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The Zen of graffiti at the CCA

SANTA FE, N.M. — With an hour to create a drawing or a painting at the fundraiser Render Bender on Saturday, more than a few artists of the 50 on hand are likely to embrace the Zen of graffiti.

Graffiti artist Joerael Elliott intends to channel his “freestyle” at the event.

“It’s not premeditated. I think I’ll just see what happens,” said Elliott.

All of the artists are assigned the same size sheet of paper – 11 by 14 inches – on which they draw or paint during the three-hour event at the Muñoz Waxman Gallery at the Center for Contemporary Arts. The event begins at 5 p.m. and ends at 9 p.m. on Saturday.

Graffiti artist Joerael Elliott works on a mural for Render Bender, a fundraiser for the Center for Contemporary Arts. (Wren Propp/for Journal North)

Graffiti artist Joerael Elliott works on a mural for Render Bender, a fundraiser for the Center for Contemporary Arts. (Wren Propp/for Journal North)

“As a graffiti artist, the art itself is of the moment and intended to last no longer than the inspiration of the next artist,” said Elliott, who is also completing a mural at the gallery for the event.

Unlike most graffiti, however, the artists’ work will be preserved and sold. For $75 each, the pieces will go to the first bidder as soon as they’re complete. Admission is $10, free for children, and the proceeds will benefit CCA.

Attendees witness the creation of the art, which is subsequently matted, wrapped and made ready to go home with buyers. Each artist is invited to participate in two one-hour rounds, so a total of no fewer than 100 pieces of art will be on offer throughout the evening. Artists may create more than one piece during the hour-long rounds, if they wish.

The “live drawing-themed” event will be circus-like, with Wise Fool performers, an emcee, food, drink and live music, said curator Angie Rizzo. There will be an art-making table for the children, as well as face painting. Participants are encouraged to walk around and witness art being made in front of them.

Some artists may pick up on participants’ presence and reactions, while others may wish to filter it out, said Rizzo, whose diverse background includes administration, education and conservation, as well her own artistic practice.

Interacting with artists at Render Bender is encouraged.

“It’s an excellent opportunity for new buyers to start collecting or for artists to build a new collector base,” she said.

The event may also be a relaxed gateway for people interested in collecting art, but who may be intimidated by the high prices or the scrutiny of gallery owners. Strolling through a crowd of family-friendly people provides safety in numbers, said Aidan White, CCA’s membership and development coordinator.

The artists represent a wide range of styles, Rizzo said. Most are from New Mexico, specifically Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Taos. But there are artists from the coasts, as well. About half of this year’s group of artists also participated in last year’s Render Bender.

“I think they’ll come up with something new. We’ve asked the artists to let us know if they’re going to do something off the wall. I think it really adds to the energy,” Rizzo said.

The emcee will be Westin McDowell of The Shiner’s Club Jazz Band. Last year’s event had a Mardi Gras feel; this year’s is jazzy. The crowd was large and fun last year, Rizzo said, and she is expecting even more people to come on Saturday.

Sponsorships have increased. This year’s sponsors include Rowley Farmhouse Ales, Artisans Santa Fe, Whoo’s Donuts, and Gavin Collier and Company, a framing company. Last year’s Render Bender generated a net of $7,500, she said.

One piece of art created for the event stays at the gallery, at least until it is painted over for the next CCA exhibit. Artist Elliott is using acrylic and water to create a huge mural.

“And maybe a little spray paint,” he said.

He’s calling on the rhythm, flow and structure of graffiti to present images from the Tohono O’odham Nation and the desert. The nation’s lands are split by the boundary between Mexico and Arizona. They’ve experienced nearly two centuries of other political entities trying to divide their homeland.

An electronic image of Elliott’s work will become part of a global project organized by him as an alternative to the wall that seems to be on everyone’s minds – President Donald Trump’s proposal for a 30-foot-tall structure along the southern border of the United States.

“It’s a destructive piece of land art, interrupting life paths,” Elliott said of Trump’s plan.

After Elliott’s work is complete at CCA, the mural’s image will become – square foot by square foot – part of his Mobilize Walls action to electronically join walls of art, land art and donated blank walls to the exact scale of Trump’s proposed wall, what he calls online “an outlet and expression” against the wall.

Go to for more information about the project.

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