The sorry situation:
Our 1980s-era house came equipped with these astonishingly ugly and poorly placed utility boxes attached to the structure’s outside back wall. They are situated right beside the deck so that I might contemplate with almost daily frequency what fool would have placed something so butt-ugly in such a prominent and visually unavoidable location.
After three years’ contemplation of these warts upon our dwelling, I could tolerate them no longer. However, I am strongly averse to spending money on cosmetic house repairs that might be better spent on something like, say, a backpacking trip to Death Valley National Park in mid August, so a quick and economic fix was the only acceptable solution.
“Make it so.” Patrick Stewart would love me, I’m sure of it.
From the fabric store came a couple yards of fuzzy-backed tablecloth vinyl; WalMart supplied a few cans of cheap spray paint in random colors: yellow, two shades of purple, navy blue. The yellow would provide a base color on the vinyl fabric and I could then adorn it with some stick figure florals using the other colors. Voila! For $25 and change, a masterpiece would emerge that I could hang in front of the utility boxes.
But then. . .
The prospect of spray painting floral stick figures rapidly became ho hum, unimaginative. Sad, actually. The endeavor began to seem too mainstream Hobby Lobby. My interest lies in finding unexpected uses for everyday items, such as turning wine bottles into garden edging or teaspoons into wind chimes, but I’m mostly devoid of true artistic ability. My creative bursts are usually solo efforts, but I like to give people, strangers mostly, the opportunity to think differently and perhaps have a unique, fun experience. I want them to see that they can go beyond just thinking outside the box, they can throw away the box altogether. The icing on my creative cake is collaboration, and the sugary rose atop that is anonymity. Why not take a board from Tom Sawyer’s fence?
Why not, indeed. I can say without exaggeration that I live in a neighborhood that beds down with tradition and rules and does not encourage change or interaction. Even so. . .not trying definitely doomed any creativity or collaboration or fun.
The invitation. . .
I threw down my gauntlet.
I stapled the canvas to a piece of wood and propped it against a ladder with the invitation hanging prominently. I set the materials out at the end of the driveway in the mornings, and brought them in at night.
The process was slow. Rain interfered. We traveled frequently.
I kept setting the canvas in the driveway near the road.
Nothing happened for days. Discouragement lurked.
Have patience, grasshopper. . .
Suddenly, progress happened. A teenage male broke the seal. Initials and random figures materialized on the canvas. Aside from the teenage male (whom I did not approach because I believe it inhibits participation), I didn’t see the painters.
A miracle occurs!
Within days, somebody with real spray paint expertise came by. My proverbial fence was whitewashed. I thanked my mystery collaborators via a driveway chalk message, and hung our work of art, dubbed “The Arrow Man,” in front of the offending utility boxes.
The cheerful Arrow Man fulfilled his purpose all summer. He dangled stoically through storms and darkness. The bitey, stingy insects, wasps, and spiders I expected to take up residence on his fuzzy backside surprisingly never did. The utility boxes were out of sight and mind for many months.
In the end. . .
Like a reverse snowman, the Arrow Man was ultimately undone by winter. I freed him from his perch and stowed him in the garage when that unfriendly season squeezed us like a python. After being unfazed by rain, sun, heat, and curious small lizards, the cold peeled his paint skin away. Ashes to ashes. . .paint chips to paint chips. Nothing lasts forever. Except the utility boxes, which sailed unscathed through winter and remain firmly, ugly as ever, in their place.
Takeaway. . .
I liked the Arrow Man, particularly for the process that gave rise to him. I had no qualms about providing strangers with spray paint in my driveway. No rules were imposed. Without knowing the potential participants, I trusted them. I wanted something good for them. I was absolutely sure they would understand that. For the most part I was an anonymous force behind the project, and I like to think I provided a spark for someone to try something different when they picked up that paint can. Maybe they’ll pass that spark on to someone else.
Wouldn’t that just be amazing?