Artist Gwen AP On: Art, Education and Finding Herself

It was not too long ago that artist, teacher and mother Gwen AP was painting in the crowd at concerts and festivals. Through a rapid turn of events, she now finds herself painting on stage with her favorite musicians. Here, she tells how it all happened.

You have been producing art for some time, but have only recently begun live painting. Can you tell me about how this began and what you experienced in the transition from painting in a studio to performing in a live environment?

I have always loved painting and music is definitely a big inspiration. Live painting kind of just happened at Bonnaroo this year. It was my first time painting in front of a large population of strangers. It was great. People really seemed to like it and the responses I got were almost entirely positive. I ended up working with another artist who approached me while I was spray painting out in a field and we ended up doing some collaboration throughout the festival.

When I live painted at Camp Bisco it felt very natural and at times surreal. My live painting has developed lately and I feel like it's - just a really big wave I'm riding of - artistic progression.

You painted quite a bit at Bonnaroo this summer. Could you perhaps describe some of the insight you gained from this experience, it being your first time performing live painting?

Well last year I had entered the Bonnaroo logo contest and my husband had made a bunch of prints of my design to bring with us and sell. I thought he was crazy, because my art had always been very personal to me, and I had never tried to sell it before. But all of my prints sold really well, so this year we upgraded and decided to vend my artwork. That was very scary for me because my paintings are very personal, so it’s definitely putting myself out there for everybody to see. It was putting my soul on display - you like it, want to pay for it? The experience ended up being really cool because even though it was so scary going into it I got a lot of really positive feedback from the crowd. People were really excited about my art.

At Camp Bisco I saw you in the crowd and you were painting with the general population, but I know that you live painted on stage with Dirty Paris and the Disco Biscuits. Could you tell me about this experiences and perhaps how they differed?

This year I requested an artist pass to see if I could paint on stage. It was great. Brownie was so nice. He hooked me up with a guest pass and I wasn't really sure what that meant at the beginning of the weekend. It was cool. I enjoyed going back stage and talking to different artists and different people.

I ran into my friends in Dirty Paris who I had done some album and other miscellaneous artwork for, about 20 or 30 paintings.

When I ran into them at Camp this year I told them that I would be live painting on stage with the Biscuits and it just so happened that their time slot was directly before the Biscuits day set that I would be painting during. You know how pretty perfect is that? So I said, "Hey can I paint with you guys?" and they said, "Yeah, of course!" So I painted on stage with them, which is cool because I know those guys, and even camped with them at this and past Camp Biscos. That was a very comfortable experience, they are friends of mine, so being on stage with them was very awesome. A lot of my friends were in the crowd supporting them and supporting me. Which is great to just hear people cheer for you, yell your name.

When the Biscuits came on I just kept painting. Brownie came out, he tapped me on the shoulder and gave me a high five, went out and said 'Good Morning' to Camp Bisco and introduced me to the crowd. I remember looking out at the audience and it was very surreal seeing how many people were out there, it looked like a sea of people, it didn't seem like it ended. Being able to look over at Barber jamming on his guitar, just a few feet away from me, Magner getting into it or being able to see the gloss on Allen's face: that all was very intense but cool at the same time.

I felt like I warmed up with Dirty Paris but really got into it for the Biscuits. The whole thing was one of the best experiences I have had. It felt nice and exciting. When it was over, Brownie introduced me to his mom who was watching from the side and I ended up meeting his wife and kids. The painting ended up being awesome. Brownie actually helped me name it.

You recently went to New Mexico on an artist retreat to collaborate with artist Mike Rohner, who you met at Bonnarro. Can you tell me what that experience was like, what you did and what it was like collaborating with another artist?

Collaborating with another artist was great. I met him while painting at Bonnaroo while I was painting in a field a few days before they let the general population inside. I was just laying down some spray paint and he said 'Can I show you a couple things?' It turns out he is an amazing spray painter from Santa Fe, New Mexico. Right off the bat we became really good friends. Throughout the weekend he ended up live painting with me on multiple works. I felt like his style really complimented mine. He would lay down some spray paint and the I would go on with some splatter, or he'd try some spray paint and then he would sketch something out. It seemed like we had a really nice flow to what we were doing.

We became such good friends that he actually gave me a piece to take home and do some work on. Through the course of the next few weeks he ended up sending me 5 or 6 paintings that he laid down some spray paint and some sketching and then I laid down some of my ideas. They all turned out really well so he end up inviting me out to a Girls Inc. show that he was doing on the plaza in Santa Fe. As soon as I got there he had some paintings prepped that he wanted to work on. He has some really cool concepts of a female image that we ended up collaborating on that we used a model friend of his for. Overall I think our styles very much compliment each other and it was definitely fun to feed off of each other's creative ideas.

Did arts education play a big role for you developing as an artist or is it something you came to on your own?

I've always drawn, and art class was always my favorite. I always took art class very seriously much more so then I think I did any other class. But it was fun because I had a tough childhood and so for me art was my outlet. It was how I could express myself. There were no rules and it was just whatever you wanted it to be. So I think that always had a very big impact on me because that was my way to express myself. But the only type of art education I ever had was kindergarten through 12th grade.

As a teacher as well as an artist. Perhaps you can give some insight into how important arts education is to a child's development.

Arts education, well of course it's very important. I have a 4-year old daughter so of course I see her -- every day -- developing her fine motor skills. I think for a lot of kids art is a little bit of a release. It’s not like science or math where its hardcore facts and figures. Art gets to be interpreted in any way you so choose. So there’s no right or wrong in art. In art the spirit is that you tell everyone that they did a good job and that everybody's an artist it’s just a very positive type of experience for kids. I think art is just as important as music or anything like that. And it's sad that sometimes those things are overlooked when it comes to budget cuts.  The district I was in suffered a big budget cut the last school year, which is why in pursuing my art a little more then I am my teaching at this point. I think one day I will have a good teaching job but in the meantime I'm going to pursue my art.

Continuing on that note do you think anything can be done to stop the defunding of arts and music programs in American public schools or do you see that as the first thing to go when a district has no money?

I can't say I know enough specifics to say what the first thing to go is. But I know I saw a lot of teachers in our district react very negatively to different proposals our district put out. Cutting jobs, cutting programs, it’s sad. I hope that something can be done about it. But it's gotta - you have to have enough power behind that, enough people have to support it and you have to really really try to make a stand and do something about it, and hope that the people in control recognize it.

Back to you live painting, you painted with Conspirator on the 27th can you tell me how it went?

It was awesome, it was a lot of fun to meet everyone and hang out with them. I got to have a little one on one time with everyone in the band. The whole thing had a really good vibe and I thought the painting turned out really well. It was really fun. I always enjoy listening to their music and getting to be so close to it was phenomenal.


I’m looking at a picture of your painting right now and it seems very dynamic and organic but still has a raw energy to it, can you tell me how this manifestation came about?

It does have a lot of energy. It was a great experience where they put me right up front next to Magner's keyboard and it was intense and awesome. I think the painting reflects all of that energy I felt. It was definitely tough painting because I was trying to dance and paint at the same time, but still keep my lines nice and clean. I wanted it to be a little bit raw but still crisp and clean in some spots. I feel like I soaked up a lot of the energy coming from the band and the crowd. At one point I asked Mike Greenfield [from Lotus] what color he thought I should add next. He said purple and I said ooo yeah purple, and when I added the purple to it, it changed the dynamic of the painting. I asked a bunch of people for name suggestions, which is always my favorite part. As people see it develop I ask them for name suggestions and I got a lot of good ones which for me is one of the fun parts.

[Gwen's painting is now on sale through her website. Gwen has pledged all of the proceeds from the sale as a donation to Headcount.]

This is the third in a series of interview of artists who paint to live music. Previous interviews featured Kris D and LEBO.