Ed Charbonneau picked at a layer of plastic wrapped along the edge of a large canvas. Leaning forward, he delicately pulled upwards, raising the Saran wrap away from the painting and lifting up a thick layer of wet paint. A large group of college students who had dropped into this Target Free Thursday Nights program clustered around the paintings, enjoying the close-up view.
Standing at a nearby table topped with tubes of oil paint and linseed oil, Jeremy Szopinski demonstrated to a six-year old how to mix oil paint with a palette knife. Jeremy held up a homemade tool that he and Ed created in their St. Paul studio—a giant apparatus composed of twenty hardware store paintbrushes hammered together—and dipped it in paint. Gingerly at first, a teenager picked up the mega-paintbrush. Gaining confidence, he spread it onto the canvas in a curving motion, adding a swathe of bright, textural paint onto the abstract composition of red and orange streaks.
In another part of the building, a public tour listened to curator Eric Crosby discuss the work of Jack Whitten, a contemporary artist who is the focus of the Walker’s new exhibition, Jack Whitten: Five Decades of Painting. When looking at Untitled (1970), Crosby explained that Whitten swept everyday objects—in this case, a carpenter’s saw—across layers of wet acrylic paint to create the textured surface.
One can’t help but draw similarities between the ways that Ed, Jeremy, and Whitten used tools—ranging from squeegees, to carpenter saws, house painting tools, and Afro picks—to create texture. And while many museum educators might shy away from oil paint—a medium that takes days to dry, stains clothing, and prompts many complaints about odor—it was clear that people enjoyed rolling up their sleeves and wearing a painter’s smock. Experiencing the creation of a painting from beginning to end allowed visitors to place themselves in Whitten’s studio for the evening.