Painted people: a first for First Friday
First Fridays in Ashland offer a chance to see local art, drink free wine, hear some live music and support local businesses. The art has remained mostly stationary over the years — until last Friday, when four local artists painted four models from head to toe at Awake Tea and Espresso Café & Gallery.
The artists had slightly less than three hours to feverishly paint a mostly nude human from head to toe, then the models were put on “interactive display” walking throughout the Awake gallery and the Metaphysical Library next door while engaging with the audience.
Onlookers snacked on cheese and drank wine while staring at the elaborate designs on the bodies.
Bree Busy Bee, a name one of the models chose for herself, stumbled into the back room and slammed the door behind her with a bewildered look on her face. She was painted in the style of Japanese art, black swirls embraced her curves and cherry blossoms were speckled throughout the swirls as well as atop a head piece she wore crafted by the artist, Christian Gonda.
“Some lady just plucked my underwear and said, ‘You are wearing underwear!’” Bee said. She laughed, poured herself a plastic cup of wine, straightened her head piece and then walked back out the door into the furor.
An Ashland ordinance restricts anyone 8 years or older to intentionally expose his or her genitalia while in an exterior public place.
To cover everyone’s butts — literally — the models all wore underwear. Some wore shoes, and everyone had additional shoulder or head pieces constructed by the artists as well.
Although the artists hadn’t painted an entire human body before, they said the biggest challenge wasn’t the medium, but the time limit.
“It’s a lot of canvas to cover, and you need more paint than you realize,” Connie McGonagle, the owner of the art gallery, said.
She painted the only male model, Andres Marquez, in shimmery gold leaf, silvers and earth tones featuring Native American symbols, a shoulder piece made of feathers and a head dress.
She said she learned a lot from this first experience and will give the artists much more time at the next First Friday.
She plans to allow each of the 34 artists featured in her gallery an opportunity to participate in the “Live Canvas” event at every First Friday.
Onlookers filled the rooms of the art gallery and the Metaphysical Library and flowed into the parking lot for the majority of the entire event, which lasted from 5-8 p.m.
Susan and Randy Krant said they were excited to attend because it reminded them of one of their favorite television shows, “Skin Wars.”
“I love it,” Susan said. “It’s almost as good as Burning Man.”
Bonnie Cohen said she was excited for a different type of First Friday art gallery exhibit.
“I’m sorry I missed the actual painting,” Cohen said. “The freedom everyone has to be themselves is beautiful.”
To respect the models, the painting took place in a private back room and attendees were asked to sign a waiver promising to not take pictures with their cellphones.
TaraShea Aananda was painted as a snow leopard by artist Micah Kilimann.
Kilimann said she likes to marry the concepts of femininity with felinity.
“I really like the feline form and the feminine form,” she said. “They’re similar in a lot of ways so it’s cool to merge them together.”
Kilimann said she’s been face painting for the better part of seven years.
“Painting people is fun because it’s more physical and real as opposed to painting on a canvas,” Kilimann said.
Aananda was painted in shades of blues and silvery whites freckled with leopard spots. Her belly was dotted with blue adhesive gems and she wore a black and silver wig, cat ears and a long tail.
Aananda said she has been a performing artist her entire life. She swayed through the rooms with her wrists bent like a cat about to paw a cup off a table.
She said it was relaxing to be painted all over and empowering to put herself on display.
“There was an element of vulnerability, an element of exhibitionism, an element of body positivity and an element of embracing all of the above,” Aananda said. “It was very fun.”
She said it was easier to be naked in a room full of people because she was painted as a leopard, so she felt like a leopard.
“It’s like costuming,” Aananda said. “I’m a work of art.”
After an hour or so of standing still with legs locked while being painted, model Taylor Marie said she needed to take a walk because she felt faint.
“Don’t pass out because we’ll continue with or without you awake,” artist Charlie Silvera said jokingly.
He and two other artists, Justine Gandolfo and Anna Streletz, painted Marie as an metal/punk anarchist complete with a painted black leather vest, metal sheeting legs and a skull for a face, in reflection of Silvera’s usual style of art.
Silvera said he couldn’t have completed the project in the time limit if it wasn’t for the help he had.
Marie said she models professionally and couldn’t pass up this opportunity for her portfolio.
“This is testing the edge for me because I’m going to be naked in front of the town,” Marie said before the public portion of the event.
As the artists wrapped up their painting, Gonda was far behind everyone else due to the detail he was putting into his art. The other artists who had finished along with the model herself began to excitedly help him finish.
The crowd was very receptive to the event and most people said they would come back for the next one.
All of the artists have various pieces featured in the Awake Tea and Espresso Café & Gallery located at 1757 Ashland St.
The gallery is open from 6 a.m. to midnight daily and features a coffee and tea bar, as well as an open mic available at any time for anyone to use.
McGonagle doesn’t charge the artists to use her gallery or rent space. She said because she’s an artist herself she understands the struggle both of selling art and performing live. So, she’s created a free space for local artists to help them get a leg up. She takes a small percentage from any art she sells from her gallery.
For more information about Awake and its special events, visit its website at awakeashland.com or its Facebook page at @AwakeCafeAshland.
Contact Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.