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Annette Polan knows the old proverb about journeys and single steps. It’s just that she wants your next Metrobus journey to begin with a single step of hers.
For the month of April, a 30-inch-tall, 88-inch-long portrait photo of Polan’s foot—wearing a shiny black stiletto, seemingly standing on blue water—has adorned the driver’s-side billboard space of two Metrobuses now rumbling around the D.C. area. Called
thisisart, the photo is the 56-year-old Polan’s attempt to inspire a whole bus-art movement in D.C. Not to mention announce her shoe fetish to the world.
“I envisioned some really slushy day in January or February, when it’s sleeting and gray, and everybody is wearing boots,” says Polan, a career portrait painter and associate professor of drawing and painting at the Corcoran College of Art and Design. “Wouldn’t it make you smile to see some sexy shoe flashing by?”
Thisisart had its origin in the summer of 1997, in a series of pool-scene photos taken in Polan’s Forest Hills back yard. During the shoot, Polan sported a one-piece swimsuit and swim cap, long gloves, sunglasses, and Italian-styled stilettos—size 7—with 5-inch brass-plated spikes. (“They’re lethal,” she says.)
On a raft, in the middle of the pool, floating on her back, with her legs in the air and holding her ankles, Polan had a colleague, photographer Stuart Diekmeyer, stand above her, zoom in, and snap a shot of her right foot. After printing the photos, she took that image—which would become thisisart—and flipped it to give it the walking-on-water look.
Polan, who’s had exhibitions locally at the Octagon and whose portrait of former West Virginia Gov. Gaston Caperton hangs in that state’s capitol building in Charleston, didn’t think about slapping the image on a bus right away. But making her art mass and mobile is something that Polan has had motoring through her mind for many years.
“I think [it would be] such a great idea to have, like, hundreds of buses, these circulating galleries, driving around downtown and out to the suburbs,” she says.
In late January, Polan decided to act on her idea. She paid about $800 for a month’s space on the two buses, plus another $700 to have her image printed on the vinyl, adhesive-backed poster paper Metro requires for its bus billboards.
The result could be an ad for Jimmy Choo or Manolo Blahnik—except that the only text reads “thisisart” along with Polan’s e-mail address. “You really have to take a second look to understand,” she says.
Unfortunately, you might not get a first look. The driver’s-side position for thisisart isn’t normally seen by bus-stop denizens, and the two buses run different routes daily. Plus, there are more than 1,400 buses in the Metro system. So right off the bat, Polan’s vision is challenged by its low visibility.
And Dan Langdon, regional manager for Viacom Outdoor, the company that sells advertising for Metrobuses, says it’s going take a whole lot more money for Polan’s project to increase its presence. For optimal effect in the D.C. area, says Langdon, “we recommend…you buy at least 100 to 150 signs.”
Polan herself hasn’t seen her mobile masterpiece since March 30, when she watched thisisart being affixed to Metrobus No. 5206. “I’ve got people posted on the lookout for it,” she says. So far, though, no sightings.
“When I started this project, that didn’t seem like such a huge issue,” Polan adds. “Now that I see how vast the area is, and how many buses there are, it’s a slightly bigger deal.” —Chris Shott