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About this blog: John Barry is the creator of trAction Painting, a process/performance genre in which he applies paint to large surfaces with bicycles, roller skates, and other wheeled conveyances. With Bill Carmel and other associates, he has bro...  (More)

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Pedal-Propelled Painting

Uploaded: Oct 7, 2013
I had the best intentions about blogging during my trAction Painting performances at San Ramon's Art in the Park last weekend. But with preparation, performance, and palliatives, I had no time to pound the keyboard. Now I do, barely.

The weather was glorious; fortunately, the wind gusts plaguing the area on Thursday had died down by the time I taped down 22 x 12 feet of canvas to the parking lot near the basketball courts. Wind might have had me doing a billowing sails demo instead.

I started on Saturday morning by doing a little skainting (applying paint with inline skates), but my main method of putting down layer after layer was by bainting (applying paint by bike). I have two two-wheelers dedicated to the task: a Schwinn with street tires and a Giant with mountain bike tires. The street tires produce a broad even line; the knobs on the mountain tires make for a sort of stippled pattern--a nice contrast.

During the course of the day, I used yellow, purple, light green, cobalt blue, teal, and salmon. I concocted a deep forest green by feeding teal to the Schwinn's back tire and yellow to its front. I had crafted a rack for each bike that holds a large container of paint, from which protrudes vinyl tubes that pass to just above each tire's surface. Gravity feeds paint to the tires, which, in turn, deposit it onto the canvas.

A similar mechanism works for the skates: to one or both legs, I strap an intubated bike bottle just above the skate boot. The tube runs down the boot and over its tip, and paint flows to the front skate wheel.

As the accompanying photo taken by Catherine Jennings shows, this is a messy endeavor; lots of paint spills. So my staging area is a 12 x 15 vinyl tarp folded in half. In process art, which trAction Painting represents, there are no "accidents." So when a bottle fell off an armature hovering over the front wheel and dropped about six ounces of red paint onto the canvas, I wiped up most of it, leaving a pink Rorschach blot, around and through which I worked during subsequent pigment depositions.

In process art--and performance art, which trAction Painting also represents--the act of creating is as important as, if not more so than, the final product. I am happy with the result so far, although it's not quite finished. I had to stop in time to let it dry before I rolled it up at the art fair's conclusion. It needs more black and blue, and a little white, to accentuate certain areas and tone down the yellow, which is currently a bit too predominant.

During much of my Saturday performance, a video- and event-production friend bolted GoPro-graced armatures to one of the bikes and got footage of pulsing paint, turning wheels, and paint deposition, which we are going to edit into an entry for this contest:

I don't know if we'll win, but we will have something unique. I've searched the Web fairly exhaustively and have found no one else painting with wheeled conveyances as I do.

My final performance on Sunday consisted of dropping black paint from a bottle-fed funnel attached to the rear of the Schwinn rack. Loosely affixed, the funnel bounces and sways, making for curvy, squiggly lines punctuated by thick blobs. Prior to that, I tried something I'd never done before. I taped a bike bottle with a hole drilled near the bottom to each upright arm of a walker, just above the wheels--white in one bottle, blue in the other. As paint pulsed from above onto the wheels, I walked slowly, circuitously, creating tracks throughout. At one point I planted the white wheel and rotated, leaving a perfect blue circle.

Because of the relatively confined area, for a bike anyway, my predominant travel pattern was figure 8-ish, giving from one perspective at least a feeling of concentric circles. On one side of my canvas, I had placed a couple of off-white Berber carpet runners, enabling me to overshoot the canvas and not paint the pavement. I thus inadvertently ended up with two multihued landscape paintings on knotted fiber. (As I noted, there are no "accidents".)

It's Monday morning, and as I type this my damaged dorsal domain is paying the price. I can't do this anymore, but my goal is to take this show on the road, with nimble bikers and skaters doing the painting under my direction.

My thanks to Mark Ballock, Shelley Barry (no relation), and Terry Cunningham, of Art in the Park, for giving me the space to perform and rendering assistance along the way. Thanks also to Chris Diggins, Catherine Jennings, and Eva Langfeldt, who helped me throughout the weekend.

John A. Barry is a writer and trAction Painting exponent. To share anything art-related or to pitch a story idea, call him at 925-918-7882 or e-mail
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