Street painting, also commonly known as pavement art, chalk art, and sidewalk art, is the performance art of rendering original and non-original artistic designs on pavement such as streets, sidewalks, and town squares with impermanent and semi-permanent materials such as chalk.
Street painting has been recorded throughout Europe since the 16th century. Street Painters, (also called chalk artists) a name these performance artists are most commonly called in the USA are historically called I Madonnari in Italy (singular form: madonnaro or madonnara) because they recreated images of the Madonna. In England they are called Screevers and in Germany Strassenmaler (street: straßen, painter: maler).
The Italian I Madonnari were itinerant artists, many of whom had been brought into the cities to work on the huge cathedrals. When the work was done, they needed to find another way to make a living, and thus would often recreate the paintings from the church onto the pavement. Aware of festival and holy days in each province and town, they traveled to join in the festivities to make a living from observers who would throw coins if they approved of the artist's work. For centuries I Madonnari were folk artists, reproducing simple images with crude materials such as tiles, coal and chalk until World War II disrupted their tradition and reduced their numbers.
In 1972, a street painting was being promoted again by the formation of a festival in Grazie di Curtatone, Italy and today the performance art-form is recognized all over the world.
Today this work is called 3d Street Painting, 3D Pavement Art, 3D Chalk Art, 3D Sidewalk Art, 3D Illusion, anamorphic or 3D, although in the past it was called one-point perspective.
The first known street painter in the US was Sidewalk Sam, who began painting in the streets of Boston in 1973. In 1982 Kurt Wenner, an American, began street painting in Rome. By 1983 he took the already-existing anamorphic art form to the street by drawing, then brushing, his home-made pastels into a painting. In 1984 he was documented by National Geographic in their film Masterpieces In Chalk. That same year he won the title of "Maestro Madonnaro" ("best" or "featured" chalk artist) at the Grazie festival.
Later in the early 1990s Michael Kirby began to work in Europe as a street painter creating more original work based on contemporary issues and not on classical ideas and designs. He would go on to become a master street painter in all the major festivals across Europe including Germany, Italy, and Holland. He would later bring the art form to other countries such as Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, Ireland, Canada, and various parts of the United States. His work was featured at the Smithsonian Institution in DC, National Geographic, David Letterman Show, North Carolina Museum of Art, Rai Television, and others. Today his studio, Murals of Baltimore, is hired to create public art around the world and is considered the leader in street painting.
Ulian Beever is an English chalk artist who has been creating trompe-l'œil chalk drawings on pavement surfaces since the mid-1990s. He uses a projection technique called anamorphosis to create the illusion of three dimensions when viewed from the correct angle. It is often possible to position a person within the image as if they were interacting with the scene.
Beever first designs his work on paper. Once finalised, a camera is placed at a distance from the art on the pavement which he returns to in order to observe the image through the lens a number of times, as the camera's wide angled lens can create an optical illusion which distorts the actual size of objects, which aids in maintaining perspective.
Beever works internationally as a freelance artist and creates murals for companies. Besides this pavement art, Beever also paints murals with acrylic paints and replicas of the works of masters and oil paintings, and creates collages. Among his other work are drawings, usually themed around music.
In 2010, Beever released a book Pavement Chalk Artist, which includes photographs of many of his works from around the world.
Kurt Wenner is an artist with an international following. He is best known for his invention of 3D pavement art. Wenner was inspired by anamorphic perspective, but had to invent an entirely new geometry in order to create his stunning 3D pavement art images.
Kurt Wenner produced his first commissioned mural at the age of sixteen and by seventeen he was earning his living as a graphic artist. He attended both Rhode Island School of Design and Art Center College of Design, before working for NASA. While at NASA Wenner worked as an advanced scientific illustrator, creating conceptual paintings of future space projects and extraterrestrial landscapes. In 1982 he left NASA, sold all of his belongings, and moved to Italy to study figurative drawing and art. Wenner lived a stone's throw from the Pantheon in the heart of Rome, where he studied the drawings, paintings, and sculptures of the old masters in Rome's best known museums. Over the years Wenner's work became known throughout the country and in 1991 he was commissioned to create a work of art to honor the visit of Pope John Paul II to the city of Mantua.
In the 1980's Wenner first introduced 3D pavement art at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. Shortly after that he founded the first street painting festival in the United States at the Old Mission in Santa Barbara, California. The Old Mission festival, also known as I Madonnari, continues to this day as do many of the festivals and events Wenner started across the country. One often-overlooked fact of Wenner's career is that he dedicated one month every year, for 10 years, to teach more than 100,000 students from elementary through university level how to work with chalks and pastels. For his dedication, he was awarded the Kennedy Center Medallion for his outstanding contribution to arts education.
With the ever increasing popularity of Wenner's images, hundreds of artists across the globe became inspired to create their own versions of three-dimensional pavement art. Artists such as Julian Beever, Manfred Stader, and Edgar Muller as well as others can trace their roots back to his invention in the early 1980's. By using computer programs or a simplified geometry to create their illusions they are able to approximate the effect of Wenner's three-dimentional illusion.
Wenner's images always tell a story and challenge the public to reconsider the use of classicism (discarded during the era of Modern art). Wenner believes that the language of classicism is a critical tool that has been overlooked for far too long. He developed 3D pavement art precisely to illustrate that a new art form can be expressed within this language. Wenner has not only become known for his own body of work, he has inadvertently become the father of an art movement.
After participating in countless festivals, Wenner returned to fine art painting on commission and also created sculptures, decorative stucco relief, ceramic murals, architectural designs, and numerous images for publicity and advertising. Wenner's latest creation is his book Asphalt Renaissance, which documents the history of pavement art and his role in transforming it from a dying tradition to a dynamic multi-dimensional art form.
Wenner lived in Rome for 25 years before returning to the United States. His work has been seen in 30 countries, and he currently creates work for clients all over the world. His book Asphalt Renaissance is now available on the internet and at book stores worldwide.