Tabula Rasa Art: Blank Slates and the Community

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Community on canvas

By Pam Rosenblatt

It was artist Kelsey Russellís dream for people to walk into the gallery and see the blank canvas, pick up a paintbrush or a pen and work off each otherís artwork and creativity. And last week people from all walks of life entered Out of the Blue Art Gallery to draw, paint, and silk-screen their own images onto her large communal canvas.

Painting a Canvas

The different people were there "working together to create one piece," she said. "I am inspired by creativity and people. Mainly people because I think creativity comes from the influences of the world. The world influences the creativity within an individual."

The project's theme was community, she said.

Kelsey Russell

A Lesley University senior, Russell, 22, has lived in Somerville for the past year. She is a Self-Design major, focusing on the arts, with a minor in Management. Expecting a degree in May 2008, Russell is the first student to graduate with this unique major. But doing things creatively is something she said she thrives on.

"I think you learn more from experiences, from working and being with people,"she said. "There's only so much theory. Practice is what it's really all about." Having taken a diverse array of classes from dance to art therapy, Russell said she has a holistic view of art.

That outlook brought her to Out of the Blue Art Gallery in Cambridge last year after finding the gallery online. She said when she met co-owners Tom Tipton and Deborah Priestly she knew the trio would get along. She was so enthralled with the gallery she arranged to have a senior year internship there. And, from this rewarding experience, she said she decided to have another dream come true. That dream is the "Tabula Rasa Project" a community collaborative event that brought people together last week to create a single mural of art.

"'Tabula Rasa' came about one evening when I realized what I really wanted to do for an experience at Out of the Blue was have a bunch of people just come together Ė artists, friends, and paint. A lot of times when I would go to parties, I'd have my little sketchbook and I'd pass it around... And that's the best part because people will let loose and just go at it, and you're making connections. People are like, 'Why are you drawing that?' But they'll make something out of it," she said. "And I think that is fun, so I told Tom about that idea and Marshall and they're like, 'That will be cool. That will be a lot of fun. Let's bring our artists here. Let's really celebrate this.'"

In Latin, "Tabula Rasa" means "blank slate" and comes from the Enlightenment period. "It was a belief that children are born as blank slates and that the world will paint on them. That they create them. The world creates the individual. And a lot of the child theorists were saying, "No. No. No. No. We're not blank slates. We come in with a [our] own idea of the world," she said.

More Locals on the Canvas

Anthony Miller, of Salem, is not an artist. Yet he contributed to "Tabula Rasa" by painting a faceless figure holding a devil-horned submarine sandwich surrounded red and orange flames.

"It's wonderful that a community can come together through art," he said.

Russell said she plans on having the not yet completed artwork move from one location to another. "I would to see it go to some city halls, and I would like it to go into some libraries, and I would like to see it go into community centers. I doubt we could squeeze it into some of the local coffee shops, but I want it to go where maybe an organization's mission is involving service for community. So that's my next big project," she said.