Hand-painted Vespa is grand prize in MAC raffle

Contemporary artist Ted Mikulski doesn't believe art has to be static, fixed on a wall, cloistered in a gallery or a private home.

"I've always been open to projects that push boundaries, challenge the rules of creative people," he says. "Art should be something everybody gets to enjoy, that people don't expect."

And, Mikulski points out, "People don't expect art to pull up next to you on the street."

But that's what's likely to happen after the winner of a Mystic Art Center (MAC) raffle grand prize takes the handlebars of a Vespa the center commissioned Mikulski to turn into an art piece. The winner will be announced at MAC's annual fundraiser on July 27.

A Wethersfield resident, Mikulski, 27, studied architecture in college and says he's been doing art his whole life. Since 2008, he's been focused on making art his profession. Influenced by both '60s pop art and New York's "Downtown 500" '80s art scene, he works in many mediums in both 2D and 3D. His first foray into painting vehicles was transforming his own car into a work of art that was exhibited at the New Britain Museum of American Art in 2010.

Mikulski explains that he'd established a relationship with MAC after doing live painting at several of the center's Art After Dark events, and they were aware of his hand-painted Art Car.

"They got in touch with me because they were toying with the idea of using an actual car (for the raffle prize) and knew I'd done that sort of thing," he says. "We talked about what would be interesting. The idea of a scooter came out. I thought the Vespa was a really cool medium - it's a sleek, beautifully designed vehicle; very modern, really kind of elegant."

MAC supplied Mikulski with a brand new Vespa.

"They said, 'Here it is, go for it.' They let me do whatever I felt like doing, which I really appreciate. I got to go at it with my own concepts and ideas," he says.

The process in motion

It took Mikulski about a week, working 14 hours a day, to complete the project, which has been on view at MAC since early June. Unlike the more common technique of airbrush painting vehicles, Mikulski employs a more labor-intensive, hand-detailed technique of using tiny oil paint pens.

"I've never been a big fan of brushes. I love using paint pens," he says. "I tested them on the car, and it worked. They don't smudge, the colors are very solid, and there's something about the final product that's stylish, sheer, cartoony."

Mikulski began by choosing the colors he wanted to use on the Vespa: black and white and four shades of blue. He says he doesn't do preliminary sketches or have any conceptual ideas before starting a project.

"I literally start making shapes and see where it takes me, and then add characters - it's a stream of consciousness. I kind of look at it like a tapestry, an interaction between shapes."

The Vespa, he says, is a little more detailed than the car.

"The difference is that on the car I used characters from video games, and I use a lot of my own characters on the Vespa that I've been developing for canvas work that include a flower character, a stuffed bear, and a robot. Robots have been a really big staple in my creative palate for the last couple years."

Mikulski finished the Vespa by reapplying the protective automotive clear coat that the body shop removed before he began painting it.

"It can stay outside - you don't have to worry about the artwork ever being removed," he says.

Artist's Mission

Mikulski doesn't care about writing an elaborate artist statement, but he is passionate about pursuing his mission to make art more accessible and, like contemporary music, more a part of people's daily lives, the way it was during the '60s pop art scene.

Although Mikulski is too young to have experienced the '60s firsthand, he says, "It was an art era that's extremely powerful for artists, and art was being appreciated by the masses more than it is now. Maybe that's just the way people wrote about it, but that's the way it feels.

"I teach art appreciation and art history at Tunxis Community College, and the young people at the forefront of popular culture know nothing about contemporary art and what's going on in the art world. It's tremendously depressing to me, and so it's been my goal to bring art to more people."

Mikulski's doing just that in a very big way. From Aug. 1 to 10, he will give away over 1,000 pieces of his original art on the streets of Manhattan.

It took 18 months and over 600 hours for him to create this new body of work, which he says he will give to people totally at random from various locations in Manhattan. A map will allow people to follow him on twitter, and he will post a blog on his website, www.tedmikulski.com. An independent New York filmmaker will film a documentary on the project.

"The thought was to bring art to people who wouldn't expect to own art, to see art," he says. "The art culture has always been something closely guarded by people who want to make money. I still want to sell art, but art doesn't have to be this closely guarded secret."

That said, after giving away an astounding amount of art, Mikulski will have his first solo exhibition, of all new work, at the Dorian Grey Gallery NYC, Aug. 11 to Sep. 2.

But back to the Vespa. Mikulski says he's very pleased with how the project turned out.

"I just think the Vespa was a lot of fun, and art should be fun," he says.

IF YOU GO

Mystic Arts Center celebrates 99 years in the community during its summer fundraiser on July 27 from 6:30 to 11 p.m.

Two raffles include a custom-painted Vespa by Ted Mikulski and 99 Pieces of Art - a collection of original works by local artists created exclusively for MAC. The event also includes a silent auction, food from Mystic's Go Fish restaurant, open bar, and live entertainment by The Rivergods - an original roots-rock band - and funky jazz improv combo Michael Chicoria.

Tickets to the event are $79. Tickets to enter the Vespa raffle are $99 and must be purchased at MAC or by calling (860) 536-7601, ext. 204. Tickets for 99 Pieces of Art on the Wall will be available the day of the event.

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