With art festivals, it can feel like once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. In Burbank that’s actually true — last weekend’s downtown Arts Festival is sponsored by Downtown Burbank and West Coast Artists, the latter of which hits street fairs like this all over Southern California.
But Burbank’s festival guarantees you’ll see a few pieces you won’t find anywhere else. Among the paintings, handcrafted jewelry and furniture, there’s one style that only stays in Burbank as long as the street sweepers and rain stay away.
Chalk artists have been around for centuries. In Italy, painters working on cathedrals would take to the street with chalk as a way to pay for their lunches. Today’s artists come from all walks of life and media styles. They find ways to pull art out into the paths of the public.
While navigating the tents full of leatherwork, wood carvings and Native American fare, I stumbled across the work of Burbank’s own Randall Williams.
Though he’s produced street art for about 15 years, his work can be seen all over the city, including in murals at the YMCA, the Gordon Howard Museum, in schools and in the talents of children he’s taught.
On Saturday, he took a break from kneeling on his stack of bathroom rugs to work the crowd. The foundation of his drawing, a picture from the 2011 film “Sucker Punch,” was already laid down with a dense chalk meant to cling to the pavement. Williams has to pause for a few minutes to say hello to Jefferson Elementary Principal Melissa Kistler, who tells Williams it’s been too long since he visited the school.
“It was fantastic — we’d never forget that,” she tells him.
Another artist wanders by, partially to check out her colleague’s work and partially to say hello. The street artists are a tight bunch
Chalk drawings help artists hone their skills in other media. Everything on the ground is large — on this image, an eye is now 2 feet across. The magnification provides an intimacy between painter and subject, as each detail becomes painstakingly apparent.
“You really get inside the different parts of a face,” Williams said. “You really know where the nostrils are because you’re doing them individually.”
Occasionally a child may break loose from the disciplinary hand of a parent, running straight across the asphalt canvas. Williams just lets them go. His point is to inspire, to let that creative energy loose.
“Kids have to break away and see these things; that’s the emotion,” he said.
Like a rose bouquet that will only survive so long in its vase, the value in street art is its shelf life. Long after the artist has packed his things, the crowd often will protect Williams’ work, shooing people off it as they walk the festival.
What remains, if the artist has done his job, is inspiration.
And inspire me it has. I’m now on my kitchen floor — I don’t want to chance getting hit by a car for my art. I text my wife to ask her if we have chalk.
“Does chalk come off kitchen tiles?” I text.
“Yeah — should be OK,” she writes.
My subject, the cat, gives me a look of utter derision. He can see this is a bad idea, and I am beginning to have second thoughts as I notice the mop leaning mockingly in the corner.
There’s a reason artists do it outdoors.