Monday, November 1, 2010

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

Street painting originated in Europe in the 16th Century, when artists known as “I Madonnari” created images of the Madonna on street surfaces in exchange for bread and olive oil. Modern day “Madonnari” continue this artistic tradition by creating fine art with chalk as their medium and the street surface as their canvas.

On the 30th and 31st of October 2010, the third annual Sarasota Chalk Festival (billed as the first international street-painting festival in the United States) was held in downtown Sarasota. Over 250 street painters from Mexico, Italy, Germany, Slovenia, the Netherlands and the United States donated their artistic services, while local sponsors provided travel and lodging in exchange. This year’s theme was "Halloween".

The featured artist at the festival was Edgar Mueller , from Germany. Mueller is known as a master of 3D pavement art who has worked all over the world - this was his first work in the United States. Titled “Save Me!” the latest dual piece in Mueller's "Unconditional Love" series depicted a giant climbing out of a “crater” on a 70 x 82 foot section of the street. The piece contained a second hidden painting of a baby that could only be seen at night. The painting-within-a painting was drawn with a type of phosphorescent chalk that allowed it to emerge in the dark when the main picture faded out. Mueller and two assistants arrived in Sarasota on the 25th of October to start working night and day on this giant piece of street art. His installation drew record crowds who could be seen lining up during the festival to view his artwork through a specially mounted fish eye lens.

The festival incorporated a large "Little Chalkers" section for children to try their hand at street chalking. Each of the professional Madonnari and artists took turns to guide and work alongside the children - it looked like fun for all on this blacktop blackboard.

Street painting is not just fine art, it’s performance art too - watching the artists at work was most entertaining. Some used a grid to guide them, while others sketched free hand. Either way, the results were astonishingly lovely.

I met artists from backgrounds as diverse as that of a graffiti artist and an architectural student (they were collaborating on a piece). The artists at this event shared a passion for the art form and a striking camaraderie, even when temperatures reached 87 degrees under the relentlessly bright sun. Sarasota’s heat and humidity did not deter these intrepid men, women and children of all ages. Some said they prepared for the event by doing a lot of stretching, although towards the end the chalk-covered devotees looked liked they would need more than stretching to iron out their kinks!

The City of Sarasota had decided that they would pressure-wash the art off the streets at 2am on Monday morning. Even though the artists themselves understand and accept the inherent transitory nature of their work, event-goers and art lovers did not want to let go. Over the weekend the organizers put out a ballot asking visitors to weigh in on whether they thought the art should be washed off the streets immediately or be left to erode away naturally. Concerned citizens called city commissioners at home on Sunday to protest the deadline. The city council made a quick decision and granted a stay until Tuesday. This lovely "tar road gallery" will be here to savor for another day.

South Pineapple Avenue in Sarasota will definitely be the most beautiful street I’ve ever driven on.


  1. Dear Raining Acorns,
    I always learn so much by your interesting posts! Thank you! I never knew that a Chalk Festival existed - although I often admired the painters here. The first shown painting with the crater became yesterday reality in Germany - a wide crater opened in a town, luckily no persons was hurt, only cars and garages disappeared, till now nobody knows why...
    I like the fugacity of the chalk paitings: they show that in the long run everything undergoes change - the "expensive" arts only last a second longer in contemplation of eternity.

  2. You have introduced me to a German street painter, of whose existence I had no idea! Thank you for that.

    When I still lived in London I used to go and watch street painters at the National Portrait Gallery, I think they may have been chased away by now except for special occasions.

    Why would anyone want to wash these painting off the road? Are they hazardous in any way?

    Lastly: the most beautiful street you've driven on? Not walked? we are always told that Americans don't walk, it's true then? Not even for art?

  3. Thank you, Britta and Friko, for your comments. I wish you could have seen these works of art for yourself - my photographs just don't do them justice - particularly the dual piece by Edgar Mueller. Please go on to his website in my link to get a better perspective. The night time "baby" was a wonder to see!
    Friko, thank you for pointing out how odd it sounded for me to say that I would drive on this art. I do Americans a great injustice if I give the wrong impression - here in Sarasota, people walk a lot! This "gallery" was painted on a rather busy street that we must drive on to get to lots of other places that are too far or impractical to walk to - these paintings are not on the sidewalk but on the actual street. The reason the City would want to wash it off is because we are in a drought situation at the moment and it seems there will be no beneficial rain to wash it off any time soon, unfortunately. Without this, the works would degrade in an unattractive manner, apparently. (I voted to leave it to nature.)

  4. What a wonderful event! In New York City, I've seen a bit of this from time to time, but nothing on this scale. The 3D is quite incredible--glad, though, it was make-believe as opposed to the crater Britta describes.

    About whether to wash away the works or let nature take its course: I remember two splendid chalk drawings on the sidewalk in NYC. They were left to nature/human feet to wear away. They've been there since 2008 and I think are still visible. I continued to marvel at them, even in their worn-away state. (Car traffic, of course, may be another matter.)

    Wonderful post about a fascinating event!

  5. This is amazing. A far cry from Bert's chalk pictures in Mary Poppins! What artwork! Amazing.

  6. What an interesting festival! I can't imagine how they get the perspective to do those large drawings on the ground, especially the 3D ones! It is very hard to try to picture the "real" street surface underneath.

    @Friko - yes, Americans do walk. Indoors. On our treadmills. In gyms. To which we get in our cars and drive!

  7. Carol-Ann,
    I too would have voted to leave it.
    You also pointed out another strange thing: you have a draught situation yet you WASH the road? With water?
    We have hose-pipe bans on this wet island if we haven't had rain for a few weeks in summer. We aren't even allowed to water the vegetables!

    Wide Open Spaces -
    tut tut, allow me a smirk.
    I have just been walking out of doors, in mud and drizzle with a mild gale blowing, for about an hour. Just think, an hour!
    Just think how much money for the gym I've saved.

  8. Well, the good news is that the artwork has been left to nature. The city decided not to wash it off. Seems like that was all we needed to get some much needed rain! When I drove through the area today, some of the pictures were barely visible through the rain but Edgar Mueller's Giant actually looks better than ever!


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