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The Skainting is the Message

Original post made by John Barry, Danville, on Apr 11, 2013

By Bill Carmel

In a demonstration of making art with unconventional media, Danville writer John Barry scored a victory. On a beautiful April 6 Saturday afternoon in Danville's Tate Gallery, John taped a 12-foot by 9-foot blank gessoed canvas to the gallery cement floor; placed a rainbow of tubs (each containing brilliant acrylic paint) around the perimeter; put on his quad roller skates; dipped the wheels in the first tub of yellow paint; and skated on the canvas. He calls this paint application process skainting[tm], a combination of "skating" and "painting."

Barry appeared to dance on the skates as he returned to the tubs time after time for fresh paint. A musical ensemble composed of wife Eva on oboe; son Sean on drums, Audrey Gore on keyboards, oboe, and guitar; and Michelle Howard on flute added a festive flair. John's faithful sidekick, yours truly, helped shuffle the tubs of color and provided some comic relief at intermission. Other dutiful docents helped document the project with still photographs and video. At the halfway point, after the canvas began to fill up with colorful linear calligraphic marks, he changed to inline skates. The audience of about 30 appeared to enjoy themselves.

This kind of art has been called Process Art, a term coined in the 1960s by various artists (Bruce Nauman, Eva Hess, Richard Serra and Robert Morris, for example) working in new media in different parts of the world. These artists started another revolution in the art world that forever changed our idea of what a work of art might look like. A direct predecessor of this art form, "Action Painting," was exemplified and made famous by Jackson Pollock. Pollock's novel techniques and ideas about process, along with other artists' during the next 20 years, made the content of the art dependent on chance and the interactions and motions of the body with media. Ideas about life and of organic systems in the world are important to Process artists.

All artists use a process for making their art or products. Here, however, the activity of manipulating media with technology by the artist is the main focus. One result of making process the main concern is that composition and other aesthetic ideas become relatively unimportant to the artist. Barry is using the motions, technology, and skill of skating to make a painting. This skainting contains a clear record of the energy and motions of his body during the event. Control over the outcome, one of the main concerns of most artists, is subordinated to a new way of applying paint to a canvas, and chance. The art idea is that things the artist does in ordinary life, using available technology, can give us meaningful visual information about our intentions and actions in the world. It was fun to watch.

In 1964 Marshall McLuhan wrote the seminal book "The Medium is the Message," and in it he postulates that the content of communication (a product, a commercial, or a work of art) is influenced by the technology that makes and delivers it, and vice versa. This means that the social impact (the message) of a work of art is inextricably tied to the technology (the medium) used to make it and deliver it. John's skainting event (and Process Art in general) is a perfect example of this way of thinking.

Happily, the end result (the experience of the event, the canvas with paint on it, the video) is highly colorful, energetic and eloquently speaks for itself. Clearly, John has created a successful work of art.

Bill Carmel graduated with an MFA from UC Berkeley and then taught art at Humboldt State University and Southern Illinois University. He has work in many private, corporate, and public venues including the Smithsonian Institute, Laumier Sculpture Park, Veteran's Park in Brentwood, McDonald's Corporation, and Duke Energy.


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