Monday, November 1, 2010
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.