In The Act 

Visual Arts Collective brings artists and viewers together

Visual art shows are often hushed affairs with people quietly milling around, chatting about values and perspective. Even if the artist is present, there's usually little interaction with him or her. What a concept, then, if a viewer could not only watch an artist at work, but work alongside him or her, asking questions and getting bits of advice. On March 10, Visual Arts Collective (VAC), brought artist, art and viewer together at the first of what VAC hopes will be many more interactive art shows.

Each artist sat a station where he or she worked on a piece that would later be available for auction. Spread throughout (and even outside) the gallery, each artist also made space for viewers to sit and watch the artists at work and, for a couple of bucks for supplies, draw, paint or sew themselves.

Grant Olsen worked with what looked like old newspaper ads copied on to transparencies and then projected on to a canvas. He traced, painted and drew, merging the figures from one ad with the text from another. (He said he hadn't completely planned out what he would do that day and liked to play it a little loose.) When asked what he thought about people watching him work or asking for advice, Olsen said, "It must be really boring to watch me. I can't imagine why anyone would want to, but maybe that's just my own neurosis."

Across the room, Black Cat Tattoo owner Sean Wyett worked on a small square piece, using a green pencil to color in flowers drawn around a coiled snake. He said he'd always wanted to be an artist or a race car driver. When a young woman asked for tips on drawing, Wyett said he told her, "It's simple. Don't be nervous. Just pick up a piece of paper and a pencil and start drawing."

In a corner of the room, seated on a big, comfortable vinyl chair, Boise Weekly's own Erin Gorringe worked on a soft, off-white kimono titled, "Hanta." She constructed the kimono and then painted on several representations of what the hanta virus looks like under a microscope. Earlier, she'd painted a large mouse on the back of the piece, and a much smaller one near the collar. On Saturday, she embroidered the mice, giving them more dimension and bringing the dichotomy of the cute gray rodents with pink ears and the life-threatening disease they carry into high relief.

Near the front door, Ben Wilson and Erin Ruiz had set up shop together. They'd gotten together the day before to do some preliminary sketches and on Saturday each worked on the two pieces in front of them, swapping the works back and forth. The main subject of each piece was a cosmonaut, and each piece reflected both Wilson's and Ruiz's personal (and immediately identifiable) styles.

Near the stage, Claymation-video artist Jason Sievers had set up a small tableau, and used a digital camera to shoot pictures of a blond warrior toy. The toy's forearms had been replaced with wires (the action figure's arms were used on a clay figure in an earlier video) with little shields screwed on to the ends. Sievers turned the shields a fraction of an inch, took a shot, moved them again, took a shot, etc. The result was just a few seconds of the little shield spinning: actual animation. Sievers, who works exclusively animating videos to music, said it takes about four months to complete a three-minute video. "It's always kind of a flurry of activity at the beginning and at the end [of a video], and that time also includes my family life and my full-time job," Sievers said. The video he created for "She Sends Kisses," by the New Jersey-based Wrens, took six months. "But that was a six-minute song," he said, laughing.

In the alley behind the gallery, graffiti artist Epik worked on four boards, about eight feet tall and two feet wide, set side-by-side. He said he brought the boards from home, and though he'd made a smaller piece--a painted black canvas with bright yellow graffiti text--the large boards were a much better example of the kind of "canvas" he's used to working on. He said he's been working as a graffiti artist professionally for about 12 years, and his Las Vegas upbringing is a big influence on his work. Epik has painted pieces for Donnie Mac's Trailer Park Cuisine in the Linen District, The Plank on Vista Avenue and the Eco Lounge on Bogus Basin Road, to name a few. He did some work in an alley for a Hyde Park gallery to prevent kids from tagging the walls, and it worked. The piece he worked on at VAC combined flowing, organic lines and sharp-cornered text, using turquoise blue and bright pink: colors chosen from the dozen or so plastic milk crates filled with cans of spray paint that make up his palette.

Back inside, Boise band The Universal had started setting up. They performed live while the Sievers-created video for their song "Dead Battery Accident" played on a screen in the background. Local musicians Ian Waters and Doug Martsch later took the stage, finishing out the night.

Pieces created on Saturday will be up for auction for about two weeks. Visual Arts Collective, 1419 W. Grove St., 208-424-8297, www.visualartscollective.com.

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