Thursday, November 3, 2022

Chalk Festival 2022 -- Without the Chalk!

Hombre and Katrina by Lori Escalera (CA)
Denise Kowal, founder and organizer of the Chalk Festival, has wanted to do a Halloween-themed chalk festival for years. But circumstances have conspired against her -- primarily in the form of the pandemic. Finally, the stage was set for this Fall's festival with its theme of "A Spirited Museum in Motion." Dozens of artists, domestic and international alike, were set to descend upon Sarasota. But so was Hurricane Ian. Two weeks before the Chalk Fest was scheduled to open, Kowal was informed that the Venice Municipal Airport, site of the Festival, would not be available due to complications caused by Ian. It was time for a hard pivot. 

"The Art School" by Eduardo Relero (Spain)
With no time to secure the pavement space required for all of the artists who had planned to attend, Kowal decided the Festival would focus on 3D art this year. After all, many of the international artists who participate year in and year out were already in town and the 3D creations are their forte. What could not be found, however, was appropriate pavement on which chalk art could be created. What to do? How about creating the artworks on linoleum instead of pavement? But there was one problem with that approach -- chalk would not work as a medium on a vinyl canvas when it was rolled up and stored. And so the artists got to work using something more traditional -- acrylic paint. 

For the first time, I participated in the Festival as a volunteer. It was a blast. I had a chance to chat with many of the artists on Saturday, including Eduardo Relero. I loved his take on what an art school might look like. When asked what was up next for him, he said he'd be creating pavement art at the Mexican Embassy in Madrid in a few days' time for a Day of the Dead celebration. Cool!  These are some serious artists. To see more of Eduardo's work, click here

Mangrove Man by Sitka Dogan
I was also able to talk a bit with Sitka Dogan of Turkey. When I said his name was familiar to me, he said he'd painted "the horse" at the last Chalk Festival. Ahhhh -- the horse!  Last April's Festival featured 3D Illusion "rooms" -- essentially two large pieces of plywood connected to create a corner and two walls. (Again, the medium was acrylic for those works.) To see "the horse," click here. It was fabulous. 

This year Dogan created an Alice in Wonderland-ish Mangrove Man with a hat perfect for viewers to perch on. Once the work was completed, Dogan added some leaves for that little something extra. The man was also holding a stem with some leaves in his hand. Most of my job that day was telling helpful art lovers not to sweep the leaves off the work. That included me -- the first thing I did when I arrived was lean down to remove what looked like a gummy blob on the work. I quickly realized it was masking tape and Sitka intended it to be there. Oops! It's hard to see in this image, but the man has an adorable tree owl in his forehead as a third eye. Hence the yoga pose (which I just realized is tree pose -- how perfect!)  

Pablo Cacho by Santiago Hernandez
One benefit of creating the paintings on vinyl is that they could be moved. And so the final day of the Festival was held at the Ringling Museum. They showed beautifully on the sidewalks, and the artists were excited about having their work on display in such a prestigious venue. 

The change in location also introduced the work of these talented artists to people who might not have previously had the Chalk Festival on their radar. I suspect they'll be heading down to Venice when the Festival returns (hopefully in April). And one other benefit of the pivot -- the works are permanent and can be displayed in the future. Kowal said several people had already asked about bringing the paintings into schools or exhibiting them in other locations. So there will be opportunities to make more lemonade out of the lemons Hurricane Ian rained down on us. 

The work above is a portrait of Pablo Cacho created by Santiago Hernandez. The backstory is that Santiago helped Pablo create his first 3D pavement painting. Perhaps the portrait is recreating that experience. Pablo was one of the emerging artists at this year's Festival. It's a tightknit community. 

"Chariot of the Sun" mural designed by Kurt Wenner
I'll leave you with a work designed by Kurt Wenner that could easily be on permanent display at the Ringling. Wenner got his start as a street artist in Rome where he was just another "madonnari" trying to make a living. (The artists were known as madonnaris because they often created madonnas and other religious images. It's a tradition that dates back centuries.) It wasn't long before he broke out of the pack. 

Wenner is known as the creator of 3D street art and has become a familiar face around the Chalk Festival. It was Wenner who designed the 22,000 square foot megalodon shark that secured a short-lived Guiness World Record as the world's largest anamorphic (3D) painting. Click here to see that work and Wenner at work on a chalk painting. (Yes, I am a regular at the Festivals.)  

While the Festival wasn't what Kowal had envisioned, it was still great fun. Tentative plans are for a full-blown festival -- with chalk! -- in early April. With any luck, the delegations of infiorata artists who were scheduled to come to this Festival will be on hand. What, you might ask, are infiorata artists? They create large scale "carpets" using flowers as their medium. Click here to see an example. I'm already looking forward to it.  

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