Look down. No, really. On the pavement. Suddenly that big gray sea of asphalt and concrete connecting parking lots and buildings is a free-flowing splendor of shape and color, a vibrant surface of spectacle, an instant outdoor gallery of art – in, of all places, a shopping mall. And why not? Art for the people ought to go where the people are.
On Saturday and Sunday at Cedar Hills Crossing in Beaverton, chalk art arrived big-time in greater Portland in the form of the first La Strada dei Pastelli Chalk Art Festival, organized by the Beaverton art producers 2D4D (whose board president, Raziah Roushan, is herself a chalk artist) and continuing an Oregon mini-season of sidewalk artistry: Next up, the Valley Art Association will throw its 29th annual Sidewalk Chalk Art Festival in Forest Grove on Sept. 21.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOE CANTRELL
It’s all part of a worldwide movement: You can find chalk-art festivals all across Europe, from Germany to England to Italy (where they’re purported to have begun in the 16th century, outside cathedrals, as sketches for the curious crowds of the frescoes and murals being painted inside); in Canada, Australia, and Asia. In the United States they happen from Knoxville to Baltimore to Denver to San Diego to Georgia to Florida and beyond.
Part art and part event, chalk art has family ties to mural painting and graffiti art, decorative bike-lane paintings at street intersections in urban neighborhoods, and also, in festivals like these, to performance art: Crowds gather to watch the artists create their pastel drawings on the spot. It offers the thrill of creation and the bittersweet knowledge of impermanence: Chalk artists usually plan their designs well in advance, often even making small studies in anticipation of hitting the streets, yet street chalking is a fleeting art, fading and disappearing with the scuffle of feet and the inevitability of rain. At Cedar Hills Crossing, the street sweepers are due to wipe away the evidence on Wednesday, so catch it while you can.
Photographer Joe Cantrell took his cameras and his curiosity to La Strada dei Pastelli to check out the action as a talented group of professional chalk artists, several of whom travel from chalk festival to chalk festival creating fresh art, gathered to transform Cedar Hills Crossing’s pavement. It was a big undertaking – an $80,000 event, said Roushan, with significant contributions from the mall, other Beaverton businesses, and government cultural underwriting – and plans already are being made for a 2020 festival. “It was fantastic,” Roushan said. “A great turnout.”
The artists – including Atlanta’s Jessi Queen; Mexico’s iVann Garc; Carrie Dziabczenko (Fort Worth, Texas); Cynthia Kostylo (Napa, Calif.); Jennifer Ripassa (La Mirada, Calif.); Naomi Haverland (Seattle); Nestor Mendoza (Sacramento); Sharyn Chan (Santa Barbara, Calif.); Wayne and Cheryl Renshaw (Santa Clara, Calif.); Julie Jilek (Appleton, Wis.), Brittany Resch (Portland via Seattle); Susan Charnquist; Zach Herndon; and Sarah Flores (“software engineer by day and street painter by night”) – had 48 hours to work their magic, and work it they did.
Cantrell captured images of them and their creations, along with musicians, art vendors, kids trying their own hands at chalking the pavement, and the gathering of onlookers, to create a portfolio of public art. As Roushan noted, “It’s very much about watching the process, and then asking questions about the technique.” Here’s a sampling of what Cantrell, and the crowds, saw: