Live mural painting (legal or otherwise) is an indispensable aspect of Hip Hop culture. Most memorable and intimate shows have (or ought to have) at least one artist improvising large-scale pieces alongside its musical acts and in full view of the crowd. Both artists are given the chance to showcase their work to new group of potential fans, an artistic community is strengthened, and the audience gets the chance to watch two live acts at once. Everyone wins.
I didn’t know what to expect when I went down to the Ottobar on Friday. I’d just heard that there would be some live painting and Michael Bracco (who won a well deserved B.O.B. for his comic Novo) would be doing some of it. That was good enough for me. I’d only seen one flyer for the event posted, and I’m glad I hung on to it.
S.A.F. co-creators Jamie Noguchi, Rosscott Nover, Marty Day, and Nick Borkowicz met, as most comic artists do these days, on the internet and comic-con circuit. The two hosts and six artists each have their own web comic, and have been collaborating for years.
The bands Karmelas Game and the Headwounds may have been co-billed for the night, but the show definitely belonged to the artists. Round three, the final round of the evening, was about as epic as it could get at something like this. Noguichi and Borkowicz were presented with twelve canvases and a full hour to draw, but their themes were chosen at random by the digital “Wheel of Death”. Suggestions like Orthodox Jew pirates, ninjas dancing the Thriller and gaggles of Star Wars references may elicit eye-rolling from some, but S.A.F. is a showcase of talent-under-pressure, and watching Borkowicz (apparently a tattoo artists) handle his non-sequitur topics with such ease was really enjoyable.
The real joy of S.A.F. comes from watching the processes of the individual illustrators as their pieces unfold and the canvases fill. Each round began with the artists working on opposite ends of the canvas until they got up the nerve to cross and attack the other’s work in a visual equivalent of an MC freestyle battle. But by the end of each round, though, the competitors were collaborators, going into mini-huddles to decide where or what to draw next as a team. The audience members packed shoulder to shoulder and stood on tip-toe for the three rounds, cheering, booing and chanting. Color commentary by hosts Nover and Day kept everyone’s ears occupied over the droning Matrix-style techno, but their wired mics kept them stuck on stage and, occasionally, fishing for something to say. Maybe they were just as engrossed as the rest of us.