Visual Art

"Today We Paint": A Walkabout and Mass Painting in Downtown

The temperature was hovering somewhere in the mid-90s on Saturday afternoon when Olaniyi Rasheed Akindiya, better know as Akirash, stepped out of CentralTrak. The temperature was significant because Akirash was wearing only Scotch tape and empty water bottles on his feet. As he splashed water around the concrete and onto the gallery itself Akirash produced a lot of noise, coming from the tape and bottles all over his body, along with the skirt of Mardi Gras beads he was wearing. There was also a computer keyboard tucked in and a lantern on his head, but you had to look quite closely to notice -- so many different things on him were calling for attention.

Akirash is a Lagos-born, Austin-based visiting artist at CentralTrak, and Saturday's outing was his last in Dallas before heading back. He walked the nearly two-mile stretch from CentralTrak to Pegasus Plaza at the Magnolia Hotel, zig-zagging for a few blocks before marching most of the way down Commerce Street. There might be a case to make for a new brand of athletic gear made out of tape and bottles, because some of us following behind quickly lost sight of him. We only closed the gap when he stopped to christen flagpoles or sidewalk with water bottles he held over his head like an Orthodox priest.

When we arrived at the plaza Akirash had already started the second phase of the performance and had amassed a a few dozen spectators. We weren't sure what to expect, except that Akirash planned to somehow work himself into a painting. He was walking around a massive canvas covered in strips and piles of cloth and surrounded by little Ziploc bags of paint. Akirash picked one up, twisted it into the shape of an icing bag and bit the corner off, then held it about penis-level and pretended to pee color onto the canvas, swaying back and forth like a boy pissing into a lake.

"Somebody call my mama," he yelled, "I say I want to be born again." He yelled this a few times with different family members subbed in. He then picked up a bag of guacamole green paint and started spraying that one too, yelling "Today we paint!" I had to hear him yell it several times before I realized he wasn't saying "repent."

After spraying many more bags and announcing he was running for office and making a few campaign promises (not for anything in particular, just promises) he started handing out the rough squares of cloth that covered his canvas. These were mini-paintings that Akirash's audience was happy to take, but less so to hold on to since they were all still dripping paint. Everyone also got their own sandwich bag of color as Akirash cut his way out of his bottle suit with scissors and then picked up the remaining piles of paint-soaked cloth on the canvas. They turned out to be a full set of clothes -- boxers, pants, undershirt, blazer -- all turned to that colorful grey smear that kids make when they mix all their watercolors together.

He then rolled around the canvas and again announced, "Today we paint," as a cue for people to begin dumping their colors on him.

"Oh no, I'll leave that to you," a woman said as she passed off her baggie of purple.

"Here you go, man," said a young guy as he up-turned his open bag of orange on the seated Akirash.

After everyone blew their color loads Akirash graciously thanked them and promised they would see him again soon. Some young girls and a security guard all brought their mini-canvas for him to autograph, though he insisted that they pick where he signed. I carefully folded mine up to minimize the dripping and started walking, trying to figure out how long it would take to walk back to my car.

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Luke Darby
Contact: Luke Darby