A lot has gone down on the boardwalk in Coney Island, that's for sure, but how about a woman painting circles with her wheelchair or a guy diving onto a slip-n-slide full of paint? This past weekend those were just two of the unique ways Brooklynites helped create ten large scale abstract paintings as part of an interactive performance art event featuring local artist Paul Campbell and his counterpart from Singapore, artist Shih Yun Yeo.
"There’s a rich history of artists carrying a lot of angst into their work and brooding and making deep, dark works in their studio," said Campbell, as a participant let loose a vibrating toy covered in black paint. "I like the concept of making art that celebrates friends and family."
Yeo added, "We wanted to do something that is happy and fun and playful."
The title of the exhibit, Coney Island Abstract: Continuity/Discontinuity, draws on the artists' shared feelings of inspiration from New York artists. "We both admire painters from New York and what they have done," said Yeo. "So it’s kind of continuing what they’ve done, but discontinuing the angst and the anger."
They held the event on the boardwalk in front of the historic Childs Building at West 21st Street. The beach was packed thanks to weather in the mid-90s, which put a steady stream of people right past the locale. If people weren't asking how they could take part, they were stopping to watch. "I come down here all the time and I've never seen something like this," said bystander Maria Perez, as she watched a man drive a remote control motorcycle through green paint. "I'm not going to do it though. Sand and paint don't mix."
Campbell, 57, and Yeo, 34, met at a conference in South Korea last October. Despite their difference in culture, language, age, gender, and experience, conversation revealed that they had similar ways of creating art. Both full-time artists combine traditional art materials with unconventional ways of mark making: Campbell uses remote control cars to create oil paintings on canvas and Yeo skates on surfaces with rollerblades covered in Chinese inks. For the event, they used water-based house paint on 7-by-7 canvases. Both artists added a little to the canvases with their methods, but mostly they left the painting to everyone else.
Friends, family and random passers-by got in on the action. A bikini-clad girl dipped her long hair into a can of orange paint and swiped the makeshift paintbrush across a canvas painted sea foam green. A friend of Campbell's son painted his hands and feet, then used a canvas as his stage for capoeira. A Russian woman in a motorized scooter let Campbell and Yeo paint her wheels white, then she drove in loops on a deep blue background. "That turned out to be one of the most beautiful paintings you've ever seen," said Campbell.
Participants had free reign over how they want to paint, but the artists chose the colors they were allowed to use. "Just so they won’t go too wild with crazy colors," said Yeo. "It still needs to be exhibited and it will be under our names, so we don't want it to be too crazy."
However, things got pretty crazy when Campbell's sons Sam and Zac broke out the slip-n-slide. After hooking up the slide to a hose, they poured a small pool of paint at the very end, so they would hit the paint right before sliding over the canvas. Sam went first, sending yellow paint — and a lot of water — sloshing over the image, and Zac immediately followed, adding a bright crimson with his dive. The colors looked mesmerizing, swirling together, but a large puddle of water lay in the middle of the canvas.
"Well, maybe that didn't work too well," said Campbell with a laugh, "but it sure looked like fun."
The finished paintings will be displayed from 7-10pm this Thursday July 22 at Campbell's studio in Williamsburg at 139 North 10th Street, #3R (between Bedford and Berry). Then the canvases will travel with Yeo for an exhibition in Singapore.