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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014

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In Arts & Entertainment

"Open Canvas" splashes Art Bar's Sunday nights


In the spirit of sand art, ice sculptures, rainbows and all things beautiful and temporary, Don Krause, owner of Art Bar, unfurled the "Open Canvas."

The Open Canvas Night occurs every Sunday at Art Bar, 722 E. Burleigh St. Each week, a local artist has eight hours or fewer to create a painting on a 4x5 canvas hanging on the bar's west wall. The piece is then displayed for one week, until the following Sunday, when another local artist paints over it.

While the artist paints, cocktail sippers sit at the tables, adorned with yardstick-designed tops, and watch the work materialize.

"The Open Canvas is based on the open mic concept," says Krause. "People asked me if I planned to have an open mic here, and I might, but I thought 'for now let's put it into a visual context instead of a verbal context.'"

Greg Johnson was the first artist to participate, and Krause says he has already booked artists for every Sunday through October.

The Open Canvas rules are straightforward and not carved in stone. For starters, the event doesn't have a set time; rather, the painting begins when the artist arrives.

"You can't count on an artist to be anywhere at 7 p.m.," says Krause, who is also a visual artist. "We open at four and close at midnight and the artist can start whenever they want as long as they finish by closing time."

The artist provides his or her own paint, which must be latex or acrylic so it's compatible with the next layer. Artists are allowed to come in the week before their Open Canvas Night to decide if they want to incorporate the existing painting into their work or have the canvas primed over instead.

The artist receives a $50 bar tab in compensation, which they can share with friends and family who come to support them.

All of the paintings will be photographed, and after a year of Open Canvas Nights, Krause will host an anniversary party for the 52 artists. He will display all of the one-week painting photos in the order that they were created, and enlarge his ten favorites.

"It will be really neat to bring these people together who have the connection of having worked on the same canvas," he says.

Krause hasn't set any criteria for experience levels nor does he enforce any restraints on subject matter, but artists must be comfortable with the reality that their creation will only "live" for one week.

"The one-week timeline is difficult for some people to grasp," says Krause. "They (the artists) are destroying while they're creating."

Krause says the visual artist might, for the first time, experience "stage fright" like a musician or actor because they are sitting on scaffolding in front of a bar full of people and not used to having an audience while painting.

"My creativity definitely comes from being alone ... this would be a test for any artist," says Krause, a former interior designer and visual artist who sold more than thirty pieces of painted furniture at Katie Gingrass Gallery.

But for now, Krause is using his creativity to perfect his bar -- a work in progress that's an "open canvas" in and of itself.

"This thing is going to evolve somehow and all I can do is channel all of my creativity into it," says Krause, who goes on to reinforce the diverse nature of his establishment.

"It's not a black bar or white bar or gay bar or straight bar -- it's a bar for the people, especially the creative people."

Art Bar will celebrate its grand opening on Sunday, April 4 with Open Canvas Night artist Christine Bittner. The cost is a $5 donation that will go towards the Riverwest Artists' Association. Krause is still looking for Open Canvas artists -- go to the Web site for more information, or call (414) 372-7880.

"Open Canvas Night is about the movement, the journey and it's all for the moment," says Krause. "If you came in and saw it, then you saw the rainbow."

Art Bar's Web site is http://www.artbar-riverwest.com/

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