Volume 19 • Issue 18 | September 15 - 21, 2006

Photo by Susan Yung

Roped In: Pier 16 at the South Street Seaport was among four sites for community art projects in “The Big Draw,” the inaugural public art event sponsored by the Drawing Center and the River To River festival.

Drawing out the public’s inner artist

By Susan Yung

Graced by balmy, late summer weather, the Big Draw lived up to its moniker this past Saturday, September 9, and drew crowds to a park, a plaza, a pier, and a museum in Lower Manhattan, where five different artists instructed audiences to use their right brain for a change. Inspired by the UK arts program by the same name, the all-day drawing event — presented by the Drawing Center, the Seaport’s resident-to-be, and the River To River Festival — offered a broad array of activities designed to inspire the inner artist in 4,000 participants.

On Saturday, some 600 people gathered at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, located on Bowling Green. An academic aura filled the airy rotunda, whose multi-paned, oval skylight provided cool but plentiful illumination. Artist Jeffrey Gibson oversaw the participants who stood or sat in front of easels, onto which were taped sheets of paper. Those who lacked inspiration could fish for a slip of paper in a goldfish bowl bearing a directive such as, “Draw a design of a new hat no one has thought of. Can you draw yourself wearing that new kind of hat?”

Some of the artists seemed to be in a familiar milieu. One woman confidently sketched her self-portrait by glancing at a full-length mirror atilt at her left. A foursome of children wielding crayons worked on depictions of butterflies and flowers, and darted back and forth to check out their peers’ handiwork.

Sally Muckle, who worked on a graphite drawing of a woman’s head, mused,

“When I was younger, I drew more.” Her five-year-old daughter, Bejewel, sat next to her and worked intently on a tightly grouped composition in the middle of the paper. Her father, to her right, seemed wholly absorbed in the concentration it took to delineate his subjects, sketched from a museum brochure.

A bit farther north and east, on Pier 16 at the South Street Seaport, was a cluster of activity tables beneath the shade of the highway overpass. The nearby soundstage hosted a bagpiper, then a raucous heavy metal band. Tall-masted ships bobbed nearby, casting shadows on the featured project, a giant ring knot overseen by artist Zoe Keramea.

Her husband, James Young, hovered nearby to assist Keramea as she stood at the rope’s working nexus, giving orders to another volunteer who relayed them via bullhorn to the dozen or so eager workers, moving together as if they were involved in an extremely meaningful ritual. Young described the process: “We are creating out of three foot manila hemp rope an enormous ring knot. It’s like a braid, but instead of being made of three lengths, it’s made of one length tripled upon itself, interwoven. At the end it’ll be spliced into itself and it’ll form a perfect, huge ring knot.”

By midafternoon, the braided circle already looked about three-quarters done. Its approximately 20-foot diameter lay next to some facsimiles drawn in chalk on the pier boards nearby. And the knot-as-drawing theme repeated under at one booth, where participants learned the basics of knot-making. Adjacent tables offered woodcut rubbing, bookmark making, and plain old drawing.

Community art projects were also underway at Teardrop Park in Battery Park, where artists Ellen Driscoll and Larry Dobens stretched out 20-foot-long sheets of inkblot splattered paper across the grass, and invited the public to embellish them, while at the World Financial Center, artist Fritz Welch and architect Matt Gagnon set up kiosks in the plaza, and asked people to stick their hands inside and draw from memory. The drawings were then wheat pasted to the side of the kiosks, whereupon participants were free to begin playing with day-glo tape to “tag” the plaza and Winter Garden.

 “We wanted to expand people’s ideas of what drawing is and what it can be,” said the public relations officer for the Drawing Center, Lisa Gold, who anticipates the event will return next year. “The Big Draw was a chance for people to use drawing as a way to slow down and look at their environment in a new way — we’re all so rushed, rushed, and not really looking at things, and drawing lets you see in a new way. And it’s fun.”


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