Artist John Kilduff weathers the sun and the gaze of his TV camera.
Steps away from the patio grazers at the Drake Hotel‘s café, John Kilduff chased down the late summer sun on his vintage treadmill. Dressed in a rumpled, paint-splashed suit, and dogged by a general air of exhaustion, Kilduff brought his Let’s Paint TV show to the sidewalk of Queen Street West.
Stopping in Toronto on his “Embrace Failare” tour, Kilduff is travelling across continents with his message of creative potential and his displays of absolutely bizarre multitasking. Calling himself “Mr. Let’s Paint,” Kilduff had a how-to painting show on cable access TV in Los Angeles for seven years. With no discernible rationale, he would combine tasks such as exercising and making blended drinks with his painting, all the while taking live call-in questions from viewers.
Kilduff began posting his shows on YouTube in 2006, the perfect medium for his episodic oddity. The sight of him simultaneously working to keep pace with the treadmill, demonstrating the process of making a smoothie, and painting a picture, combined with the unpredictability of the call-in questions, is almost hypnotic. The frantic pace and the digitally mangled aesthetic of his production is almost apocalyptic. Kilduff has always maintained that his show is sincere—a how-to program rather than a tongue-in-cheek performance—but it’s hard not to interpret the irony first and foremost in his on-line videos.
This past Saturday, in between stops in Guelph, Ontario, and Sydney, Australia, Let’s Paint TV played out before a curious crowd on the street. To the airy accompaniment of an ambient guitarist, Kilduff hopped on his treadmill, got out his paints, strapped down his easel, and fired up the grill. Demonstrating the fine art of simultaneously making a Drake Burger, exercising, and painting, he described the purpose of his show. “It’s all about the creative possibility within each of us that we don’t partake in. We don’t jump into the murky water, the creativity water.”
Approaching the painting—a donated canvas already adorned with a heinous figurative work—he instantly covered the surface with broad grey brush strokes while encouraging the crowd to embrace failure and not get bogged down in perfection. Asking the audience for suggestions on what to paint, an instant request rang out for a unicorn. Kilduff obliged, and replied, “You know, a unicorn is the number one request on Let’s Paint TV.” This may help explain some of the fantastic subject matter featured on his Flickr site. Paintings with titles such as Snoopy,surfer,starfich,dolphin, Let’s Paint Exercise and Perform an Open Heart Surgery!, and unicorn impaler babies eaten by sharks seem to dominate his catalogue, and perhaps, the imaginations of his audiences.
Torontoist asked Kilduff why he multitasks. “Because it feels great! It feels great. People say you can’t, it’s not healthy, it’s bad for society, bad for humans, I say we can. Everybody does it, let’s just embrace it. We can do it all.” Switching to his right side, he worked his burger with paint-stained gloves, proving that it may not be a great idea to attempt this much all at once.
Technical troubles haunted the hour, with the grill and treadmill competing for electricity, and a glass of water that Kilduff poured over himself dousing the inner workings of the tired exercise machine. When asked what has been his biggest failure so far, Kilduff replied defeatedly, “probably this show.”
Despite this, and despite the tendency to view the entire premise through a lens of artifice, and despite the haziness of the line between the show as performance art and the show as irony-free instruction, it is sincere and honest motivation. Watching him in person, it’s hard not to find yourself smiling, and feeling a hint of liberation seeping in at the idea of being okay with failing. He is relentlessly mobilizing, yelling at a passerby on the streetcar to take an art class, and advising the crowd not to be afraid of being awkward. “Let that awkward be your ticket to letting it all out.”
When your message is about taking creative chances and not letting moments pass you by, it doesn’t really matter if your medium is a bit confusing. If nothing else, it’s enough to make you feel lazy for not getting out those paints or getting off the couch if he can do all that at once, and more.
Let’s Paint TV can usually be seen live, Monday through Friday at 2 p.m., here.
All photos by Michael Chrisman/Torontoist.