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Comedian puts heart and beard into his art

Charity-inspired facial hair expressions on display as part of Olio Festival

Graham Clark couldn't get his friends' facial hair suggestions out of his mind.

Fellow standup comedians Charlie Demers and Ivan Decker told him he should paint with his scraggly beard.

"Comedians are always saying, 'Yeah, you should do that,' something that's going to be harmful to you," Clark said.

But he couldn't shake the idea. So Clark dragged a friend to a paint store and got her to ask the salesperson what kind of paint he should buy.

At home last fall, Clark fastened his facial hair with rubber elastics, Captain Lou Albano-a wrestler favoured by Cyndi Lauper-style, into a long narrow appendage, hunkered down and "mashed" his face into a canvas.

His initial "explosions of paint" looked "pretty neat."

Soon Clark wanted to make his creations "look like things," so he experimented and refined his process, using his fingers to guide his beard brush to create lines.

He became so obsessed he even woke up one night with his hand clenched and cramped near his beard.

Around the same time, Clark received a mass email from a friend looking to fundraise so she could afford an alternative cancer treatment. Clark posted a painting on eBay under the "buy now" option and someone snapped it up for $30 in less than a minute.

Clark started promoting his paintings on his Stop Podcasting Yourself podcast, and raised $5,000 for his friend's treatment.

He thought his work was done, but then the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami hit Japan. His friend, writer and comic Ryan Lachance needed money to buy a new wheelchair, and Oxfam's famine relief work in East Africa came to his attention.

Clark's paintings will be exhibited at Little Mountain Gallery, Sept. 22 to 26. The opening night, Sept. 22, is presented as part of the Olio Festival.

Ehren Salazar, operator of the gallery that's on 26th Avenue just west of Main, has donated the space so proceeds from art sales can go to a charity of the purchaser's choice.

Clark spent up to 24 hours perfecting a painting he calls "An Ode to Paul Giamatti" that will be exhibited at the event. He'll sell abstracts, paintings inspired by photos and renderings of robots engaged in recreational activities.

Clark hasn't earned a penny from his artwork, and he prefers it that way.

"This thing stumbled out of nowhere and if I had to do it to be paid, I think that would take some of the joy out of it," he said.

Between a six-month stint writing for CBC TV's The Debaters, his podcast and comedy gigs, Clark says he's been able to keep his lights on "somewhat, most of the time."

Clark denies performing good deeds with his beard to justify it to his mom, who can't stand the scruffy thing.

"I've had weirder looks in the past that benefited nobody, including myself," Clark said. "I used to have super long hair that was, like, down below the nipple line. I don't know if there were a lot of ladies looking for that."

Festival-goers can also check out Clark's comedic side during the third annual Olio Festival, Sept. 22 to 25. His Laugh Gallery, which includes Demers and Decker, will run Saturday night at the Biltmore Cabaret.

The Olio Festival takes place across six neighourhoods. In addition to more than 70 local and international bands and DJs, 23 comedy acts, nine visual art events and films, this year's edition includes a skateboarding competition.

The festival also includes a comedy roast of Mayor Gregor Robertson on Thursday night, Behind the Scenes-themed tales as part of Rain City Chronicles on Saturday night and a screening of the indie rock comedy film Everything Louder Than Everything Else, Sunday night.

Clark's particularly keen to check out Bronx Cheer who are performing in the Olio Sketch Show hosted by Pump Trolley Comedy, Friday night.

"I don't want to promote anything that's up against what I'm doing," Clark quipped. "Whatever's on Friday night, I say give it a shot."

For more information, see 2011. oliofestival.com.

crossi@vancourier.com Twitter: @Cheryl_Rossi