, the Tuskegee Airmen.  I can honestly say it was a thrill to speed paint a live tribute to these incredible men.

I was hoping to get a chance to meet one of them, and so I brought with me a smaller version of the live painting I had done for the performance.  After our performance, I asked a gentleman who had been helping the Tuskegee Airmen throughout the evening if I might get one of them to sign it for me.

He told me the airmen had been amazed, and honored by the performance and would gladly sign it. I was then introduced to every Tuskegee airman at the event and each of them signed it for me! Being a history buff, I was on cloud nine.

 Tuskegee Airman

The Honoring of American Heroes. Speed Painting Signed by the   Tuskegee Airmen

Now, for those of you who don’t know who the Tuskegee Airmen are, or why I might be so excited about this, let me explain.

The Tuskegee airmen were the first African-American fighter pilots in the US military.  They were a segregated unit, as we’re most at that time, and they trained at the army airbase at Tuskegee Alabama (hence the nickname).  Many in the military fought this, claiming black men were incapable of anything as complicated as flying a fighter plane.

There were hearings in congress where many elected officials attacked them at every opportunity.  But the Tuskegee men kept going.  They fought the military, they fought congress, they fought the prejudices of virtually everyone they met both here an abroad.  Eventually they were assigned to combat and flew escort to bomber planes.  They were one of the most successful squads of the war.

Think about this for a moment.  They were fighting the military, and their own government, not for any special treatment, but for the right to go out and fight and possibly die, FOR that same government and military.

If WWII represents the greatest generation, the the Tuskegee airmen are one of the finest examples of what made that generation great.

They are true American heroes.

And I got their autographs!

Moment of Creation

28 Jul

We just returned from a very successful engagement in Chattanooga.  Over the course of four days we painted seven paintings, ranging from custom speed paintings of the company’s beloved founder and other of their top men, to Jimi Hendrix (painted upside down) and John Lennon, and ending with the corporate mascot.  They loved it.

I love watching the audience reactions as the paintings develop.  They have before them an artist with nothing more than paint and paper, black and empty, standing stark on the stage. And in mere minutes all is transformed into a work of art.  It doesn’t matter how “sophisticated” their taste in art is.  Some may yearn for Monet or Rodin, some may cherish album cover art, some are happy with dogs playing poker.  It doesn’t matter what their taste is, their faces glow as the watch the painting develop before their eyes.

I realized some time ago, that it isn’t only the painting that enthralls, but the process as well.  They aren’t merely looking at the world through the artist’s eyes, as we do when we gaze at some famous work, they are actually seeing it happen.

They are there for the moment of creation.  They bear witness to a world seldom seen by any but the artist themselves.  It is that moment  that captivates as much or more than the final piece.  It holds their attention as peer into a world of infinite possibilities.  They not only get to see the world through the eyes of the artist, they get to experience that first moment when it comes to life.

This is why the speed painting  live art shows are among my favorites.  You get to bring the audience with you into fleeting world where action makes thought reality.  It is a unique opportunity to open a door and invite the audience in so that, together, you can all experience that singular moment if creation.

Speed Painting in Chattanooga

Michael Ostaski and Jeffrey Smith

Painting and Adventuring, the Madrid, Spain Way

6 Jul

Madrid…

The hardest thing about flying to Madrid was the timing of our flight. We left Chicago at about 4:30 pm, flew for 8 hours and landed in Madrid at 7:30 am the next morning. We had missed an entire night. Going a night without sleep is no big deal when you are in college, but tends to wear on you a bit as you get older.

We stayed in the Ritz Madrid. This is an incredible hotel, built a hundred years ago by the king of Spain with intention of making it a centerpiece of Madrid.

This was done in an effort to make Madrid a city to rival any in Europe. The hotel is truly a masterpiece. Marble floors give way to inlaid wood while walls run seamlessly from curved statued alcoves to gilded mirrors.

But really small.

The elevators held three adults, or two and a couple of bags. The rooms had enough room to get around the bed but no more and a small desk at the end. The dressers were antique wood and the bathroom, of course, featured a bidet. Europeans are very civilized in this way.

We didn’t explore very far the first day, mostly we tried to rest since we had a 5 am call the next morning. We couldn’t set up the night before because there was a wedding in the ballroom that night.
5 o’clock I got down to the ballroom to discover that the last of the wedding party was just leaving. These people take their parties very seriously. They also like late nights. In fact, many restaurants did not even open for supper until after 8:30, and some as late as 10. That’s when they opened mind you. The ballroom was incredibly tight, as they packed people into it.

But the performance went great. Everyone loved it and there was already talk about having us back.

Now we had a couple of days to explore Madrid. Madrid has that classic old European architecture. Mostly narrow roads, none of which ran straight, with old buildings painted earthy hues of rose, yellow, orange and tan. The sun found its way through the buildings to make one side of the street sparkle and the other settle into a comfortable glow of reflected light. Like most European cities, Madrid is beautiful. In fact there are numerous artists in the various plazas painting scenes from the city. I have one such painting now hanging in my office.
And so we ventured out into the city. We were armed with a few euros and just enough Spanglish to get ourselves into trouble. Fortunately, we did not.
Our first order of business was to find food. We found a couple of restaurants that looked promising but they didn’t open until much later. Then we found it.
As far as we could tell this was the most popular chain of eateries in Madrid. It was simple, inexpensive and pretty tasty. It was called Museo del Jamon.

In English that would be, the Ham Museum. No, I am not making that up.

You could have whatever you wanted, as long as it was ham. Don’t get me wrong, the ham was very tasty. They served it very thinly sliced, and only a slice or two, on a small baguette. This cost about a euro, or just over a dollar.

Something else we had discovered on our journey around the city was that nearly all of the restaurants had exactly the same menu. And from what I could tell the same photographer (bad photographer) took the pictures that they posted in their windows. It seemed they went out of their way to make the food look bad. They didn’t really have to go far though. Basically you could get some form of ham and bread, pickled or fried fish and octopus. That was pretty much it.
After a few meals of this, in desperation I got a hamburger at one small bar. I should have stuck with the ham.
There was no bun and while I am sure the meat was, well meat, I could not have identified the animal it came from.

Madrid is a beautiful city but it did take a little getting used to. For instance, I am not sure I understood the Spanish sense of humor. In the Plaza Mayor there are a lot of various street performers and there were many that I simply did not understand.
There was Fat Spider Man, Scary Deer/Ram, Dead guy with an Axe, Head on a Box and a few others. These are the names we gave them, I have no idea what they called themselves.
Take Scary Deer for instance. This was someone wearing a deer’s (or maybe a ram) head, apparently kneeling down, and the rest of their body was covered with a mylar “rain curtain”. The mouth moved and when it did it made a loud clapping sort of sound. It did this any time anyone got too close. This had the general effect of scaring people away. People would try to get their kids to stand next to it to take a picture and this thing would start clacking and shacking. The kids would jump and scream and try to run away, while the parents would be trying just as hard to drag them back over to get their picture taken.
I am sure this cut back considerably on the tips the performer was able to get. I pictured them looking at a nearly empty jar at the end of the day and thinking to themselves, tomorrow I will just have to make the head clap louder!

We found a bar on the plaza that didn’t charge much for wine or beer and whenever you ordered they also gave you a small plate of something. One time is nuts, another time it was pickled sardines. The bartender never smiled but he remembered what we were drinking whenever we walked in.

Eventually we relaxed into the scene that was Madrid. We sat in the Plaza Mayor with our wine, ate our ham and bread and laughed at the tourists that got too close to the Scary Deer. And as the sun would begin to go down the buildings would start to glow and the old artist’s eyes would come alive. Later that night we knew we would wander out and have supper, sometime around 10, and the ham would be just fine.

We somehow, at some time, found the rhythm of Madrid.

Jeff Smith is a speed painter and technician for the Speed-Painting Thrill act, “The 3 Painters”, and onsite coordinator for “Michael Ostaski’s Art Explosion!”.  For questions regarding these acts and speed painting questions in general, Jeff can be reached here. Any other questions?

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