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Artist Daniel Pontet Paints With His Feet at Hollywood's ArtWalk

When artist Daniel Pontet paints, he really feels his materials. In fact, his feet function as his paintbrushes.

"As an artist, I found something I couldn't do with brushes," says the Uruguay-born Pontet, who is based in Hallandale.

He calls his technique "impulse painting" and likens it to the action-painting movement established after World War II and made famous by Jackson Pollock.

Pontet, 59, who is not handicapped or missing limbs, does his impulse painting in front of an audience and with live musicians. Unlike Pollock, Pontet generally creates a representational image that is clearly identifiable, though with its share of drips and splotches. Also unlike Pollock, the silver-haired Pontet dresses up for his events, often in tuxedo pants, shirt, vest, and bow tie.

"The image is not important," says Pontet. "The canvas is a witness of the movement to show action happened. Like Jackson Pollock, the main thing is the artist playing with paint. It's a wonderful moment for me, and people get to witness that."

His medium is acrylic paint, which is easy to wipe off his feet. At the end of his performances, he is colorfully splattered from head to toes.

"I do not have an idea [of what I am going to paint] when I start," Pontet explains. "Sometimes I get nervous because people are waiting. But I am feeling adrenaline. Sometimes I have no idea what to do, and it scares me, and I have a lot of fear. But then I start to listen to the music, and it gives me energy, and I get an image."

At a recent event at the Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale, Pontet painted on a canvas on the school stage while the Uruguayan Latin jazz violinist Federico Britos performed. The painter stomped, splattered and swiped out a whimsical image on a canvas: a colorfully dressed man with a tall, striped hat, riding an old-fashioned bicycle while holding balloons and facing a floating blue fish. Pontet's view was projected onto a screen behind him by a GoPro camera strapped to his head.

Pontet has brought his show to Art Basel and does about 180 impulse art performances a year.

"When I paint with an audience, there is an interaction between the elements," Pontet says. "Music helps me concentrate and be better. Also, there is the pressure from people that helps me too. I feel energy from the music and the people."

Pontet uses Latin jazz harpist Roberto Perera frequently to accompany him during his live performances, or sometimes a Latin violinist, or drumming. "[Impulse art] is like experimental art," says Pontet. "I also get musicians who use new instruments or something weird."

When alone in his studio, he paints to a variety of recorded music and also paints with brushes. Artwork posted on his website looks so subdued and orderly that a viewer might imagine he created it while listening to a calm flute composition about a woodsy village by a forest.

Engaged in the arts since he was a child, Pontet moved to Miami 25 years ago. For years, he taught and painted illustrations for publications like El Nuevo Herald.

The foot painting began a few years ago when a friend challenged Pontet. "Before, I never touched the paint," says Pontet. "Now I am very in touch with it. When I paint outside, I actually feel that the paint is warm, and when I paint inside, the paint is cold because of the air."

At performances, Pontet sometimes has to paint with extra speed because the temperature of the floor feels blazingly hot in the Florida sun, making him prance. In those situations, he explains, the paint is welcomingly cooling to the touch. His work can be as large as 15 feet wide and sell for as much as $9,000.

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Two years ago, Pontet brought his young daughters to a full moon drum circle at ArtsPark in Hollywood. There the painter approached drummer Jeff Lee, and soon the two started presenting a multidisciplinary show every third Saturday of the month at the downtown Hollywood ArtWalk, along with drummers Evan Kline and Adrian Jones. The event draws 100 to 200 people. Rhythms include Middle Eastern, jazz, rock, Latin, and Afro-Cuban influences.

"We close our eyes and react with one another," says Lee. "It's a very relaxing, spiritual, peaceful, and transformative event. Reaction is what it is all about. The audience will react to what Daniel will paint, and the rhythm will react to him too.

"Daniel has so much energy," Lee says. "It's like a ballet. He's in amazing shape. You just watch art appear before your eyes."

Impulse Art
Daniel Pontet performs every third Saturday of the month at 8:30 p.m. at the Hollywood ArtWalk, between 2014 and 2020 Harrison Street. Visit impulseart.us.

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