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Local artist captures FestivALL on canvas

CHARLESTON, W.VA. -- Downtown Charleston office workers on their lunchtime break have been able to watch a piece of art being created, day by day, out on the street, by a local painter.

Ian Bode found a shady spot Thursday on Brawley Walkway beside the Warner Law Office to prop up his 4-by-5-foot canvas on an easel. When he wasn't talking to visitors -- one even asked him to autograph the city's new public art guidebook -- he used a black Sharpie to outline buildings and draw tiny people.

The Sharpie is a key tool for Bode to form his distinctive style, often featuring variations of a faceless humanoid figure he calls The Passenger. He expects to go through two Sharpies on this painting alone.

"I draw [the design], use pencil -- my cartoon style -- paint it, then go over it with the Sharpie."

In the last few years, Bode's works have been popping up frequently around town. Just around the corner stands a Bode Passenger, carved out of steel plate, standing in as one of Charleston's artistic bike racks. Last summer he painted one of the 10 murals on Interstate 64 piers along Washington Street, and he's been picked to paint another pier this summer.

In fact, he expected to be painting that mural now until the Peer to Pier project became delayed, so he asked FestivALL public arts coordinator Naomi Bays about doing a FestivALL-themed painting.

"I did something like this in Morgantown," he said. "I said I'd like to do this in Charleston, where I know everything."

He chose a somewhat abstract view of the city, looking toward the south side of the Kanawha. The sternwheel-themed Schoenbaum Stage is at dead center, surrounded by several landmarks -- Sunrise mansion and its Carriage Trail, Laidley Tower, the United Center and Capitol Street.

He's been visiting FestivALL events, sketching people and scenes in his notebook to be added to the painting. His sketches include art paraders, a clown on stilts, artists at their easels and a fire eater. "I'll probably put George Castelle, the guitarist, up here," he said, pointing to the roof of the Union Building.

He plans to keep related folks together -- Live on the Levee musicians near the stage, an artists' colony off to the side. "I'm not sure where to put Danny Jones or Larry Groce."

During an interview Wednesday, he used his Sharpie to draw a photographer and a notepad-armed reporter in the downtown section of the painting.

"Did I hear there was a bank robbery this morning?" He asked where it happened. "I figured I'd put a little masked figure up here with a bag of money, running through the crowd.

"I'm using the same paint I used on the pillar last year -- latex acrylic house paint. I use nine colors. It's kind of mathematical: three warm colors, three cool; three shades of blue, three shades of green, three shades of red. And I try not to bleed -- all blocks of color, graphic, cartoonish.

"For this I'm trying to do FestivALL meets Hieronymus Bosch meets Where's Waldo." With a number a real people in the painting, he said he'd like to get a graphic artist to draw a key to help identify the people.

A native of Pinch and a Capital High graduate, Bode said he can't stop drawing. While he was living in the Florida Keys, people noticed him sketching caricatures on restaurant napkins. "They offered me money, so I decided to use better paper."

In the last year, he took the plunge from part-time to full-time artist. He's looking for a studio to replace the one in his South Charleston home.

Bode's been working on the FestivALL painting daily since Saturday except for a break on Sunday. He planned to do some sketching of a special Art Walk event at the Lee Street Triangle Thursday evening.

"I'm going over there for the musical easels. Every time the music stops they switch easels."

A quick worker, he expects to finish his painting by the close of FestivALL this weekend. "I'd like to sell it, or auction it. The Art Emporium, I can always hang my works there."

Reach Jim Balow at balow@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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