Watching many artists paint can be like, well, watching paint dry. Catch an artist creating en plein aire — outside — and the process appears delicate, deliberate, skilled and thoughtful, but not fast.
That wasn’t what happened this weekend at the Kenai Peninsula Fair in Ninilchik when spray paint artist Charles “Chaz” Oakley worked at his Yo! Spray Me booth. With spray paint, tin cans, pieces of cardboard, sponges and his hands, Oakley works like a dervish. Using 16-inch-by-20-inch Kromekote paper taped to plywood on a carousel, in eight minutes or less he sprays, spins, blocks, smears and daubs the paint until he has a finished work of art.
“No brushes are used or harmed in the making of this painting,” Oakley said.
No landfills are harmed either. Raised in Homer and Ninilchik, Oakley now lives in Anchorage. He gets most of his spray paint from Emerald Services in Anchorage, a company that does hazardous waste processing for the Anchorage landfill. Emerald Services puts up usable paint that goes on shelves for the public to pick up and reuse.
“Free in this economy is a good price,” Oakley said.
He’s a big promoter of using salvaged paint.
“If I can do these with recycled paint, just think what you can do with the deck of your house,” he said. “It’s better on the wall than in the ground.”
Using recycled paint also helps Oakley offer original art at the bargain price of $20.
“Because I believe in affordable art, especially in this economy,” he said.
Born 1965 in Torrance, Calif., Oakley lived in Homer and then in Ninilchik, graduating from Ninilchik High School in 1984. The great-great-great nephew of Wild West sharpshooter Annie Oakley, his mother Almeda Hoffman ran the Ninilchik Native Health Clinic and his step-father Allen Hoffman was a sought out mason in Alaska.
“I’ve always done art since I can remember,” Oakely said. “My mom used to tell me, if I have something of value to say, draw it.”
In Homer, he studied with former Homer High School art teacher Jack Walsh.
“He’s the one who really pushed me,” Oakley said. “He even got the school to get me some special clay stuff I could sculpt.”
Oakley also got formal training at Minneapolis College of Art and Design. After graduating, he returned to Alaska.
“I did the typical starving artists thing, getting any job I could find,” he said.
He’s been an art instructor for Michael’s, the art supply store, and has done wholesale carvings for Princess Lodge. He works in whalebone, soapstone and alabaster, with his art shown in more than 140 galleries, including many on the Homer Spit.
He got the idea to do spray paint performance art after seeing a YouTube video.
“I fell in love with it. It’s an inexpensive medium. Also, I constantly have to do art for some reason,” Oakley said. “I get really euphoric when I do art. It’s a release, I think.”
He paints in less than eight minutes to keep his performances tight.
“I’ve got to keep the attention span of the audience,” Oakley said. “Plus, the faster I do it, the more amazed they are.”
His art’s effect comes from the association people have with spray paint.
“Part of the magic, the illusion of spray can art — people associate spray paint with the hardware store,” he said. “It kind of freaks their brain out. … When it comes to paint, pigment is pigment.”
His art isn’t graffiti, though. Real graffiti can be an art form, Oakley said.
“I believe in expression as long as it doesn’t interfere with other people’s property or ruin anything,” he said.
Plus, “graffiti don’t pay,” he said.
Yo! Spray Me got its name when Oakley did a performance at an Anchorage bar. A woman yelled out, “Yo! Spray me!,” and he figured she wanted a portrait done.
“When I turned around, she was halfway on my table completely naked. She wanted me to spray her.”
Oakley wasn’t spraying any naked women or men at the fair, but he will paint things like satellite dishes. One year a man went back to his car, unbolted the hood and brought it back to him to paint. He’s painted cell phone covers, motorcycle tanks, laptop computers, game pieces and guitars. At the fair he painted satellite dishes for $100 each.
There’s no secret to his skill. Everybody can do art. For $50 he teaches a 1-hour class in spray paint art, your money back if he can’t teach you to paint work similar to what he does. Art is inherent in the human species, Oakley said. Everything we use had an artist involved.
“It’s not hard,” he said of his teaching style. “I just eliminate those road blocks people put up.”
See more of his art at www.yosprayme.com
Michael Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org