With a brush or pencil in hand, Daniel Pontet has been painting and drawing since age 4. Now, at 56, he gets his kicks out of making art with his feet.
Pontet, who lives in Hallandale Beach with his wife and daughters, has become a fixture at ArtWalk, a free monthly event in downtown Hollywood where he can be seen painting portraits with his toes and heels.
On the third Saturday of every month, Pontet puts away his shoes and glides over a canvas for hours, inspired by the beat of drums banged by local musicians and spectators who want to join in.
"The work of art is no longer the painting but the performance itself," says Pontet, who moved from Montevideo, Uruguay's capital, to South Florida in 1991. "The canvas is the stage."
Pontet was influenced by a mentor in Uruguay who told him art is fundamentally in the artist's head, and should travel through the body regardless of his or her tools.
"I wondered, will art travel all the way down to the feet?" Pontet said. "I discovered it travels through the entire body. I've even painted with my elbows."
Though the artist has eschewed the traditional brush and canvas in lieu of his feet for the past three years, he still paints by hand when he's not performing.
This summer, for example, he finished a one-story mural with two standing knights and another atop a horse at the Hollywood Academy of Arts & Science.
"His eye for detail and passion for quality made him our muralist of choice," said Donte Fulton, the charter school's principal. "Mr. Pontet was able to take a simple vision and create a wonderful work of art for all to experience."
Pontet says it was difficult to create a realistic perspective for the mural, which sits in the middle of a flight of stairs and can be seen from the top or bottom of the stairs, as well as at eye-level from the staircase landing.
The artist had to "cheat" the laws of physics and make the painted columns have depth from all three points of view. To make up for the inconsistency, he used a technique he learned from endless visits to the Salvador Dali museum in St. Petersburg: distracting viewers with hyper-realistic details in the piece, such as the eye of the horse.
"Dali used the same trick," he said. "He would slave away over the tiniest detail that draws in the viewer's eye. That's what I did with the horse and the moss, the two things that are alive in the mural."
The paintings Pontet does with his feet, which in the past have included lizards, scorpions and large faces, are less realistic — and more physically taxing.
"When I'm done, my whole body hurts and it takes a few days to get back into shape," he said. "It's hard to keep your balance when you're standing over slippery paint. There are times when I have to take a skier's posture, you know, where you stand with your legs far apart for balance."
Pontet says he enters a trance once the musicians start banging their drums. He'll stand and listen to the music for up to 30 minutes, trying to visualize what he'll end up painting.
Evan Kline, one of three drummers who accompany Pontet during the ArtWalk performances, says their drumming speeds up or slows down according to the colors and shapes the artist uses.
"It's definitely a symbiotic relationship," Kline said. "It's not just our energy feeding him. It's him feeding us too."
Kline says the show is spiritually uplifting, especially for those who join in with their own instruments.
"People can show up with something to hit or shake and join in the rhythms with us," he said. "You can bring djembes [hand drums], congas, bongos, floor toms, maracas, cowbells, pots, pans. It's South Florida, it all works."
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If you go
What: "Reactionary Impulse Art" at Downtown Hollywood ArtWalk
When: 7 p.m. the third Saturday of every month
Where: 2001 Hollywood Blvd., between 20th and 21st avenues