We Are All One | Online Audience Participation Painting | The Art and Fun Of Nan Coffey
September 10, 20157 min read
Post by the Artist
Over the 4th of July weekend, an idea came to me right out of the blue: an idea to create something new, fresh and interactive in my "Art All Over" style. I posted a simple photo of me sitting on a canvas (see pic below) and invited my Facebook followers to participate in the creation of a piece of art. Since most of my work is about my life, my experiences, my friends, and my family, I thought that maybe it would be cool to create something that wasn't about me at all, but rather a work that included total strangers so that I could get to know the people that follow my work and they in turn could get to be a part of the creation of my art. So, I posted the picture below on July 2, 2015 with these words:
You guys wanna be part of a big, rad painting?? Of course you do! Tell me something about yourself and I'll go through over the course of the holiday weekend and start adding some of these things right into this painting so that when it's done, it'll be filled with little shout outs to you guys. I'll be working on it all weekend long, starting tomorrow afternoon, and I'll continuously post pics so you can see it all come together...and see if you're in it in some way..
For example, what do you like, what makes you happy? Your kid, a band, your band, cooking, old movies, BEER, your pet Fifi..that type of stuff. Please keep it brief and simple and understand that I probably can't include everything, but I'll try to add as much as I can in some way..
I'll start..I love the Beastie Boys! I listen to them a lot when I paint. I got the ball rolling on this painting today by painting myself wearing an MCA shirt to honor the late Adam Yauch whose music and humanitarian efforts are a big inspiration to me.
Your turn.. Don't be shy..
I had started the canvas with "We Are All One" to symbolize that we are in fact all the same regardless of who we and where we are in this life:
Here's the thing, with social media you never know how things are going to turn out..Facebook's algorithms could decide not to even show this post to my followers for various reasons. I also thought there was going to be the possibility that people would see the post, but maybe wouldn't respond to it. Either way, I decided to take a chance so I posted it and left the studio with Josh to go find some beer. Almost immediately, my phone began to light up. Before we even got to the bar, I was getting inundated with responses. Rad! Before the night was even up, I had received hundreds of replies and messages from people asking to be included. It was exciting, but also a little daunting. Theinitial canvas size I selected was 66 square feet. Given the response, there was simply no way that was going to work. My first thought was, well, I could just include 50 or so people into this and that'd be pretty cool. But as I stood and looked at the canvas and as I continued to get more responses, I realized that it just simply was not going to be big enough. I wanted to include just as many people as I possibly could. So I upgraded to a much larger size - 130 square feet (10 ft tall by 13 feet wide). I repainted the original character of me holding the "We Are All One" sign and began fulfilling the over 300 requests..
I painted this large canvas just like I paint all my large canvases: I just went for it and started painting what inspired me at that moment in time. Being that it was 4th of July weekend, I got lots of requests from people wanting to show support for our Veterans that have provided us with our safety and freedom. Having a father, grandfather, brother-in-law and many other family members that have served in our military, I decided to honor them and all those requests by placing them in the middle of this giant canvas.
I want to point out something that I thought was super awesome - that is, the overwhelming majority of responses were very positive. People asked that I include their pets, their loved ones, their favorite bands, the places they like to go with their families, their dreams..That they were doctors or nurses, that they survived cancer, that they love their kids, that they want to be successful with their art, that they have overcome obstacles and have carried on.. It was joyous and I was so happy to read about the loves and joys of everyone's lives. But, I will tell you something that I did not mention to my followers as I worked on this piece: it was very emotionally tasking for me every day to work on this project. I knew that it was making people happy - as I posted progress pics day by day, I listed everyone that was included in each section so that they knew to look for themselves - and those that were included in those sections shared their delight with me. But I am the kind of person who never wants to disappoint anyone, so I put myself under tremendous pressure to make this as rad as possible for everyone and to really put a lot of thought into each and every person I included. Not one thing was added that did not have a lot of thought put into it, and I can tell you, that kind of thinking can really wear on you. But the more I worked on it, the closer I got to finishing it, and the more people I included, the happier I got because I realized that I went from adding 50 people to 90 people to 125 people to 172 people by the time I had completed the piece!
When I did this project, I had only had my Facebook page for about 4 months. This project helped me to get know so many RAD new people from so many walks of life from their comments to me and I found we all have a lot of the same interests and care about a lot of the same things: family, friends, pets, good music, art, and let's be honest, our love of all things Star Wars!
I used to be someone who was not a fan of social media at all - It took Josh about 2 years of badgering to get me to even allow him to create an art page on Facebook for me. But, because of this project and the people that participated, I was able to see how social media can be used to bring people together. I started receiving personal messages from many people that wanted to let me know that they had been down and that this painting really inspired, uplifted and motivated them. I can't begin to describe how rewarding that is to me as an artist. I get told all the time how my art makes people happy and uplifts their day but those personal messages I received gave me a new appreciation for how art really can add joy into the world. And as I move forward, I intend to continue to do more projects like this in hopes of bringing people together and adding a bit of happiness into people's lives.
This painting has a bunch of Beastie Boys references in it. Turns out that like myself, there are a number of followers of my work that love them as much as I do. I dedicated this work to the late Adam Yauch (MCA) from the get go so I thought it was pretty cool to get to add so many additional shout outs to those boys as I worked : )
I get asked a lot how long it takes me to complete my large works. It's difficult to say because I don't work on them uninterrupted. For this piece, I finished it over the course of 2 weeks - but I only worked on it during the day a few times, I mostly worked on it evenings and I didn't work on it at all for 4 or 5 of the days. So to say it took 2 weeks to complete isn't exactly accurate. I paint pretty fast, so uninterrupted , I probably could have finished it in a few days.. When I finish my work, I sign it in one of 2 ways, either just my name or sometimes, Nan Was Here. When I completed this work, I signed it differently: "Nan Was Here And So Are You." I believe the meaning behind the signature speaks for itself..
Once the painting was completed, I took it to John Schulz at Studio Schulz in San Diego to photograph it. Since I paint my large-scale works flat on the ground, I don't get to actually view them upright until they are lifted in his studio, which is always a rad sight for me to see. Here is a photo of me watching the final piece being photographed in John's studio : )
As with most things in life I find the journey to be the most rewarding part but now it is time to find places to exhibit this painting. My team and I are currently searching for places that are high-traffic, protected from the weather yet accessible. We want people to be able to view this painting and it's story and understand how art can change people's lives: how we all have a common love for life and how we all desire to be loved. Art can be somewhat of a selfish endeavor and I have fought with that aspect of art for a long time. I don't want my art to always be about me and the things I love. I want my art to also be about YOU and things YOU love. If you participated in this work, thank you, I love you, you rock! If you are not in this work, there will be others.. Rock on!