WILDWOOD - The crowd was huge and eager Saturday night, just like fans waiting for a glimpse of their favorite rock star.
The music, a mix of pulsing dance beats and new age sensations, may have been part of the draw, but this show was about more than music.
"We saw him yesterday. We were amazed," said Sandra Martinez, of Long Island, with paintings in hand, explaining she had watched for hours. "We said it was the best thing the Boardwalk has right now."
The ‘him' is Joshua Moonshine, a rock-star-like name if ever there was one. He wears a giant, dark green Mad Hatter's hat, complete with his name on top. Moonshine paints, but he does so without brushes or a fancy art studio.
Instead, he uses spray-paint cans (dozens of them, all non-toxic), sheets of plain white paper, a spackle blade and plastic lids. The Wildwood Boardwalk, complete with the beach and Atlantic Ocean beyond, is the studio.
"It's the music that tells me what to paint," Moonshine explains to an admirer as he stops to take a cigarette break.
The 31-year-old welcomes the chance to talk to onlookers curious to know more. He is a rarity here; no other performance artists spend their days and evenings on the Wildwood Boardwalk.
Originally from Philadelphia, Moonshine has visited the Wildwoods since he was a child and spent time on the boards working the games of chance.
"When I was 9 years old, I was an airbrush artist just painting on jeans," he explains. Now, he moves around the country, calling south Florida and New Orleans home some of the time, but in the warmer months it's back to Wildwood, this year at the Douglass Fudge Pavilion at Wildwood Avenue.
His cigarette break ends.
The synthesized music, much of which Moonshine makes himself, plays as the crowd moves in tighter. They are young and old. Some are here for the bikers weekend, some enjoying the last days of summer. All are amazed.
Moonshine grabs a canvas and begins.
He juggles the cans of spray paint, switching effortlessly from one color to the next. He sprays around a plastic lid, and sprays his hands and then moves his fingers to create small drops on the canvas.
The white sheets of paper are used to create lines and shapes, but no one in the audience knows what they are.
The music grows in intensity and Moonshine moves with the beat, painting so furiously the Mad Hatter hat seems increasingly more fitting. Yellow, orange, red, the colors appear on the canvas, but still the final image is unclear.
He blots the canvas, spins it around like a DJ (his other talent), and then reveals the completed work - an image of pyramids with one giant eye in the center.
The crowd applauds loudly.
"This is the main reason we're here," said Dianne Cassel, of Harrisburg, Pa., who came to the Boardwalk with her 24-year-old daughter, Tara Miller.
Cassel saw Moonshine over Memorial Day weekend and at that time bought one of his paintings. Her other daughter and son-in-law bought two.
"I told Tara about it and showed her the video," Cassel said. "He is just phenomenal.
"It is the talent he has. When he sits down, you can tell he doesn't know what he's going to build. That's what he does, is build something and he builds from the bottom up," Cassel said.
Cassel bought three more paintings that day.
"That's the word - experience. It's an amazing experience just to watch him," Cassel said.
Another fan, Denise Meiran, of Sinking Spring, Pa, had a similar feeling.
She and her husband, here for the Roar to the Shore biker's weekend, had passed Moonshine's show the night before. They managed to get through the crowd and watch.
She left with a painting.
"It's of the planets, red and orange with the rings (of Saturn), and it looks as if you're standing on another planet watching. It's rocky, maybe it's Mars. It was just so different. It just caught me," she said.
Moonshine takes another break. This day he will spend about 10 or more hours on the Boardwalk, painting at least 50 or more paintings, some by request, most of his own inspiration.
As he talks, his paint-covered sweatshirt, once white, and khaki jeans, now covered in every conceivable color, offer proof of his day's work.
"I don't paint anything that has a soul," he tells a fan of his penchant for landscapes and abstract scenes. "I don't feel I have the right to do that."
Moonshine calls himself "an instant artist." "I visualize it in seconds," he explains.
Most paintings take just a few minutes to complete, but for those minutes everyone is watching.
At 7:09 p.m., he starts again.
This time it's a larger canvas, perfect for a spot behind a sofa in someone's living room.
He grabs only white and black paint and Moonshine, a student of tai chi, moves.
The volume builds and a woman in the crowd, wearing a long flowing skirt, dances as if she has no choice.
The spray paint cans move from one hand to the other, sometimes one in each hand. Sheets of paper create lines and forms.
"It's like you don't want to leave. You want to see what it is," one woman says.
The crowd grows still larger, the whiff of paint fumes passes.
Trees appear on the canvas, but the final picture remains a mystery.
"This is amazing, how he does this. I have to see what this looks like," says another voice in the crowd.
He lifts the canvas. It is 7:22 p.m. They ooh and aah and applaud loudly.
"Oh my goodness," someone says.
It is a landscape with waterfalls and mountains and trees done in simple black and white, the colors at the request of its new owners, Gina and Bill Davidson, of Wallkill, N.Y.
"We were walking by and we've been here a couple of hours now, just amazed," Bill Davidson said.
The couple came to Wildwood 30 years ago for their honeymoon and visit each summer, usually leaving with some knickknack or souvenir.
"But this will make this trip different," Davidson said of the $225 original artwork. "It will look nice in my living room. To me, when I have a bad day at work, I want to look at things like this."
Moonshine's friend, Tommy Hogans, props up the painting as it dries. The Davidsons are pleased.
The result meets Moonshine's own expectations for his work, which he hopes inspires others to pursue their own creativity.
"In a world where there's so much misery, there's a moment of smile," Moonshine said.
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