26 Pop Culture And Quarantine-Inspired Sidewalk Chalk Drawings From A Self-Taught Artist

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The sight of kids drawing on the pavement with sidewalk chalk is practically guaranteed to induce an attack of nostalgia. As summertime traditions go, getting down on the floor to let one’s artistic imagination run wild is right up there with running through sprinklers and establishing lemonade stands. But what adults caught up in reveries about the long, lazy days of childhood might not realize is that sidewalk chalk art is just a pastime that connects us not just to memories of our smaller selves, but to a rich historical tradition that goes entirely back to 16th-century Italy.

While people have already been using chalk to generate pictures since the age of cavemen, the Italian traveling artists known as madonnari appear to possess been among the initial practitioners of street art. Robin VanLear, the Cleveland Museum of Art’s director of community arts, explains in a post on the museum’s website

In 16th-century Italy various beggars, primarily amputees, began searching for a bonus over one other beggars who proliferated in the plazas and market areas around cathedrals, especially on feast days. A number of them decided to generate art , and charcoal from braziers became their first drawing implement. They certainly were rewarded due to their efforts with coins thrown down by pilgrims visiting the cathedrals. Ultimately the more artistic beggars began copying portraits of the Madonna, particularly those by the favorite early 16th-century liturgical artist Raphael. They were dubbed Madonnari, painters of the Madonna.

While the 2011 book Asphalt Renaissance, compiled by the road artist Kurt Wenner along side B. Hansen and M. Hospodar, explains, madonnari realized they might maximize their earnings by working as traveling artists, moving between towns based on religious festival schedules. The Italian tradition continued for centuries, and soon street art began popping up in countries like England and Germany as well.

The English counterparts to madonnari, known as โ€œscreevers,โ€ emerged in Victorian London and remained a fixture of the town until World War II. Screevers were less closely associated with religious material, but like the madonnari, they made a coping with their ephemeral art.

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In George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London, an autobiographical book about poverty published in 1933, the writer describes his encounter with a screever named Bozo. A self-declared โ€œserious screever,โ€ Bozo specialized in drawing political cartoons informed by the day’s news. (โ€œOnce a kid got its head stuck in the railings of Chelsea Bridge,โ€ Bozo said. โ€œWell, I found out about it, and my cartoon was on the pavement before they’d got the child’s head out of the railings.โ€) Orwell suggests Bozo had ample competition among London street artists: โ€œDuring those times there was a screever virtually every twenty-five yards over the Embankment.โ€ But whereas many of Bozo’s peers drew the same thing each and every day, Bozo distinguished himself by working on something newโ€”a method that he said paid off. โ€œThe very best thing’s to keep changing your picture, because when they see you drawing they’ll stop and watch you,โ€ he explained.

Screevers were also memorialized in the 1964 Disney film Mary Poppins, occur Edwardian-era England. In the song โ€œChim Chim Cheree,โ€ Bert, the twinkly-eyed chimney sweep played by Dick van Dyke, boasts about his side hustle Today I’m a screever, and as you can see

A screever’s an artist of’ighest degree
And it’s all me own work from me own memory

Bert is notably less concerned than Bozo about creating a livingโ€”though the same can not be said about his hat. โ€œNo remuneration do I ask of you,โ€ he sings, โ€œBut me cap will be glad of a copper or two.โ€

As VanLear explains, many European street artists fought in World Wars I and II, which meant that the practice of professional sidewalk chalk drawing faded for a great part of the 20th century. Then, in 1972, the Italian village of Grazie di Curtatone chose to host an international street-painting competition to honor the annals of madonnari. Your competitors, known as Incontro Nazionale dei Madonnari, was a good success, attracting hundreds of European artists and assisting to revive interest in sidewalk painting.

Roughly a decade later, its profile got another boost from Wenner, who’d become the founder of 3D street artโ€”a technique that uses tricks of perspective to create pavement drawings seem to soar from the sidewalk or sink into it. Wenner was studying classical art in Italy in the 1980s and started drawing on pavement as an easy way to produce money. He eventually made his solution to Grazie’s festival, where he took first place 36 months in a row, then brought his enthusiasm for street painting back once again to the US, launching an annual festivalโ€”the first in the countryโ€”in his hometown of Santa Barbara, California, in 1986.

By the time Asphalt Renaissance was published in 2011, the US was home to between 50 and 100 street-painting festivals each year. Europe has additionally experienced a street-painting festival boom, with events in such varied locales because the Netherlands, Germany, France, England, and Serbia; there are options in Australia, Canada, and Mexico, too. So in case you encounter some kids smeared with chalk dust come july 1st, tell them to keep at it. There exists a future in sidewalk chalk yet.

About Dayana Melton

Dayana Melton
Hello my name is Dayana Melton. I have been working on chalk art for a long time. I will try to explain and show you the experiences I have been working on in chalk art for a long time. If you have any suggestions or questions, you can write to me from the contact section.

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