Paint play

Paint Pouring 027

The playful result of paint pouring. Courtesy photo

When we see a work of art in a museum, it is usually a polished, carefully thought out finished product.  What we don’t see is the artist at play, the months, years, and sometimes decades of experimentation that leads to the creation of an artwork.  We don’t get to see the artist’s studio cluttered with drafts, sketches, research and failed experiments.

Play is an important part of the creative process, stimulating the senses while leading to new discoveries.  It’s how we understand the world around us, no matter what our age or level of intellect, “A little nonsense now and then, is cherished by the wisest men,” said author Roald Dahl.

Contemporary American scholar Joseph Chilton Pearce said, “Play is the only way the highest intelligence of humankind can unfold.”

If Gerhard Richter hadn’t picked up a squeegee and dragged it across a wet painting, one of the most important bodies of artwork of all time would have not been discovered.  (Fun Fact: One of Richter’s “blur paintings” holds the record for highest price paid for an artwork by a living artist at $37 million.)


Measuring almost 3 x 3 meters, Cathedral Square, Milan is one of Gerhard Richter’s largest figurative paintings. Courtesy

PEM has teamed up with local artist and educator James Eric Rogers to run playful workshops for all ages.  James is certainly an artist who loves to play.  As a member of SCAM, the Salem Collective of Artists and Musicians, you might catch him along with founding member Lucas Custer wheeling a bin of found objects down Salem’s Essex Street, or outside SCAM’s studio on Artists’ Row, getting the public involved in a collaborative art project.

lucas and sign

Lucas Custer at SCAM on Salem’s Artist’s Row. Courtesy photo

While some artists prefer to play and experiment in an isolated environment, James notes the importance of social play in his work.  Whether he’s collaborating with another artist in SCAM or with the public, his work is very much about the shared experience of playing together.


James at a holiday ornament making event at SCAM. Photo by Mary Shea Photography.

On the afternoon of July 15th, PEM staff and visitors of all ages teamed up with James in search of a new way to paint, no brushes allowed!  Inspired by the pour paintings by artist Holton Rower, we suited up and got pouring.  The results were then placed on view in the Atrium and attracted a great deal of curious attention from visitors and staff alike.

Paint pouring videos have proved incredibly popular on Youtube. This one has more than 3 million hits.

You can take part in a collaborative project with James and Lucas at PEM’s Big Draw festival on Friday evening October 4th.

We encourage you to play, discover something new, and embrace your experiments that don’t go exactly as planned. Play with paint, play with your food, or play with something new you have never used before.  Start off by joining us for Paint Play (round 2) on August 15th to get your creative juices flowing.

Interested in learning more about artists at play?  Check out PBS’s series Art21 episode about Play aired in 2005.


  1. S says:

    Do you have any play art coming up in 2014? For children? For families? For adults like me who haven’t grown up yet?
    My grandson and I LOVED watching Paint Play. It would be lovely to try that.

  2. Katie Theodoros says:

    Hi S,
    Yes we do have some upcoming studio workshops for all ages in our Studio Discovery program. Events are listed on our calendar 1-2 months in advance, On June 21st we are debuting our new printmaking press with a lithography workshop and on August 9th we’ll be exploring abstract painting. Keep an eye our for our upcoming festivals for the Art and Nature Center exhibition opening day in September and Big Draw in October. Swing by the museum on any weekend for some of our drop-in activities. More details on the calendar, or just give us a call!

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