BY LENNIE BENNETT
Times Art Critic
Street painting, pavement art, chalk art: The popular art form goes by all three.
Under any name, it has come to Sarasota big time for the Sarasota Chalk Festival, which began quietly a few days ago and revs into colorful action today and until its grand finale on Monday. Last year's festival drew an estimated 80,000 and organizers say the crowds could be bigger this year.
More than 250 artists, including some of the most famous pavement artists in the world (Kurt Wenner, yes!), will transform a stretch of S Pineapple Avenue and you can watch it happen.
That's the appeal of pavement art, which is considered by many to be a kind of performance art. It also upends the way we traditionally value a painting, as an end product of the creative process and something we can collect and keep. In pavement art, the process itself is the major point because it isn't meant to be permanent.
It began in Italy in the 16th century when itinerant artists began drawing on the stone paving in public squares. If the onlookers were pleased with what they saw, they would toss a few coins. The overhead was low; the canvas was what ever lay beneath their feet and their drawing material was a piece of coal or clay tile. They were called Madonnari because their favored subject was the Madonna. This folk art tradition almost vanished after World War II but was modestly kick-started in 1972 by a street-painting festival in Grazie di Curtatone, Italy.
Since then its popularity has grown and cities around the world host chalk art festivals. Wenner has done more than any individual artist to give chalk painting a popular following, using classical techniques in a three-dimensional illusionist style that astonishes viewers. (Think Renaissance art meets IMAX.) He rarely participates in pavement art anymore but he'll make an appearance in Sarasota this year. So will Michael Kirby, a younger chalk star. Wenner also has an art show at the Ringling College of Art and Design and will give a few talks and collaborate with students on a pavement drawing. Kirby will create a set for singers from the Sarasota Opera who will perform excerpts from Madame Butterfly.
This year's festival includes more related activities (see schedule) but the heart of it is pavement art.
Lennie Bennett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8293.