Midcoast artists paint the blues

Posted July 04, 2013, at 10:45 a.m.
Last modified July 04, 2013, at 3:40 p.m.
Paul Benjamin, founder of North Atlantic Blues Festival holds two Fender Guitars decorated by local artists to promote the 20th anniversary of the festival in Rockland next weekend.
Jean Benjamin | Courtesy of
Paul Benjamin, founder of North Atlantic Blues Festival holds two Fender Guitars decorated by local artists to promote the 20th anniversary of the festival in Rockland next weekend.

ROCKLAND, Maine — Not all blues riffs are auditory.

Some spill out in spray paint stroked by the hands of an artist.

To celebrate the 20th North Atlantic Blues Festival in Rockland next weekend, promoter Paul Benjamin struck a creative bridge between the arts. He asked 13 painters and sculptors to decorate a collection of guitars and drums. Instead of using stretched canvas, they turned 11 Fender guitars and three drum heads into fun, funky and functional art.

“It adds to the festival and the community of Rockland,” said Benjamin, who was inspired by the art-splashed lighthouses, bears and lobsters that were popular public art a decade ago. “Guitars was a no-brainer.”

In a community like Rockland, with a thriving art scene, tapping artists to promote live music made sense. “It’s something different, and taking advantage of what’s in my backyard,” said Benjamin.

The brand new Fender guitars were sold to Benjamin for a relative bargain from K2 Music in Camden. Artists from across the Midcoast participating in the project had one month to unleash their wild muses.

The results — guitars bejeweled, psychedelic and paint-splashed — are displayed along Main Street this week and featured at the town’s First Friday Art Walk. Next weekend they will be showcased at the blues festival at the Public Landing.

For artists such as Eric Leppanen of Belfast spray painting a stratocaster-style guitar “brought me back to being a child again. I hung out with musicians, my high school friends were all in rock ’n’ roll bands,” he said.

Leppanen used multicolored layers of paint to turn the body of the ax into a vibrant, striped melange. More punk rock than Picasso.

“I enjoyed it. Art is an experiment each and every time. You never know what the outcome is going to be,” said Leppanen, who grew up in Owls Head.

And if someone buys his guitar, all are for sale, and plays it he’ll be doubly pleased. “I get to live vicariously. It will be having an adventure, hopefully it will travel and bring smiles to peoples’ faces,’’ said Leppanen.

Jared Cowan, owner of Asymmetrick Arts in downtown Rockland helped coordinate the project, finding artists willing to donate their time and creativity to the cause. Proceeds from all sales go toward The Blues Foundation in Memphis, a fundraising arm looking to move The Blues Hall of Fame from a virtual entity to a physical museum.

Cowan was pleased with the results.

“People took it in many different directions. Some are like late-60s paint jobs, like the guitars of Clapton and Hendrix, another person went quirky and rewired a guitar into a traveling suitcase.”

No matter how diverse their interpretations, the exercise was vintage Rockland.

“Everyone here wants to mix it up and be creative,” he said. Things like this “push Rockland in a unique direction. Sometimes it’s just people willing to say yes.”

The artful instruments will be on display at Endeavor Home, 415 Main St., Rockland from Friday through Friday. Then they move to the Northeast Blues Festival, July 13 -14.

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