In Shanti Payne’s studio on the corner of Main and Partition, in earshot of the local bar night-chatter and the routinized plinking of crosswalk signals, textiles cling to every conceivable surface — the walls, easels, the floor, braced against walls, and in the hands of a smattering of strangers. The space overflows with a trove of art supplies, paints and brushes and a mish-mosh of materials.
Part host, part chaperone, part teacher, Payne opens up her studio every Tuesday night, from 8 p.m. until at least midnight, to both self-proclaimed artists and those that could be. A sip and paint with less direction, or an art class with less direction, or maybe a small party with a little bit of direction — Art Jam is hard to pigeonhole. A festival-goer interested in interactive mediums like live art and body painting, Payne wants to combine art and socialization in these open studio sessions. She creates a space for introverts to keep their hands busy and talk, or for artists to talk while their hands are busy, a practice apparently discouraged in more formal settings.
She calls the whole concept a “third space,” An idea devised by American sociologist Ray Oldenburg, it’s not quite the home and not quite the workplace, but also not quite in public.
At a recent jam, Payne said 100 people have passed through the studio, lined with her art, the stored and forgotten art of others and a collection of things to look at and touch, since she started hosting the weekly meetings shy of a year ago.
Payne said working alongside others keeps her procrastination in check and her ideas full-bodied. “I’ve always been a doodler in my sketchbook at parties,” said Payne, accenting the chromed word “TRASHY” on a small basketball hoop, slated for the space above her trash can, with dripping glow-in-the-dark paint. “They come up and start talking to you. Body painting and live art is also interactive. I started feeling selfish — I wanted other people to do art too. I have so many friends who are really good at making art who are so busy that they use their free time to socialize. This is a middle ground —two birds with one stone.”
Payne, in her mid-20s, got her bachelor’s in visual art and graphic design from SUNY Purchase. She is the resident artist at the Hudson Valley Dessert Company, decorating cookies with just about anything and with an intricacy and care that makes the cookies almost a shame to eat. She dabbles in a laundry list of artistic pursuits — animation, copper printing, the assembly of clothes, digital art and leatherwork. She’s a lover of interactive art, favoring live painting, face painting and performance pieces.
For example, she made a large multi-person “trash dragon” costume that she takes to music festivals, asking festival-goers politely to feed the head their trash.
“With the festival activism it’s about using creative projects to bring about very accessible and non-shameful environmental awareness,” said Payne. “Instead of yelling at people not to litter I create this satirical character that reminds people no to litter trough humor but also encourages taking care of existing litter in a fun way.”
At her gatherings, which she’s been holding for about a year now, she brings her desire to draw forth others’ creativity, her education and sensibility as a trained artist to the table, quite literally. “It was more of a gallery space at first,” she shared, “Eventually, I got a collection of tables in here.”
As the studio slowly converted more towards a workspace and less of a gallery, she began to pick up on the many ways in which having a shared session for artists benefited not only her guests, but her own work. Now, the sessions are typically peopled by four to 10 busy sets of hands.
“I used to procrastinate a lot — a lot of fine artists get burnt out on doing work for other people. Now, having other people around puts me in a nice flow. When there are other people around you can actualize more ideas. I wanted to actualize this space.”
“We can just draw and create freely, and because there’s no pressure to talk, I feel free to connect anyway through conversation. I always know though that throughout the whole art jam, I’ll feel non-judged and I can just draw or paint.” said Andrew Kaminski, a Kingston-based artist and frequent attendee. “I feel like I can exist the way I would by myself in my studio, but almost feels like an anomaly because I have the option at any point to socialize and feel less alone, and when I’m done socializing, I can return to my artwork.”
Payne compares her Art Jam sessions favorably to similar groupings often used by musicians for collaborative work. The concept of just providing a space for art isn’t unheard of — poets and musicians have open mics, bands have jam sessions. The purpose of these events, though, is to share the works rather than create them in tandem. Sip-and-paints combine artistic pursuit in one room, but with instruction, and wine. Free-form open-forum creation, a “jam” for art, was unheard of by Payne before she pioneered the concept.
“Typically, jams are associated with music, but they’re not necessarily for visual artists — it’s about the music there. I wanted artists to have something like that. We don’t collaborate as much. It’s nice to be able to work on [different] projects alongside each other. Musicians aren’t usually afforded that opportunity because of the noise-conflicts, and writing, while doable, is slightly less conducive for conversation.”
Payne encourages those who possess them to bring and share their own art supplies (or snacks) however, through years of “being known as a creative person” and scouring yard sales and thrift stores, she has amassed a trove of canvasses, paints, pens, fabrics and odds and ends. Piles of vaguely organized inspirational materials are strewn about, and Payne is always ready with a suggestion for those who are inexperienced or overwhelmed and strongly believes in the importance of expression and art as therapy, and aims to make it accessible to her friends and community. “You have to root around in people’s minds to figure out what they want to make,” she said. “I love when people don’t know what medium they’d like to use and I get to make suggestions for mediums they might like to explore. Art reduces anxiety for a lot of people and lets your mind wander in a way that feels very therapeutic. You become your own therapist, free to calmly explore your own feelings and thoughts as you explore the marks you make on the paper or canvas.”
She envisions bringing concept to a storefront, or providing materials on-the-go. In the immediate future, she hopes to organize a monthly “Super Jam” at the Oddfellows Temple Art and Theater Space on Main Street, a more spacious venue outfitted with dance poles and aerial silks. Musicians would be welcomed as well — currently, at the smaller art gatherings, Payne said, they can overpower both artistic focus and conversation.
“For the cultural mindset, it’s good to have events to express yourself,” said Payne. “It’s like vitamin D — people who don’t consider themselves creative people still need time for that. People that aren’t artists expressing themselves is great. That’s the goal.