Artist makes splash at bicycle festival

BikeJam: An event draws hundreds to Patterson Park for a two-wheeled celebration.

June 04, 2000|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,SUN STAFF

What do you get when you put together a 20-foot ramp, 150 gallons of house paint, two leaf blowers, one chain saw -- and August Bellanca riding a BMX stunt bike with spiked tires through sloshing pools of pigment?

You get "The Fluidity of Crashing Paint," Bellanca's work of performance art, a half-hour frenzy yesterday in the middle of a bike festival in Patterson Park in East Baltimore. You get a couple hundred diverse spectators: kids wowed by Bellanca's wheelsmanship; grown-ups intellectualizing about the nature of art; other grown-ups tut-tutting about the wanton spillage of all that perfectly good paint.

Bellanca, a 27-year-old Bolton Hill artist, was unfazed by the skeptics. He was undaunted when, in midperformance, the chains came off both his bike and chain saw. He was unconcerned that a gallon of creamy yellow paint he heaved at the ramp missed and splashed on his rented U-Haul truck. (Well, maybe just a little concerned.)

"Painting is like a chess game," he said afterward, a barefoot, breathless rainbow of dripping paint, standing amid three Masonite boards that served as his canvases. "The paint makes a move. I make a move. I try to respond to the intelligence of the paint."

Baltimore BikeJam 2000 turned Patterson Park into a public exhibition of the variety of two-wheeled vehicles and the diversity of uses to which they can be put. Part bike rally, part open-air museum of the avant-garde, the event offered plenty to gawk at for those who didn't want to ride.

For pure speed, there were a dozen races on a mile-long track and a punishing mountain bike course. For kicks, there were periodic shows by a New Jersey stunt rider named Pogi Tortorice who can do things with his bike involving sawhorses and 360-degree turns that you definitely do not want to try at home. For art, there was a Bread Bike festooned with bagels, a Voodoo Bike and Pegasus the Flying Bicycle, complete with spectacular cloth wings and a Batmobile tail.

With the Polish Festival down the hill supplying kielbasa and polka music, BikeJam drew several thousand people in a vote of confidence for a park and a neighborhood that sometimes need one.

Boost for Patterson Park

"There's been a long reputation of this park being unsafe," said Will Backstrom, a counselor for Neighborhood Housing Services who works to encourage homeownership around Patterson Park. "It's never been unsafe. But these events bring all kinds of people here from all over the place to see for themselves what a wonderful place it is."

There were many touches of Baltimoreana. Children could decorate their bikes with pieces of local cinematic history -- leftover artifacts from the sets of "Cecil B. Demented," Baltimore filmmaker John Waters' forthcoming feature. There were plastic feet and rubber hands, glittery batons and, mysteriously, several boxes of escargot shells.

Bike decorating

Zachary Krausz, 6, of Dundalk took a managerial approach in directing his mother, father and grandmother in the decorating of his bike.

"I think it's going to be called `The Pirate Ship,' " he declared, as his assistants applied shiny black ropes, dangling paper skulls-and-crossbones and the obligatory card clothespinned to the spokes, "to make it sound like a moped."

Making music

A little ways off, sculptor Christian Dennstaedt watched over his latest contraption, "Whistle While You Work," on which all comers could sit and pedal to make six plastic whistling tubes spin through the air, making an eerie symphony. The Plexiglas sheets he scavenged from an old Esskay sign at Memorial Stadium, he said; the aluminum frame came from discarded bleachers at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium.

"The tubes produce up to six harmonic frequencies, depending on how it's pedaled," said Denn- staedt, 43, who grew up in Baltimore but now lives in Philadelphia. He's eager to try tubes from a hospital ventilator, he said.

Preparing for art

Dennstaedt said he was eager to see Bellanca's performance piece. Bellanca, a 1998 graduate of the Maryland Institute, College of Art, had arrived with friends at 5 a.m. to begin building their ramp. They set up plastic water-cooler bottles of paint on a platform above the ramp and installed leaf blowers to scatter the paint on long pieces of carpet below.

Finally, at 2 p.m., three hours behind schedule, Bellanca, a veteran stunt rider, strapped on his helmet and shot up the ramp, banked across the paint-soaked wall, and began to crisscross the three Masonite boards that served as canvases. When his bike chain came off, he went on the attack, chain-sawing plastic bottles of paint, scooping globs of purple with a shovel, doffing his shoes and splashing in the rivulets.

Some were enthralled. Some were befuddled.

`The guy's trying'

"I don't want to say anything bad," said Walt King, of Middle River. "The guy's trying. It's his paint, know what I mean?"

His son, Bart King, 10, added, as if from personal experience: "His mom's going to be pretty mad when he gets home."

But Bellanca's mom, Elettra Bellanca of Annapolis, was watching from nearby and wasn't mad at all. She seemed quite proud, actually.

"I usually see his works only when they're finished," she said. "This was pretty interesting."

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