Red Bull Canvas Cooler Project Gives Local Artists Wings, Flies Them to Scope Miami

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Artists: they're great for creative vision, but not always so great at suiting up and taking care of business. Luckily for a few talented national artists, Red Bull is giving their work some serious wings.

For the second year in a row, the Red Bull Canvas Cooler Project has chosen two artists to represent six different cities at their Scope Miami Art Basel exhibit, giving them the chance to break out of their scenes, mingle with their peers, and even more importantly, sell some work to high-brow buyers.

"It's really a platform at the end of the day to take their career from point X to Z," said Tom Roche, national project manager for the Red Bull Curates Canvas Cooler Project. "We've really seen the artists that we had last year develop and grow within a 12-month timespan, which is beautiful."

So, how does it work? Throughout the year, Red Bull visits San Francisco, L.A., Chicago, Dallas, New York and Atlanta, bringing together 20 established local artists and pairing them with "an account," which is a fancy way to say a bar or a shop. Most of the time, it's a place they hang out already, someplace familiar.

The artists are invited to a special painting event and asked to create their own unique cooler design. The coolers are then judged by a small panel, and two winners are chosen to take their show on the road.

"Really, it was just like coming out to paint with a bunch of friends," said Sam Parker, one of the two winners from Atlanta. "They didn't want us reinterpreting Red Bull logos. They just wanted us to create our own art on a Red Bull cooler. It turned out to be a really cool project."

With a background in street art, Parker uses allegorical representation to tell stories with his pieces, often juxtaposing bright pinks and greens with more neutral tones. Last year, he participated in live mural painting during the Overthrow's Basel Castle bash, but he couldn't have foreseen this kind of return in 2013. In fact, he didn't even realize he was competing for anything until he'd pretty much won.

"I walked in that day (of the judging) and someone said to me 'I think your piece is going to win the competition,'" he said, laughing. "I said 'what's the competition?' And he said 'exhibiting at Scope Miami.' I was like, 'Oh, that's radical.'"

While the Canvas Cooler Project has been around for some time, the Scope finish line is a newer development. You can see the pride beaming in the artists' faces as they look at their art on these hallowed walls.

"It's not an open show you can walk into and say 'hey, I'm going to hang my art in here,'" joked Bill Franchey. He partners with the Red Bull Curates Program as a representative of San Francisco's Term of Art and the Arts Fund. "The individual group exhibitions in the cities were working so well, we wanted to take that to another level and tie the cities together, provide something that really felt like a culminating experience."

Showing at Scope Miami pits these artists right in the middle of some of the most respected galleries in the world.

"I'm around a lot of people that I look up to, people that I aspire to be at their level," said SLVSTR, a baby-faced young man representing Oakland and L.A. His big, bright, cartoonish style aims to hook a younger audience and educate America's rising generations about fine art's potential. "I feel like I'm part of history. Red Bull and the Arts Fund are such reputable entities. I'm really blessed to be a part of that. Just Art Basel and Scope in general is history; and history, it'll never go away."

"I'm just very happy to be here," said Sarah Emerson, another painter from Atlanta. Her work takes natural landscapes and twists them into wholly new and imaginative worlds. Her two pieces on display feature bright, swirling colors and rivers of blackness, representing the destruction, resilience and beauty of our natural world. "I did all this work special for here, so I'm glad to be able to show it."

Like everything else at the Scope exhibit, all the paintings displayed are available for purchase. Considering the lofty price tags on most Scope items, the Red Bull artists offer some of the more affordable pieces around. It's a great opportunity, and with all this experience, an invaluable entrance into the fine art world.

"This is really about the artist, providing them paying work and career exposure, but then, when this is all said and done, you walk away with some lessons in developing your career," Art Fund's Franchey said. "Once you've been here, it takes the fear away. You can come back, but you can also take your Art Basel experience and say 'well, if I was up in front of this platform in front of this international art community and I sell some art up there, I can go back to Dallas and sell a boat-load of artwork."

And as the program continues to succeed, Red Bull plans to go nowhere but up.

"We're going to continue to grow it, make it bigger, and work with as many emerging artists as possible," Roche said, adding that next year, two more cities will be added to the line-up. "On behalf of all of us, we just want to thank (the artists) for all the work that they've done."

Scope Miami Beach 2013. 1000 Ocean Dr., Miami Beach. Wednesday. Dec. 5, through Sunday, Dec. 8. Tickets are $15 to $25. Visit scope-art.com.

Follow Kat Bein on Twitter @KatSaysKill.

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