Hand to Heart, Smiling: A1one Rocks the Stencil Fest


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(click the thumbs for larger flicks)

  1. My hamsa wallpapered the collab piece (and second “canvas” work ever for me) with A1one
  2. A1one paints his fortune teller on the wood panel
  3. Stefan gets detailed with his cap stencil on a collab with John Koleszar
  4. John hits the Y stencil for his CMYK butterfly on a collab with Stefan
  5. E.L.K. cleans up the canvas on a piece he had just painted
  6. Bird’s eye view of my Stencil Nation globe piece, which Stefan will hit up with his great penguins

Art draws all people together, or at least art holds a place in the world where people can share their ideas, culture, and fascination with creating a new way of looking at things. I have always seen the arts as a powerful tool that erases boundaries, ideologies, and closed ways of thinking. Sure, art can support negative things as well, but when like minds find themselves in the same room, and come from the belief that we can show good things in the world via our creativity, electricity happens.

When I finally got to meet A1one Thrusday night, we greeted one another like old friends. I hugged him and he touched his hand to his heart. We both gave each other big smiles and instantly plugged in to each other’s approach to art and life. We had been talking to one another online for about two years, and I had worked him into my book at the last minute after we had several issues with mail censorship. Even after a miscommunication due to language, we worked things out with apologies on both sides.

We chatted about his artwork: the workers and Persian leaders that he had painted, the honesty in correcting his own poor grammar. He told me about the Hafiz poetry that has influenced his work. Hafiz’s words are stenciled in his work as well, and we both marveled at the fact that Hafiz still inspires different cultures hundreds of years after his death. He shared with me and the other artists how he only has a small range of colors to choose from in Iran. We discussed our countries and how the people don’t like the governments that tell them we’re enemies.

Friday, word was out that A1one was visiting from Iran. Rone and Reka from Everfresh told me to send him by for a visit. Regan and Doyle want him to stencil their outside wall. Peat marveled at how he’d worked so hard to get to the Stencil Festival. Paul from Stencil Fest called him an angel after A1one asked for permission to take some paint cans home with him. Stefan, John, and myself all agreed that he’s one of the nicest people we’ve met… ever!

When I walked in to the Stencil Fest venue last night, I wasn’t surprised to see that over half of A1one’s work had sold. Stefan teased him about having to stop stenciling all day so that he could be interviewed and meet the people who bought his work. All night, A1one would disappear for extended periods of time, and then magically reappear. So we all agreed that he was the master of being alone, and his name certainly fit. He looked overwhelmed, had drank too much, but still had a demeanor that would sweeten the sourest grouch.

A1one had become the rock star of Stencil Fest 08, and he did so with a broad smile under that bushy mustache. And by taking all this crazy, capitalist, consumerist culture in stride. But we worried about him. When he disappeared, we’d try to find him. We’d check on him and hover when he’d have to speak to someone about his art. Just in case he needed a polite way out of the conversation.

Opening Night at Stencil Festival 08 ended up being a good time. JD and his crew really pulled things off that night, but the crowd was moderate in size. With a $20 price of entry, I had expected as much. Therefor, the alcohol flowed freely to the artists. And, for another night in Melbourne, I drank too much. This time I laid off the beer and had cheap scotch on ice. And the volunteers poured freely. I had great conversations with people, and dug seeing the art on the wall while hanging out with some of the artists that made that art. At one point LA artist Pablo’s crew broke down into a freestyle rap circle. I dug it, shared it with A1one (“this is hip hop nation!”), and Peat even joined in on the jam.

But the small crowd didn’t bode well in my producer’s mind. I hoped that people would continue to show up all weekend and catch the other free events. JD seemed to be taking things in stride. At one point he slipped us extra drink tickets, but it didn’t matter by then. The volunteers were hooking us up. I had to put books in the Stencil Fest store, so made the deal with JD at the beginning of the night, before we all got drunk. At the end of the night, however, I wrote down our agreement and had him sign it. I’ve had enough experience with verbal contracts in San Francisco to know that one end of them usually gets burned.

JD hadn’t fed the poor international artists all day, and John seemed to not have the nerve, or a map, to wander into Yarra for a bite to eat. He was starving more than A1one and Stefan, so became the stomach of the bunch. I clicked into my producer persona and got them out of the space as fast as I could, and pointed them towards food. Herding artists can be a chore, but herding hungry ones is pretty easy. “You need to take care of yourself!” I told John. He seemed as overwhelmed as A1one was.

We ended up on Brunswick, and had wraps at the same place I’d been on Thursday night. Peat hit up wrestlers along the way. E.L.K. and his partner came along as well, so we had a nice group wandering down the street. E.L.K. was a bit exhausted too, having driven all night to get to Melbourne from Canberra. By this time, it was about 2 AM. We were all beat. I biked home from the group and didn’t look at the map the whole way. I also found the easiest way to the venue from Blender: Franklin turns into Cardigan; right on Elgin which turns into Johnston; and right on Hoddle for a few short blocks to the venue.

Saturday morning was slow going yet again. Today began hungover so I declared 02 August as “on the wagon” day. Juice and water for me today, thank you! I managed to make it to the market and buy my fruit and cereal. So back to the usual brekkie. Ate downstairs in Regan’s studio for the first time and showed up to see him spraying my hamsa stencil his his journal. “Ha ha,” he replied. Packed up my stencils and headed to the venue a bit later than the 11 AM start time that JD had given. Oh well.

A1one, Stefan, John and E.L.K. were already painting. On the bike ride over, I got the idea of collaborating with A1one via my hamsa stencil. He had just finished up a canvas when I arrived and was into the idea. We agreed on using wood and then I spent the next two hours wallpapering the board with my stencil. A1one then hit it with the only stencil he brought: a poor, female fortune teller. Some Iranians make their living by selling lines of Hafiz poetry to people as fortunes. If it’s a good fortune, you keep it in your pocket as a reminder. I told A1one that I often open up my Hafiz book to random pages, point to random lines, and then tread the line as a meditation. Had no idea that that is part of his culture.

After finishing our piece, I got another idea for the Stencil Nation globe stencil that I brought along. I wanted Stefan to paint his penguins on that piece, and he agreed. So I spent the next three hours painting this board, mostly waiting for the paint to dry. Had a great time hanging out with all the artists and sharing skills. John covets good paint, so had many conversations with us all about paint. Stefan, who paints paint caps (the nozzles on spray cans), kept up with the minute details of caps, paints, etc. I got schooled, which was a good thing! A1one, hungover as well, didn’t paint another piece. He spent a good bit of the rest of the day laid low, smoking cigarettes alone in the corners of the run down part of the building.

I did manage to take a break with him and talk to him a bit. We began to discuss community and art, two things I constantly think about. “I don’t know you that well, Russell,” he said, “but you seem to try to live the way you write and make art.” Wow, thanks! We again agreed that art melts the frameworks that media and governments try to put us in. He’s not appreciated in Iran, but flies around the world to meet a motley group of artists who completely get where he’s coming from. But we continue to worry about him….

His art continues to sell. They put his vinyl works up and he had already sold half of them. I have no idea if A1one’s worked out an agreement with JD about percentages. I hope A1one doesn’t have a problem taking the money back to Iran. Where was JD today anyway? The artists toiled away at pieces that will be auctioned off for charity later this week. None of us knew what charity and if it’d be 100% no commission. John’s workshop didn’t seem to happen, but he did hang out close to our work space and talk to people during that time. JD had a price on the workshop and I guess very few people signed up.

Peat showed up for his Collab-o-Mask workshop and had no idea what the plan was. Since he’d been given vague details from JD, and JD wasn’t there, he began to prep the masks for JD to maybe stick in a closet somewhere (or JD would have to cut fake eyes and mouth stencils to finish them off). Seeing how the programming was being neglected for the day, I began to worry about my slide presentation tomorrow. I went into producer mode once again (sandwiches were provided for lunch today, so no worries about feeding the artists), and asked Paul at the store what was up with my slide presentation tomorrow.

He knew very little, and had only found out on Friday that I needed a video projector. I had emailed JD the specs of my show at least a month ago, and noticed that he was clueless on Thursday. So I mailed the specs to him again on Friday. That was when Paul found out. He was sorry for the trouble and had a call out to a hopeful projector source. Paul also had no idea what the deal was with Peat’s mask workshop. By then, Peat was promoting the masks to the people who were watching us paint. He ended up having about three people pay to make a mask. Peat also gave some to Stefan and John.

The paint took forever to dry, so my second piece became a painful lesson in patience. I thought the auction was the same night, and Stefan eventually told me that we had all week to work on the pieces. I had decided to only do two since I had no idea how the benefit was being worked out by JD. And I was getting worried about my slide presentation.

So I started to bug Paul about figuring this out before Sunday rolled along and I had nothing to show my slides on. Paul is a typical Aussie, kind hearted and polite. He felt genuinely sorry about JD’s slackness in producing the rest of the weekend. We eventually agreed that a large computer monitor would do the trick. I’d have to bring the audience in close, but the space was cold anyway. We’d stay warmer that way! Peat told Paul that he was disappointed as well, and had a few things to complain about with regards to pricing his art. Peat was also looking forward to working with youth on the masks. We agreed that it’d only take a phone call to a local school to get a group of youth in here to do the masks! Why didn’t that happen?

Where was JD?! Too bad JD wasn’t around to take the heat. He seems to be the one who dropped the ball.

After a day of being hungover and huffing Belton cans, we all called it a day and wandered over to Smith St. to have a Japanese fusion meal at Wabi Sabi. That was the most expensive seaweed salad I’d ever eaten, but well worth the time spent with Peat, Stefan, and John. A1one bailed out, maybe because he was tired or had an agenda. He did ask permission to take spray cans from the venue! Turns out he’s a Tiger Lillies fan, and they’re in North Melbourne this week. I’m going to try to get tickets and go with him. Any chance I have in sharing culture with a nice person like A1one, I’ll take it. I gave him a CD full of mp3s today to take back to Tehran. Some great Bay Area tunes, especially Secret Chiefs 3.

He may be digging that right now. And he’ll share it with his friends when he gets home. And somewhere, in the deepest regions of the Iranian theocracy, the youth will be rocking out to Sufi death metal surf music from Santa Cruz, CA.

That is how the world should always be!