Festival-Goers Hit the Pavement to Create Chalk Art


After nearly eight hours of squatting under the hot sun, Michael Guccione, a technical support analyst at Sega GameWorks, and his wife, Kimberly Enedy-Guccione, a graphic artist, had made it only from the crown of Jackie Robinson's head about halfway down his forehead. They were working off a 1956 Topps baseball card image of the Dodgers legend and it was slow going.

"The hardest part is getting the chalk onto the surface," said Guccione, as he vigorously rubbed chalk into the pavement with a chamois-like magnolia leaf from a nearby gutter (his own inspiration, and it turns out, quite an effective tool). Their goal for the day was "the nose by 7," said Guccione. It was 4:30 p.m. on Saturday; they'd have all of Sunday to get to the chin.

The couple was among 550 artists, professionals and amateurs participating in the Absolut Chalk Festival in Pasadena, a benefit for the nonprofit Light-Bringer Project, which raises money for community arts programs. The festival is billed as the world's largest.

Event organizers provided the pastel chalk, which is softer than the blackboard variety. They expected to go through some 23,000 sticks over the weekend. Chalk painting, as it is known, isn't new, extending back to the 16th century. The practice has an especially rich history in Italy, where its practitioners are known as madonnari , after their depictions of the Madonna.

Noble beginnings aside, this is physically demanding work. "It sure makes your back sore," said Stuart Rapeport, a DWP employee who did a rendering of the Mona Lisa with a twist--a couple dozen pigeons casually walked over her image. Many artists don knee pads. Some sit on low, hand-crafted stools.

"The key," according to Randall Williams, is to "try to remember to change positions, just keep moving around." Williams should know. The photo retoucher, along with his wife Kaaron and 12-year-old daughter Amber, participates in six California chalk festivals a year. "It's kind of a family tradition," Kaaron said. At this event, the Williamses were drawing an original design, conceived by Randall, titled "Lady and the Lion." "The texture of the ground is perfect for hairy things," he said. "And I do a lot of women, like Nagel and Vargas."

Nearby, David McRobbie, a multimedia designer, and his team continued their food theme from last year, when they drew a giant ice cream cone melting into the gutter. The image earned them a most humorous award. This year, their artwork featured an open bag of peanut M&Ms;, emblazoned with the word "chalkolate." "This year I hope we get 'most colorful,"' McRobbie said. "But I'd do it even if there were no prizes." (Alas, the prize eluded them.)

Like nearly all the artists, McRobbie embraces the transitory nature of chalk painting. "It's fun to savor it these two days knowing Monday it will be gone," he said.

"It's all about being creative without worrying whether some museum is going to care about what you do," Rapeport said. "It's just releasing the creative energy without the baggage of contemporary art."

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