Thursday, July 16, 2009

Art and Grieving - Making Group Art

The past several months I and my family have lost some close friends in accidents. In my own way I work through these sad times in my art work. Sometimes consciously working with the experience, but mostly by continuing to work and observing after I'm done that references to that sadness are in the work.

My friend, Cameron Clark, owner of C3 Events recently experienced the passing of Jimmy Pantenburg, the child of a close friend. Cameron called me and asked me if I'd be willing to work for him creating a place both physically and psychically for Jimmy's friends to make a mural in his honor.

I just finished the mural project and want to share with you Cameron's brilliant idea. Brilliantly rich was how I felt watching a dozen teenagers with spray cans talking and painting as they created a tribute to their late friend. (Though, as an adult, the irony of teaching teenagers the fine points of spray painting did give me a smile.) Not only did they all agree that the piece is "really sweet", they had a chance to talk about the fun things they did with their friend. They'd look through Jimmy's album of spray paint stencils and photos of his work, then they'd copy something as they talked.

I didn't know Jimmy, but after seeing his work and listening to his friends, I feel enriched by his life. His friends got a chance to live consciously with their feelings of grief and share them openly without any heavy expectations or the sense that they had to do or be any particular way. They were hanging with his spirit. It was a beautiful thing.

On a practical note -- facilitating the creation of a group art piece that's 5 feet tall and 15' long necessitated some basic design parameters. Here's what I did:
  • Painted one basic background color. In this instance, red.
  • Put together a selection of spray paint can colors that would work with Jimmy's themes.
  • Determined the central theme and set that first so that the kids could work around it. In this instance the focal point was the grafitti moniker, "Always".
  • Gave the kids tips on how to best use their spray paint cans.
  • Kept the image "floating". That's a term I use to describe my method of keeping the entire surface of the image working together at the same time. Practically, that meant I'd work intermittently with the kids -- being sure to disappear enough that they felt very invested in the work.
  • When the kids were done I spent some time "tightening" the image so that it would be even stronger.
I enjoyed helping out this way. I highly recommend a mural project of this sort as a way to bring a group together, regardless of the occasion.


  1. I was at the services for Jimmy and compliment you on a truely brilliant mural. Reflective of the celebration of his life, vibrant.
    Todd Teicheira