Several of these pieces were done live and on site in contests in Spain.
Spanish “pintura rápida” is like nothing I’ve experienced anywhere else. You show up in a town you’ve generally never seen before just as the sun is coming up. You grab as much gear as you can manage and locate a spot to work—that will work all day—before someone else claims it. Then you run your 100 cm x 81 cm or 121 cm x 96 cm canvas to a table of officials so that they can stamp it in. Because things are already frantic and bananas at this point, the officials normally offer a shot of brandy for your coffee.
You start to work and it gets warm. A few hours in and the sun is up and it’s sweltering. Hundreds of people come around to see what you’re up to. They offer unsolicited opinions. Judges come around to chat and see that you haven’t pulled out a projector or swapped in work you did last week.
At the end of the day, fried by the heat and anxiety of finishing on time, but surprised by what you could have only made in this way, you display your masterpiece in front of city hall. A jury of professionals awards cash prizes in a ceremony attended by hundreds or even thousands. Sometimes the public gets to cast a “popular vote.” Wheeling and dealing ensues. A collection of “selected” pieces is held back for a group show. Those who don’t win official prizes get a chance to sell their work directly to the public. Or talk to a gallery owner who is seeing you for the first time.
I did pintura rápida for years. I honed a style of my own. My work got critiqued to death my fellow artists, gallery owners, and curators. I learned to expose my creations to strangers and not get crushed by the experience. Not having studied art at the B.F.A. or M.F.A. level, it’s how I cut my teeth as a painter. I owe it and similar open, blind-judged events a huge debt of gratitude.
I don’t live in Spain any longer and only get out to a small contest or two when I visit, but I still work outdoors on my own, squint at the shifting light, and interact with folks. For me the experience is more deeply memorable and the work comes out truer than if I attempted to capture the same subjects with a camera.
For some of the prizes I managed to win, check out my CV.