Cosmo Joe returns to Madison for the Memorial Day weekend. Who? That would have been my reaction, too, until two weeks ago. Climbing the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art stairs to see its "Return to Function" exhibit, I glanced out the window and noticed art of a different kind altogether: performance painting.
That's how Andy "Cosmo Joe" Watkins describes what he does. A native of Milwaukee, the Appleton artist has toured his painting performances from L.A. to New York but favors Madison and sets up several times a year on State Street to feed on its vibe.
His traveling studio is a tarp he spreads on the sidewalk to catch any mess he might make. His medium is spray paint. He sets up an impressive arsenal of cans, each containing a different color. Donning an air-filter mask to cut down on overexposure to fumes, he wields these cans with dexterity and imagination, layering and dabbing at paint, often employing stencils or stripping away specific layers of paint with fine tools to produce wondrous skyscapes involving planets and stars -- sometimes juxtaposing them with pyramids, cities or other subjects.