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Art that creates togetherness

by Keith Barber

Artist Michael Townsend could go on and on about the virtues of tape art. When Townsend spends countless hours creating his plein air art by applying sticky tape to the edifice of a building, there is plenty of time for introspective thought, and extended conversations with fellow artists. “Tape art is the best way to start introducing ideas of collaborative art making, teamwork and communication; trying to decide how something is going to look,” Townsend said. “Because it’s such a flexible medium, nobody comes to it with any preconceptions of how it’s supposed to look. There are no Michelangelos of tape art yet.” Townsend, along with fellow artists Colin Bliss and Paige Bradley, will join local artists and area residents the first week in May to create a series of public tape art drawings on the facades of downtown Greensboro retail shops and restaurants for an exhibition entitled Drawn Together. The event kicks off on May 1, at 6 p.m. at the Elsewhere Artist Collaborative, located at 606 and 608 S. Elm St., where Townsend and his fellow artists will install their first tape-art work. The public is invited to watch the artists at work May 2-7. The specific locations are still being nailed down so art enthusiasts should consult the Weatherspoon’s website — www. weatherspoon.uncg.edu — for further details. On May 8, Townsend will request the aid of volunteers for the removal of the public tape art exhibition. The big “art removal” will take place promptly at noon on May 8, rain or shine. Volunteers of all ages are needed to help peel tape off walls and sidewalks. If you or your organization would like to volunteer to help remove the art, call Ann Grimaldi at the Weatherspoon Art Museum at 336.334.5770 or email: weatherspoon@ uncg.edu. The Elsewhere Gallery will sponsor local artists for the event and members of the public will be encouraged to participate. Townsend said he vividly remembers the tape removal process at the conclusion of his 2003 exhibit at the Weatherspoon and the “swarm” of volunteers who helped out. The great joy people take in the tape art removal process speaks to the medium’s ability to break down walls between the public and what is considered “public art,” he said. “Tape art is a tool for drawing. It’s one of the best ways for people to get involved in collaborative visual artmaking,” Townsend said. “Music and dance lends itself to collaboration very easily, but making tape art — it’s the great democratizer.” Traditional art forms, such as painting and sculpture, have rules and aesthetic criteria. That can make it intimidating for everyday folks to dive right in. “Regardless of your comfort with drawing, tape cuts through everyone’s inhibitions. People are able to participate in these large tape drawings without feeling like they’re destroying the whole piece,” he said. Accessibility is another key virtue of tape art. To that end, Townsend and his colleagues will create a web broadcast of the creative process. Art enthusiasts can go to the website, tapeart.com, and click on a link to view the tape artists at work on the edifices of prominent buildings in the downtown area. Townsend plans on using an iPhone for the webcast, which should lend a “light omnipresence” to artists’ work. Townsend said he will lead a discussion about the finer points of tape art at the Elsewhere Gallery on May 6 as part of the weeklong event.

Townsend, a classically trained painter, also works in the mediums of sculpture, filmmaking and installation art. But he has never found another medium quite as accessible to everyday folks as tape. “We do a wide range of work in a variety of venues — schools, prisons, psychiatric facilities, community centers and hospitals. Tape is the most simple building block of being good in the two fields of public art and education. Tape art is our living sketchbook,” he said. The art may be temporary but the memories can last forever. Working on a tape art project, regardless of one’s age, leads to an expansion of consciousness, Townsend said. “You’re sort of able to break down the barriers of ownership and for a very short period of time transfer control over to the public, like when it snows, we get to see a transfer of ownership over to nature,” he said. “By engaging in tape art, it gives people a trembling memory. The collective memory of that is really poignant for some people.”

Artist Michael Townsend (on the ground) photographs a tape artcreation similar to what can be seen in downtown Greensboro the firstweek in May during Tape Art: Drawn Together, a collaborative projectbetween the Weatherspoon Art Museum, Downtown Greensboro, Inc. and theArtBeat Greensboro Festival. (photo courtesy of TapeArt.com)

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