Monday, August 26, 2013

The Art Surgeon

Today I look forward to a real treat. I’m headed into Seattle, one of my favorite cities, and my dad reserved a nice hotel room for me as a way of making sure I get a shower and a good night’s sleep at some point. I remember this as I wake up at a Walmart just over the border with foggy windows and the imprint of a pillowcase on my face. 
On my way out of town I stop at a Laundromat to wash, among other things, a collared shirt that I can wear when I check in to the hotel to keep them from kicking me out before I get to the front desk. The Laundromat is empty, even the attendant has wandered off and the door is propped open letting in a breeze. The machines are new and they hum quietly doing other people’s wash while I sit and wait for mine. The walls are painted a cool blue and the detergent is dispensed through one of those old pull handle vendors. I find the whole experience and space so relaxing that I put extra quarters in the dryer so I can sit a while longer.
A friend that I met working at the planetarium in Chapel Hill, E, used to live in Seattle and has given me a bunch of suggestions for things to do across Lake Union. So I go to Gasworks Park and climb the hill to people watch. There’s a couple doing some kind of acrobatic joint yoga by the trees with him balancing her on his feet while she contorts herself in the air. A man with balloons tied to his ears rides screaming into the park, wobbly on his bicycle as he tries to ride through a row of concrete tank supports set up like Christo’s “TheGates”. He drunkenly bobs and narrowly misses the corner of one of the gates but charges on, yelling “Where’s the party?!”. I watch people fly kites and sea-planes lift off from the lake.
Then I get some fish and chips from the Ivar’s under I-5 and eat down by the lake shore. Across from the boat storage racks there is a burnt out car with a brand new car of the same make and model parked behind it on the grass. I walk past the troll under the bridge and into Fremont to get some chocolate from Theo’s. On the way out I find an art market on the street a block over and wander through before heading back to my car to check in to the hotel.
The room is outstanding and has a view of the Puget Sound so I sit by the window and listen to ships come in and ferries pass while I try to write some to catch up on my last few days. A container ship docks and the cranes shimmer with hundreds of red lights as they wait to unload.

I can see a ferris wheel from my window and decide to walk down Alaskan Way after dinner to have a look. Alaskan way is the waterfront street where all the ports for the cruise ships are and is always full of people visiting from out of town. As such, there loads of street performers and knick-knack sellers along the sidewalks.

I run into a guy calling himself “The Art Surgeon”. He’s working in a wet-on-wet spray-paint on glossy paper style that has become ubiquitous lately. This style lends itself to things with gradient colors like sunset skies and effects that can be pulled off with limited tools; splatter white paint for stars, use the spray-paint lid to trace out the moon, etc. You’ll usually see these guys paint a bunch of outer space scenes. These have the benefit of consisting of shapes quickly achievable through their typical techniques and not being based on an existing scene with which they can be compared.
I make it sound like I don’t appreciate this style but I actually enjoy seeing someone create a detailed scene with something as inaccurate as a spray-can and this guy is really good at it! He doesn’t do just the typical space scenes, I see he has city scapes and mountain scenes with clouds and paintings of oceans. He’s working on a picture of the Seattle skyline at sunset, the very scene that is behind him but he’s doing it all from memory facing the crowd. He lays down the colors for the sky while dancing to the dubstep music from his radio. He smears the yellow into the red into the purple and black to make the glow and then lights the paper on fire and quickly blows it out to dry the paint. He then works in the skyline with his fingers and black paint. He pulls out a palette knife and cuts through the paint to the white paper to give the look of lights in the buildings.

He’s painted the full moon in the sky and reflected in the water; the moon in the water is smeared back and forth to look like it’s broken on the waves. Then he makes a few unforgivable astronomical mistakes. First, he paints the disc of the setting sun on the horizon. Now, he already has the full moon high in the sky and when the moon is full it means that the sun and moon are on opposite sides of the earth. If the full moon is high in the sky then the sun should be well below the horizon, but it’s a cool effect so I try to let it slide. But as the crowd keeps growing he feels the need to keep the show going and add more details and he makes his second mistake…He paints a comet in the sky with an accurate reflection in the water…but the tail is pointing roughly towards that sun he just painted on the horizon. Comet tails appear because of the sun's radiation and the solar wind and always point away from the sun! Oh well, as he finishes I walk up and give him the last dollar I have in my wallet for putting on such a good show.