By Melissa Farenish
For The Daily Item
WILLIAMSPORT — WXPI Community Radio’s Brian Spies, host of the “Art Party” show, views his role as being one to “create a structure and platform for artists in this area to have a voice.”
The show, which airs every Monday at 7 p.m., has slowly been gaining a following since it began in March. So far, Spies has interviewed local photographer Ralph Wilson and artist Jeremiah Johnson, among others. He also talks about art issues in a “frank and non-academic manner.”
Spies, an artist himself, grew up in Williamsport. As a child, his parents took him and his sister to art museums in New York City. Though his parents did not know much about art on an academic level, they wanted their children to be exposed to and appreciate it.
His art background goes back even further — when he was a baby, his mother painted with watercolors. One time, he got into her paints and ate two tubes of the color Prussian blue, a very deep blue that happens to be one of Spies’ favorite colors today. “My mom likes to say the art went right through me,” he said.
In a recent interview, Spies reflected on summers spent at the local parks participating in arts and crafts programs. “It bothers me that programs that were around when I was a kid are gone,” he said. Thanks to spending cuts, many municipalities have been forced to reduce or eliminate recreational programs. Thinking about the lack of art activities for children gave Spies the idea to hold a coloring contest for kids on June 15 as part of his “Art Party” show. The contest will be held at the station at the Pajama Factory from 1-4 p.m. Children from pre-kindergarten age through 8th grade are invited to color the WXPI logo. Five finalists from three age groups will be selected and their works will be posted on Facebook for the public to vote on. The winners will have their art featured on WXPI T-shirts, banners and the sign outside the station.
Having the childrens art featured at the station where they can see their work on display is important for their self-esteem, Spies said, mentioning that he won an art contest when he was in grade school which was a defining moment for him. For that contest, he recalled, children were asked to pick the name of a business out of the Yellow Pages phone book and design a logo. He picked Hoss’s, and his logo won.
“It was a somewhat Warholian moment for me,” Spies said, explaining that Andy Warhol was an artist he “grew to worship.”
Throughout school, Spies continued to express himself through art. “If I hadn’t had a way to express myself I wouldn’t still be here. I would’ve been dead or in jail.”
The continued interest in art led him to pursue a certificate in art from The Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, and later, a master’s of fine art from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA) in Philadelphia. Spies lived in Philadelphia for the past few years until his return to Williamsport last year. He travels to Philadelphia frequently to visit friends and participate in art shows. This fall, he will be curating a show with some friends from his former art school.
Over the years, Spies has run into the same artists at events. Everyone knows each other — “it’s kind of like the six degrees of Kevin Bacon jokes, but only in the art world,” Spies said. He related the art world to the hierarchy of cliques in high school, and the power struggle between different groups. “Whoever has power,” he said, “has a monopoly.”
One of Spies’ hopes for the show is to make this “power struggle evaporate” by letting artists speak in their own words. He cited an example of a recent conversation he had on his show which involved discussion of an artist who died of AIDS and how that has overshadowed the interpretation of his works. “If I can create an archive, then when someone is dead we can go back and say, ‘Well this is his actual voice’ rather than let he who is the loudest dictate it,” he said.
Additional information and coloring contest registration is available at www.wxpi.org.