Riverwest bar offers open canvas nights

Part show room, part studio and part bar, Art Bar, 722 E. Burleigh St. in Riverwest, is the kind of place where you can meet your neighbors, bring your dog and watch the live creation of art on Sunday nights. Come alone or with friends—the funky, homemade atmosphere is welcoming for all.

“The Art Bar is a stalwart of new art expression,” said artist George Darrow. With a smile and paint stained hands, Darrow created a multi-medium piece at the Art Bar last Sunday, part of the weekly installment of “The One Week Painting.”

Every Sunday, one artist climbs a scaffold to the 4-foot by 5-foot canvas near the bar’s front door and paints over the previous week’s creation or adds to it to make something new. The artist can begin working at 4 p.m., but must finish by midnight. There’s no restriction on content.

“Art doesn’t have a genre – it’s art or art-not,” Darrow said. For his painting on Sunday night, he created an homage to the fallen of 9/11. The work included a painted background as well as what he called attachments, representing the twin towers, that he screwed into the canvas.

Darrow said he had participated in the open canvas three times before, and that he enjoys working on the scaffold like Michelangelo.

“It’s an opportunity of wonderment, a wonderful task,” Darrow said. “There’s no separation between the art and the artist, just an expression of what the artist is doing and being.”

“The One Week Painting” started the first week the Art Bar opened in March 2004.

Art Bar owner Don Krause said in an e-mail that he thought of starting “The One Week Painting” after watching artists create temporary chalk drawings at Bastille Days in Milwaukee. He said the artists’ work was washed away in a rainstorm and he was sorry they had lost their beautiful work.

The artists were not upset, he said. Instead, they said they’d just do another chalk drawing the next day.

“That experience of creating something for the moment and letting it go so easily,” Krause said, “I had never seen that spirit in an artist before.”

From that, his weekly open canvas was born.

Open canvas artists agreed that it’s difficult to paint over another person’s work.

“That’s the way it goes,” said Erin Fritsch, a three-time “One Week Painting” participant and bartender at the Art Bar. “That’s what it’s all about.”

Fritsch said she had difficultly painting over the work of Don English – an artist she said is famous in the underground art scene, has been featured in “Juxtapoz Art and Culture Magazine” and who happened to paint the week before she did.

“(English) created a great painting in less than two hours, and similar works by him were selling for as much as $40,000,” Krause said. “People were telling me, ‘you have to take it down and keep it, or sell it on eBay,’ but one week later it got painted over just like everyone else’s.”

English, Fritsch and the artist who followed made a combined work that was honored as one of the top ten paintings in the 52-week period. Each March, all 52 artists from “The One Week Painting” are invited back to the bar. Each year’s canvas is cut into 52 pieces and distributed amongst the contributors.

Art Bar also features a themed art show every six weeks, said patron Gaby Boutillier, who lives in Riverwest. Last Sunday’s show was called “Ambiguous” and featured modern-style paintings by Dan Weber and multi-dimensional artwork by Daithi.

“I don’t always like the artwork, but that’s the point of art,” said Boutillier, who also likes that anyone can buy the pieces from the main show.

Art Bar also offers food — it serves a variety of 12-inch pizzas for $7.50, including standards like supreme and Italian sausage, as well as more exotic choices like roasted vegetable and goat cheese. An assortment of drinks is also available.

The bar features a pool table, darts, board games and pinball, with abundant and comfortable seating.

Art Bar is open Monday through Friday from 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. “One Week Painting” artists work from 4 p.m. to midnight on Sundays, but can begin later or end earlier by preference.