Riding the Road to the Freedom Van
It began as a lofty vision. Andy Golub had been talking about acquiring a van to paint for over a year and finally the vehicle had landed in his hands. Says Andy about his intended vision: “I thought it would build a community of artists and models traveling together to go to different cities spreading our creative and open perspective.”
In order to make this thing happen, he wanted to rally a team of artists to express their unique style and voice through their art upon the van. And the results proved to be more than what he had expected. Andy led a dedicated team of ten of us artists, and it became an inspirational experience for everyone involved. “I didn’t expect it to be as collaborative as it became,” said Andy. “People really respected each other and at the same time spoke their own voice. I think this was what I have been promoting. I guess I didn’t realize how much people understood the idea. Once the art started doing it, it took its own course.”
Through Andy’s eyes, this was to be one of many projects sponsored by the non-profit organization Human Connection Arts that would bring together painters to spread beauty and love. The Freedom Van project, adheres to HCA’s deeper mission: to build communities of acceptance and connection through art. Human Connection Arts created the original annual Bodypainting Day in NYC, and now it’s onto its 5th year. Bodypainting Day over the years has visited national and international locations such as San Francisco, Amsterdam, and Berlin, and it continues to be an inspirational event wherever it travels.
Most artists coming together under the umbrella of Human Connection Arts met or worked with each other through bodypainting. In this art style, the painting is often expressed through live art. And our models being the canvas are always beautiful and interesting to look at in the live nude form.
But painting cars is different from painting bodies. Says Andy on the matter: “A person is alive so there’s a real power to it but on the other hand the car is permanent. People look at a car and find it hard to believe that somebody would do that to a car. I feel the opposite. I see everything as potentially used for art and expression. I think it’s a different perspective and I feel that we need more expression. I love art because it can’t help but express.”
So we all agreed to come together and express something permanent. Paint a van. And for me, whose use of the medium of bodypaint had become my central choice for close to a decade, after reflecting upon so many of my past designs washing away in transient form, I had forgotten the power of permanence upon a canvas. A non-body canvas. I was very eager to have a flat white blank slate in front of me in this project. And it would be so freeing to be alongside talented painters stroking this thing into being. Poetically, Andy decides to call it the Freedom Van.
It All Began On Friday, the 1st Day of June
Andy and I drove in arriving around 11am at the cross intersection of 1st Avenue and 1st St. on the Lower East Side. In the TV series Seinfeld, Kramer describes this intersection as the “nexus of the universe.” It seemed so. Sprinkled with sidewalk stand shops offering smoothies, juices, coffee and gluten-free baked goodies, I was looking forward to settling into the day in this corner. Parking would be an issue I suspected. We needed to situate ourselves so that people could see us painting. But Andy had faith in finding the spot. The location had already been scoped out by he and his wife Carol on another night. But it still seemed impossible. Although with Andy’s determination, anything was possible. And so, as our lucky charm clovers would have it, the park corner at the intersection at 1st and 1st revealed an open spot to our Freedom Van, and with that miracle the day very pleasantly began.
Friday’s progress began steadily and diligently from the start. I and Sarah were lucky to be first on the scene so that we could begin in an individual space of our own. Andy gave me the far window on the driver’s side, and Sarah got to work on the passenger side sliding doors. My inspiration was percolating. I was feeling pop art, expressionism in vibrant color, and symbols in shamanism through feathers and the animal totem of the cat.
By early afternoon, Shelley Wapniak arrives onto the site. A true professional, she does it all–murals, canvas, face and bodypainting, caricatures–and she’s just all around cool. I had met her before at Chit Chat the Clown’s East Coast Face Painting Convention in Manchester, Connecticut almost a decade back. She comfortably joins me on the driver’s side, and her canvas became the window in front of mine.
Working side by side on our projects, Shelley and I have the chance to bullshit. She tells me about some of the drama that went on behind the curtain in the reality show arena of bodypainting. She had been a contestant on the former cable TV show, “Skin Wars,” which became celebrated under model RuPaul and bodypainter Craig Tracy. I enjoyed our shared tales, and the air was warm and friendly.
Our continued efforts throughout the day began to somehow merge. I use a lot of color in my work, and Shelley had tapped into a beautiful color scheme in the complementary colors of blue and orange. Over the course of the passing hours, our colors began to work off each other and passersby had noticed. We heard continually while we painted along: Wow they look perfect together! The colors incorporate each other so well. Was it planned that way?
Shelley and I saw it too, but our muses were the only ones aware of it. Each of us had a window to paint on this Freedom Van, and we had been given an empty canvas. We each stuck to our eye’s pinpoint vision and continued rendering our individual composition’s details, but the organic art led by the strokes of our brushes was determined to dance inside each other’s color scheme.
Shelley, Sarah, and I painted along in steady rhythm, within the same feminine vibe and groove, internally keeping focused. Music played in the background, long stretches of time passed in silence, our brains all linked together in a picture universe that was crafting itself from the inside out through our brush application and keen sight.
Andy had been working steadily the whole day. His approach made the overall look of the van unite; it was the skeleton to the composition of the van as a whole so that all our works held together. He worked in and around the panels using his classic blue face composition.
It was a perfect weather day because the expected rain had held off, and that kind of fortune continued right on through the weekend when the forecast said otherwise. It seemed as though Mother Nature was on our side to see this project through.
By late afternoon, Dana Defrancesco arrives. Thank God. I was getting hungry. Dana always makes sure the artists are fed. And she always brings my favorites–nuts, fruit, and coffee. She’s a big part of Human Connection Arts, and her friendly openness brought many onlookers into a conversation on what our live painting was all about. Before you knew it, she had mothers giving their children over to us to help us paint the van.
At its root I was witnessing what this artistic project was becoming. Beyond the passion each of us artists naturally held in contributing to the creativity of the project, the building of community was developing as well in the flow of the passing pedestrian public. Suddenly we were sharing intimate moments in the same time and space where we all were truly connecting because we all saw visually the same thing. Something fresh to sore eyes used to drinking in a daily intake of flat and lifeless art only created through manipulation of digital sensory input. This live delivery of art motivated onlookers and painters alike to communicate in a new way based on the connections we were making through the art presently coming to life before us. A lot of people came by that day and showed such generous respect and admiration, inspired and happy they chose, if only for a moment, to look away from their phones and catch a glimpse of our work in session. They stopped to notice beauty coming into form right before their eyes, and a human connection of the heart was made.
Pushing On Into the Weekend and Beyond
I wasn’t able to join in on the painting over the weekend, but when I came back on Monday, I couldn’t believe the artistic miracles that took place over only two days. Kirkworx Dupuis, one of the best and most well known New York City bodypainters, was a primary contributor to the Freedom Van. I had the pleasure of working with Kirk before at I FEEL’s Unicorn Utopia party in Brooklyn, and a few other events. At last year’s 2017 Bodypainting Day in NYC, the master proved his impeccable Monroe.
He was given the task by Andy to somehow make visual threads connecting the first two contributed works of art on the driver’s side by Shelley and I finished on Friday, while incorporating his own style and visual story that was equally as expressive. Kirk solved the optical puzzle seamlessly, while bringing to life his signature style.
Jeff Spindel and Erik Olson offered their creations to the rear view of the Freedom Van. Compelling and psychologically stirring, their colors and contrasts in shapes and styles hold a perfect juxtaposed balance. Shelley had come back on Monday too to add more of her style to the rear, linking elements between Erik’s and Jeff’s pieces.
After face painting and waitressing over the weekend, on Monday I was so happy to be back working on the soul of the Freedom Van. When Andy suggested to me that flowers might be cool for the driver’s front wheel side, I jumped on the chance to make an additional contribution. Anderson Morales was my assistant for a few hours, which was great because he helped me lay out some color for the foundation of the greenery in the design. There was a lot of paint to apply to make my vision come to life, and I was grateful to have an extra set of hands, especially Anderson’s, to help me put down the first layers and shapes of my composition.
Throughout the productive day, I had the pleasure of working alongside John Rovito again. We last did so at NYC’s 2016 Bodypainting Day. His style is tight and funky and he helped tie together the movement from Kirk’s piece into my flowers.
Brett Thompson, founder of Fluidtoons, also joined us on Monday. Only weeks prior, he and I were highlighted in back to back live painting gigs at Solas Studio, which were organized by model and art soiree curator, Hardy Brooklyn. I had seen his great work, and we finally had the chance to meet in person. He contributed his simple fluid line style in spray paint to the roof of the van.
When later Steve Lew came onto the scene, (aka Kidlew), he contributed his unique approach to the Freedom Van through his style in graffiti. He had the major creative task of adding his innovative expressiveness to the side of the van next to Sarah’s realistic landscape.
By adding a protagonist to the inside of Sarah’s imagination, this view of the van reveals two worlds. The story emerges from which landscape we choose to see–from the point of view of the teddy bear in his dreams of another world, or from our real world perspective wishing to escape into the 2-D.
A productive Monday, we worked until dark, forging new friendships through a shared creative vision. The Freedom Van was taking on a life of its own, and we knew it.
We Needed to Finish What We Started
On Wednesday, John Rovito, Andy and I came together again in Nyack to continue our work, and John brought his airbrush to complete his piece’s stunning look. Film student, Clarence Yim, hung around to shoot a cool video of our efforts during the day.
When I returned again on Saturday to continue rendering those damn flowers, I got to see Jarrett Aress’s slick stylized contribution to the front passenger side, which perfectly flows from Sarah’s pulsing landscape.
Forest Golub added his flair to the van as well on the lower right side of the back of the van. Like his father, Andy’s son is a talented artist, and his style and stroke successfully threads the colors and lines together for the overall style of the rear van story.
For the front of the van, Andy encouraged me to work inside his shapes and add my fine art color style within and around them. The layering of vibrant colors took hours, but it seemed to complete the look, adding life and warm hues underneath the signature blue.
It was a committed project but my flowers were finally completed by Saturday night. I had the chance to see the whole length of the day with the sun in every angle during the job, and I knew by nightfall, the color composition’s vibrancy would hold.
From early Saturday afternoon until the closing light of evening, we worked on completing the overall composition of the van. I was so pleased with the results. From every angle there is a conversation waiting to be had. Our stories are all represented, and our personalities connect as a whole through, once again, a moving work of art.
Beyond continued efforts to promote body acceptance and living, breathing art through bodypainting events, Andy has more projects in mind for the artists of Human Connection Arts. “I’d like to do a big group mural. Or maybe have a group of artists paint a bunch of big rocks.”
The Freedom Van was debuted on June 16th 2018 in Coney Island’s annual “Mermaid Parade.” Check out some fabulous pix of the parade by clicking on the pic below and witness the explosive presence of the Freedom Van!