Sterling HeightsJuly 31, 2012
Masterpieces in minutes
By Cortney Casey
C & G Staff Writer
Martina Hahn is turning the art world upside down — literally.
The Walloon Lake resident will bring her talent for “speed painting” to the Sterling Heights Public Library Aug. 7, rapidly whipping up an image from the classic children’s book “Where the Wild Things Are” on a rotating easel that flips the 25-foot-square canvas vertically and horizontally as she works.
“It’s almost 9 feet tall by the time I have it mounted, so I can’t reach it,” said Hahn. “It’s just cool to see. It’s always finished upside-down. It’s that little split second where I turn it around and everyone says, ‘Oh my gosh.’”
That pretty much sums up the reaction Kathryn Ribant Payne, the library’s programming specialist, had when she saw Hahn demonstrate her swift strokes during a showcase highlighting performers available to appear at libraries statewide.
In a matter of minutes, Hahn had generated a spot-on portrait of Jack Sparrow, Johnny Depp’s whimsical character from “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
Ribant Payne said she booked Hahn immediately after that, declaring the artistic feat “amazing.” And while it’s especially transfixing for kids, the primary audience the Sterling Heights Public Library is aiming to attract Aug. 7, “it’s very cool for adults to watch, too,” she added.
Hahn chose “Where the Wild Things Are,” originally published in 1963, as the focus for her performances at libraries throughout Michigan this year because “in our family, it’s just a huge book,” she said.
In conjunction with the statewide library theme of “Dream Big: Read,” she begins her presentation with how the book’s author and illustrator, Maurice Sendak, weathered hardships and heartache on the road to creating one of the most beloved children’s books of all time.
“He had a dream, and he tried to make it come true, and he had all kinds of obstacles in his way,” she said.
She’ll tell the story itself, encouraging audience participation, then launch into the painting — which is complete in “about 6 ½ minutes,” she said.
Hahn had been a professional artist for more than a decade when she discovered her talent for speed painting by accident, in what initially felt like a setback, but turned out to be serendipity.
Three years ago, “I tried to paint something for my son, and it didn’t turn out,” she said. “In my frustration of not getting it just the way that I wanted to, I kind of slapped it onto a piece of wood in my garage and realized I had been overthinking the process.”
The key, she discovered, is “basically stripping a painting down to its essence. What I learned is to paint shapes.”
The following week, Hahn decided to try her hand at public speed painting during a Boyne Arts Council event — and from there, “it just kind of avalanched on me,” she said. “It’s way too much fun to stop.”
Since then, Hahn has performed for corporate functions, private events, parties and schools, and in various other settings, customizing the image to the occasion.
For a recent 50th wedding anniversary celebration, she replicated the couple’s wedding photo. At a retirement party, she created a portrait of the retiree and his wife. Parochial school appearances often result in her renditions of iconic Christian images.
“I try to actually match the image to the event,” she explained. “That’s really where it hits home with people.”
Hahn said she particularly enjoys events involving youngsters because she fears, with so many cuts at schools, children may lose their appreciation for the arts.
She’s found older kids often consider art mundane, but “I try to disprove that point, make it loud and colorful and fun,” she said. “It can be whatever you want to be.”
Hahn’s Aug. 7 program begins at 11 a.m.; for more information, call (586) 446-2640. The library is located at 40255 Dodge Park Road, at Utica Road.
For more information on Hahn’s artwork, visit www.m-art-ina.com.
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