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Infringement Diary #1: Mandala, mandala

Mandala, mandala

Any day I sell a painting is a good day, especially a sale to a friend, so I decided to start the Iron Ring Mandala project, my contribution to Infringement 2012.

Last year it was an actual iron ring that I carried around making designs all over town during the course of those celebratory 11 days…but this year the car needed brakes and the ring was way too heavy to ride a bike with, so a friend gave me a lift downtown to Allen Street, where in the early heat of the day I began tracing mandalas using a large, circular, wooden mirror frame, adding embroidery hoops for extra styling arcs. At the corner of Wadsworth in front of the Friends of Night People, I placed the ring on the sidewalk and began to trace a circle, then another within that outer one, and overlapped the various hoops until under limning of sidewalk chalk something interesting began to build.

After a half hour working it, bending, standing, kneeling, layering chalk, striking accent lines in neon colors, I pronounced it finished, picked up, and moved on to Nietzsche’s, and began another piece, provoking comments from casual passersby. About one third of the way through, a thoroughly disheveled young woman suddenly bolted from across the street and flopped down on the mandala, took a piece of blue chalk, and proceeded to scrawl a very personal message in bold but unreadable print. smearing the mandala and lying full out on the cement. getting her words down at eye level. I stepped back out of the way, resigned to the loss of design. Finally sprawling completely across the drawing, she finished her missive and without a word tossed the nub of blue chalk into the bucket got up and left.

I had been infringed!

I sat there about as nonplussed as I have ever been, taking in the scene, the light blue chalk tracking in blunt characters trailing away from the ruined, multicolored, chalked circle. The sun was high and I ached from the effort of bending and flexing, forgetting that I’d felt the same way last year, though I did manage to complete eight out of 11 projects I meant to draw during the run of the festival, rain notwithstanding.

If one chooses to do street art at the level of the actual street, there is a kind of sour smelling breeze that wafts at that altitude…a layering of effluvial strata combining stale beer, urine, feet in summer, and unwashed clothes worn too long—a lingering stench altogether familiar to those who populate the urban out doors.

Undaunted, I set up to work at another Allentown corner, soon to be the site of the 10th Annual College Street Block Party, when along came a pair of socially mobile lassies, with one of whom I was serially acquainted, and her younger sister, both game for making a contribution to the art form. They began to color in tracing lines I had laid out when the press arrived to make it a photo shoot. The girls were perfectly happy to pose, chalk in hand, as the news photographer lay supine, snapping his digital. People gathered for the block festival, now a favorite street party after 10 years of music, art, and busking events with expertly grilled hot dogs, burgers, and tubs of various salads under a large tent. The heat of early afternoon began to build, and my little band of chalkers found a new spot to design mandalas in the shade. We broke off for refreshment but we had six designs behind us, each sporting polychrome Infringement enthusiasms of peace, love, and advocacy.

The College Street Block Party could be considered the loci of the summer festival season with the Allentown Art Festival and the Elmwood Festival of the Arts bookending a myriad series of events comprising the canicular months when Buffalo throws everything it has into celebrating the opportunity to be outdoors in something besides outerwear and boots. I spent the whole of the afternoon in the communal thrall as band after band took the improvised stage, each making a strong stand against the equally strong sun radiating against every exposed surface, street, metal and skin. Friends met during the band breaks to catch up, curious Garden Walkers tentively threaded through the progressively but passively inebriated in semi-recline against walls and steps along College Street.

Traditionally the same bands perform year after year with the emphatic zeal of continuity, but there is always new material and instrumentation to charge the crowds appreciation for novelty and innovation. This year it was the dueling of electric violins that swelled the crowd on the shaded side of the street and brought out hoola hoopers to whirl their limber torsos delighting small children freshly scrubbed from their earnest brushwork at the painting wall.

Hours past hours and with a true sense of fine happy purpose I pedaled away to see a production of Torn Space Theater’s He Who Gets Slapped, staged at The Foundry, a recently repurposed and earlier repurposed candy factory on Northampton Street. Oddly enough, I had worked on the play, by Leonid Andreyev—the Russian Poe, early 20th century, ardently late Victorian, poignantly tragic but restively existential—in London’s Hampstead Theater as a prop assistant during a holiday break from school in Munich in 1964. I was the only American in the whole company and spent much of my school leave taking questions about how young people in the States felt about the coming war in Vietnam. One evening while building clown masks from chicken wire and plaster, I heard a commotion coming from down the block. Tt was the Rolling Stones, taking rehearsal in the basement of a neighboring townhouse, while outside the clamor of fans on scooters and bikes took over the streets of St John’s Woods, as the Stones” would soon take over England once the Beatles left for their American tour.

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