Eleven-year-old Eli Chance slowly pulls the blue painting tape off the wall with a practiced eye, careful not to take any of his painstakingly brushed-on paint with him as he peels. Next to him, his twin brother Ayden sits back on his heels and studies his own creation on the wall with a skeptical face.
On a nearby wall of her own, Lynn Chance finishes the meticulous brushstrokes of a cluster of pink flowers. She leans back, studying her work with a tilt of the head.
“I just like art. I like color, and I like art,” Chance said as she adds a final, carefully-placed leaf to a flower. “It’s an incredible opportunity that they provided for free.”
The opportunity Chance is referencing is CU’s “Painting the Big White Box” project in the UMC. With a tagline encouraging visitors to “be the viewer or be the artist,” CU’s Big White Box offers visitors a different interactive experience every day by allowing its visitors to leave their own artistic mark on the walls of the UMC.
The project was devised by the UMC Art Gallery, a gallery that hosts a different exhibit every few months. This go-around, curators and gallery attendants wanted to provide an opportunity for the CU community to get involved and throw their own art up for display.
Since the exhibit’s April 6 inception, artists from all backgrounds have stepped into the massive white room to splash a bit of art on its walls.
Pablo Rivera, a 24-year-old senior art and art history major at CU, said he spends six to seven hours a week as a gallery attendant at the project, and said he has seen a wide variety of people coming in and out to contribute since the beginning of April.
“It’s interesting…we didn’t really know what to expect,” Rivera said. “It was a pretty new experience.”
Though exhibits rotate throughout the year in the gallery, this is the first time an exhibit like this has been offered to the Boulder public.
“It gives more exposure to different things,” Rivera said. “It’s trying to get students involved to other avenues of expression.”
Invitations were first sent out to elementary schools, which drew in some of the walls’ very first artistic contributions. In the beginning, it was mostly artists coming in to contribute but the general public soon found out about the exhibit and began stopping by to add their voices as well.
The exhibit even attracted a local high school graffiti artist who took up much of the exhibit’s back wall with spray-painted expressive letters in bright greens, oranges, yellows and reds.
“I kinda like the graffiti sculpture,” Rivera said. “It’s one of the pieces that came from the outside…I think it adds another dimension to the whole thing rather than having everything on top of the walls.”
Rivera himself knows about the power of graffiti art. Now working primarily with oil paints and fine arts as a student, he said he first became interested in art when learning to graffiti with friends while living in California.
“I did graffiti for a while,” Rivera said. “It’s just the only thing I find interesting and would want to do for a long period of time.”
The gallery project is all about allowing every person the opportunity to see and be seen through artistic means. The space offers freedom; the lesson the project teaches: respect.
“We ask people not to paint over other people’s stuff,” Rivera said. “It’s a pretty organic experience.”
Amid the enthusiastic tearing of tape and the soft whoosh of paint brushes on the wall, Chance kneels next to her two sons to inspect their work, humming to the classical music softly reverberating through the room.
“That looks good, boys,” she said in a low voice. “Do you want me to bring you any more pencils, pens or crayons?”
A mother of three sons, Chance said she is eager to make art an important part not only of her children’s lives, but of her own as well.
“It frees up the thinking,” Chance said. “If you really allow yourself to get into it, more of yourself can come out, I think.”
Chance, a massage therapist who moved to Boulder some 15 years ago from Hawaii, is just starting to revive her interest in art. Though her mother once found employment as an artist, Chance herself has never fully had the opportunity to develop her passion for art.
Currently, Chance is taking an art class taught by a friend, and is starting to work on her painting and beading skills. She aspires to someday work with clay.
“You have to get to where you don’t like what you’re working on and then take it to the next level and something else will come out,” she said while scribbling “Life is Good” on the wall with pastel. “That’s really fun because a lot of times we get to a point where we think ‘oh my god, that’s so horrible’ and we want to give up, but to push through and to see what’s really thoughtful to come out of this is what it gives you.”
Shoes squeak on the floor as the artists move to better situate themselves next to their artwork. The shoes squeak in a duet with the scritchity-scratch of Eli’s black Sharpie markers as he fills in a border around his inked squirrel.
“One day in class my friend, he wore this shirt with a squirrel on it and I drew it,” Eli said as his Sharpie bled black ink onto the wall. “I drew the thing on his shirt the next day, and the next day, and I just got really good at drawing squirrels and so yeah, I drew a squirrel.”
For many artists, art is not planned but is an automatic expression of feelings and ideas.
“That was the first thing that popped into my mind and that’s usually how I do it,” Eli said. “Whatever comes to mind first.”
The sibling rivalry that is often found on a sports field for young boys is not exempt from the realm of artistic expression.
“[Ayden] asked me what he should do there, and I said checkers, but then I got the idea I should do checkers behind the squirrel, so I took it back,” Eli said with a grin while filling in checkers behind his well-crafted squirrel.
Chance said she can tell a lot about her sons by the artwork they produce.
“It says a little bit more about their personality,” she said while looking at the two distinct creations by her twin sons. “Some people finish projects fast, other people take their time and are more detailed…It’s a way to express who you really are and to appreciate the differences in everybody’s art. It’s something they’re pulling out of them and how they’re looking at the world.”
Chance said she feels very happy whenever she walks out of her painting class, and that she wants to engage with art more often to relieve stress.
“It makes my heart sing,” Chance said. “It’s a good feeling.”
So what happens after the project’s time is up in the UMC art gallery?
“We’ll just take the pieces off and cover up the holes and just paint a new white wall,” Rivera said.
The gallery will return to the white expanse it started as in order to welcome a new exhibit to the location. Art is always changing, and as such, the gallery changes as well.
For now, though, the Big White Box will stand as a testament to the work of Chance and her boys.
Stepping back to survey the artwork, Eli and Chance evaluate their contribution to the once-white walls.
“Are you happy with that?” she asked her son.
“I’m happy with that.”
Contact CU Independent News Editor Kate Spencer at Katherine.email@example.com.
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