A New Kind of Canvas

Last year, 100 Oklahoma artists came together in an unusual way to raise money for After School Arts, a program started by the Arts Council of Oklahoma to encourage kids to pick up a paintbrush in their late-afternoon free time.

The idea was to take a cue from the urban shoe culture thriving on the east and west coasts, where collectors and jet setters scramble for pairs of rare, one-of-a-kind shoes customized by talented artists.

On June 1, 2007, more than 1,000 people packed out a half-renovated funeral home to view and purchase creatively altered canvas shoes, given new life as wearable artwork by some of Oklahoma’s most prominent artists.

On display at the first annual Canvas show were works by Josh Heilaman, Ruth Ann Borum, Alexis Winslow, Josh Crane, Josh Reynolds, Jessica Beethe, Amanda Weathers Bradway, Dylan Bradway and Chad Mount, aka “Tribalbot.” The shoes sold by silent auction and went for anywhere between $50 and $225 dollars.

“We don’t limit it at any point. Last year, someone made a puppet out of their shoes, so it wasn’t near wearable,” Bradway said.

Other customizations were equally creative—one artist covered hers with embroidery, another burned and decorated them with cigarette butts and a third artist planted aloe vera where the feet would normally go.

“They’re a blank canvas to be used however they want to, even if they want to take it out and shoot it with a shotgun,” Mount said.

Beethe already has in mind how she’s going to paint her shoes this year, but for now she’s determined to keep her plans top secret.

“I want to keep it a surprise. I think that’s what’s original about the show – not knowing what’s going to be there and being surprised by what you see,” she said. “You normally have an idea of what a particular artist is capable of – their style – but the show allows the artist to bring something that they don’t normally do, that you don’t normally see.”

Last year, for Canvas, Beethe shoved one of her shoes inside the other, drew on them as they were and presented them that way. She used lime green color and black ink to depict a woman standing in a garden, surrounded by flowers, roots and trees. She said it was inspired by “Into the Garden,” a poem by Rumi, a 13th Century Persian poet and theologian.

“I am very influenced by Art Nouveau, which is a very decorative style. I like the movement and the colors are especially beautiful, and they also use a lot of black and white, which I am readily drawn to,” Beethe said. “It just looks gorgeous and the contrast is unbelievable.”

Last year at the Girlie Show, an art exhibition that focuses solely on female artists from Oklahoma and surrounding areas, Beethe won a $1,000 scholarship, which also enabled her to display her work at Blue 7, a boutique in Oklahoma City.

Beethe, whose conjoined pair of shoes sold last year, said one of the best things about Canvas is that the artists are responsible for purchasing their shoes, and that the percentage of sales the artists get to keep is much higher than usual. She said most art galleries require a fee of up to 50 percent of whatever the artists make from their work.

“No wonder they call us ‘starving artists,’” she said.

One ideal behind Canvas is the hope that this will build the community in more ways than just art. Already, they’ve seen people who have never participated in an art show submit work. It doesn’t take a Picasso or a Rembrandt to customize a pair of shoes, but it does require a creative mind and a willingness to do something out of the ordinary.

“It’s probably one of the most diverse shows, when it comes to the artwork, that you’ll see,” Bradway said. “There’s always something happening. It’s not just art on the walls.”

There’s always something to hear, touch and possibly participate in, plus great food. Though this year’s venue and charity are yet to be determined, the second annual canvas shoe show will be June 7. Keep checking myspace.com/canvasartshow for the location and other information to be posted.

Anyone who would like to help is encouraged to call Shoe Gypsy at (405) 608-0931, or send an e-mail to canvas.show@gmail.com.

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