How the music festival world has inspired local painters to break free from mainstream conventions
By Joel Hersch
Within the beautifully expansive, high-octane, and often chaotic world of music festivals, the work of painters brings a visual component to the scene that illuminates the whole experience. But, perhaps more importantly, the live art provides a mellow space where attendees can slow their minds, contemplate, and take a respite.
“Festivals can be extremely stimulating, with conflicting sounds, loud music, and extreme personalities bouncing to and fro,” says muralist and Santa Cruz native Taylor Reinhold. “Tuning into an artist’s work can be very grounding for a person in need of a mental cool-down.”
Music festivals have became an increasingly popular attraction over the past decade, drawing many tens of thousands of people to venues up and down California every year, and the role of visual artists has become central to that circuit. Painters practice their craft often alongside DJs, generating a visual aspect to the sounds coming from massive speaker systems. Artists will sometimes collaborate with other painters, intertwining their styles, or even invite festivalgoers to wield paintbrushes themselves and join in.
After sundown, barely audible over the booming music, generators hum, powering bright lights that shine down on the art that is flowing across canvases and towering wood walls.
Reinhold, who in recent years has been hired to paint a healthy portion of the walls across Santa Cruz County, hails from a skate-inspired niche of “rattle can” urban artists, accustomed to clandestinely tagging public spaces late at night, knowing it would likely be covered up by the following day.
Coming from a graffiti background, he says that there was a strong sense of not feeling accepted within more mainstream art communities, whereas the festival world was like one big green light, regardless of one’s style.
“Festivals are all about freeform and acceptance,” Reinhold says. “When you go into a festival setting, it’s almost like you’re going into an alternate reality—a whole other world where the rules aren’t the same, the people aren’t the same, the dress isn’t the same. So it’s all about going into it with an opened mind, which makes it a great space to experience art of all mediums, and becoming fully open to it.”
Reinhold has been painting at festivals for seven years, and attends between three and six each season. Most of his income is generated through mural contracts, but he also sells individual paintings and prints. Though many festivals don’t pay artists, he says they are valuable as a way to create artistic community.
Telopa Treloky, who goes by his artist moniker Telopa, is a traditional oil painter who once sought asylum from what he viewed as a contrived view of art in expensive, high-class galleries, where status defines the rules.
“I felt unappreciated in the typical gallery world,” Telopa says. “I didn’t want to deal with the … competitiveness. So when I got invited to my first festival”—Lightning in a Bottle, a Central Coast festival held each spring—“and there were, like, 40 painters out there, and they all came from different styles …” At this memory, Telopa trails off and settles back in his chair with a look of amazement in his eyes.
Traditional oil painting is not very common at music festivals, he says, and neither is Telopa’s subject matter—a reoccurring theme features a mysterious woman peering out from the canvas in a Mona Lisa-esque fashion. (Some speculate that the woman is Telopa’s adult daughter, who he says has brought him considerable guidance in his journey as an artist.)
A common thread among festival artists is a love for music, and Telopa says many painters, himself included, are very selective over which musical acts they work near. “I want to be by a stage where the music is going to inspire me—that’s the first reason I’m going,” he says. “I’m going because I need to be activated by the music.”
Telopa points to singer Kat Factor, who is featured on The Human Experience’s new album Broken Open—the cover of which Telopa painted—as a source of inspiration for him. “She has an amazing voice and can do things that I can never do musically,” he explains, “so I’m just trying to capture that … and let it feed through me in a two-dimensional way.”
Reinhold’s entrée into the world of art was largely influenced by the passing of his father, Michael Reinhold, in 2006. He found solace from the loss through art therapy and defined his craft in illustrating worlds of colorful African animals—a screaming ape with a tipped-up cap is the insignia of his local artists’ collective, Made Fresh Crew, or MFC.
In the same way that art has helped Reinhold through hardship, he sees festivals as a way for people to heal within a collective psyche. “Everyone has trauma and problems with connection, and when you’re at a festival, you unplug from that mainstream world,” he says. “It opens you to a new family of people who don’t care what you look like or how you dress or what kind of music you listen to—everything goes. It’s sort of the ticket to let the artist out in you.”
See it Live:
Catch Taylor Reinhold and the Made Fresh Crew making art at the following festivals:
-Northern Nights Music Festival at the Cooks Valley Campground in Mendocino County. July 14-16.
-Burning Man in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. Aug. 27-Sept. 4.
-Reggae on the River Festival at French’s Camp in Garberville, Humboldt County. Aug. 3-6.
–Oregon Eclipse: A Total Solar Eclipse Gathering. Aug. 17-23.