Art in the Alley: When Art Isn’t Your Job; It’s Your Calling

The evening was idyllic, and I wove through the crowd, beer in hand, feeling quite right about the world. Later this night would be Neos Dance Theatre’s performance of Ballet @ the Brickyard, an annual summer performance outside in Mansfield’s Brickyard performance area. (Read Mark Jordan’s coverage of the event here.) But before that, while the sun still sizzled our shoulders, Mansfielders walked from tent to tent at Art in the Alley.

KenArthurAt many booths, artists were creating work while envious crowds looked on. I saw watercolors coming to life, pastels, and at one booth, paper forming from what seemed to be just a bin of dirty dish water. Ken Arthur stopped me there, and convinced me to set down my beer long enough to make some paper of my own.

Ken — funky hat, old T-shirt, chainmail necklace — helped me fill a framed screen with pulp. He was working at MP Marion’s booth. She is a paper artist who wanted to not only show her art, but to also share the act of creating it with the crowd. Her pieces are vibrant, abstract stories told in paper pulp. Ken, himself, is an artist of found objects and repurposed materials. His pieces are big, dark, heavy, and every one winks at you until you get it or move on.

paperpulpI pressed the water out of the pulp and plopped it from the screen (which was so satisfying!) onto a cloth. Then I picked some colors of pulp in squeezy bottles like purple and green ketchup at your picnic. After squirting colors in the vicinity of the paper, Ken took over and I retrieved my beer.

I continued through the biggest tent, which housed several more artists. I looked at oil paintings, tables made from slices of huge geodes, bleached animal skulls that had been written on, intricate wooden cutting boards. It was at this last booth that I stopped and spoke to the wife of the craftsman, Terry Paramore.

Terry and Jenni are longtime Mansfielders. It wasn’t until Terry retired from 32 years at an asphalt paving company that he really was able to get into his woodwork. He uses locally sourced cherry and walnut to create these cutting and serving boards, which are works of art. “He would hate to hear us call it that,” said Jenni.
“Call it what?” I asked.
“Well! He better get used to that.”

To call yourself an artist when you spend your days in an office — or anywhere that isn’t your workspace — is a small act of bravery. It is difficult, sometimes, to own yourself. I make art, I am an artist; I make a living elsewhere. I live in Mansfield; not Columbus, not New York. Still, I am an artist.

I admired all the artists, not only for their talents, but for the temerity it takes to become so good when it’s not your full-time job. Just creating, creating, creating; just emptying all of yourself into your art, time and again until you think there’s no more of you left.

That is what makes this day-long event incredible — the sheer number of artists of all varieties in one spot putting themselves out there, bare and vulnerable, saying, “here is something that came from the very core of me. Please take good care of it.” Dancers, painters, woodworkers, and sculptors alike, all revealing something of their souls, looking for recognition in strangers.

When the sun slid behind the brick buildings the plein air artists walked their easels around the corner to paint the dancers rehearsing. In the lengthening shadows the other artists began to pack up while the seats before the stage started filling with people. The stage populated with dancers moving confidently, owning who they were, dayjob regardless. As a crowd, our attention shifted to the dance, to this other art, to more artists sharing with us some slice of themselves that we might find it familiar.

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