Barrett McCullough whips paint onto a 4-by-4-foot canvas. Her nontraditional art tools: a syringe and her purple-paint-encrusted hands.

This is not fingerpainting but "Sling Paint," an interactive art form being featured at the Utah Arts Festival, under way through today at Library Square in downtown Salt Lake City. Passersby find they can get involved in the painting process by splashing, plopping or spraying canvases with all the colors of the rainbow, using squirt guns, sponges, hands, even their hair . . . and, yes, brushes.

"Once I started, I didn't really know what to do," said McCullough, 22, of Salt Lake City, "and then I just went at it and had lots of fun. I think it's fun that you can be in there and interact with it and actually do stuff with the artists."

Brad Ford stands by, spattered with paint. He's the originator of the participatory Sling Paint event, as well as the festival's Webmaster. He compares this interactive expression of self and community to the work of an influential mid-20th century abstract expressionist.

"The whole idea is like Jackson Pollock. He did the same exact thing — except he was only one man doing it. This is a whole entire community," Ford said.

"Everyone can be an artist. It doesn't matter."

Festival volunteer Jessica Samowitz, 19, of Salt Lake City, agrees that Sling Paint allows people to express themselves.

"Adults like to play like kids and get messy and put paint on each other and play," she said. "I think it's fun — and I really like getting paint all over me."

Ford calls it "art at 100 mph," or an attempt to control chaos.

"I actually use people as my paint brushes," he said. Sometimes he gives participants a few pointers, "or I just let it happen."

Ford is no stranger to unconventional approaches to art. He and friend Eddie Portillo painted a 12-by-6-foot canvas by dunking Portillo in paint and using items the audience threw to the two men.

But is it art?

"It took about two decades for people to say that photography was an art form because you just took a picture, and I kind of think that they are going to say the same exact thing about this," he said. "They are going to say, oh, it's not art, it's just splashed paint. But I'm saying that it is art."

The 27 canvases being created will be part of a local gallery exhibition, with the proceeds going back to the festival, Ford hopes.

"You cannot reproduce any one of these pieces ever again," he said. "It's all about time: It happens now; it happens here. It all depends on the person doing it, so each one is an original. It's done by everyone. It's something for the community."

Each panel is a snapshot.

"That's what also makes these enjoyable by everyone because it's not just a landscape or a horse or a nude or something like that. It is whatever it is," he said.

This year's Utah Arts Festival at Library Square, 200 E. 400 South, concludes today. Hours are noon until 11 p.m. Admission is $7 for adults and $3.50 for seniors. Children 12 and under get in free. For more information, call 322-2428.

Sling Paint, near the Festival Stage, is under way from noon until 8 p.m.