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Friday, July 7, 2017

Highway Painting

Franklin's Footpath, Gene Davis, 1972, Philadelphia.
Before I ever start a painting, I go to great pains in stretching and preparing the canvas to accept both the drawing and the acrylic hues I apply in creating my chosen image. That makes me a canvas painter. An artist painting on paper is usually a watercolorist. So, what do you call an artist who creates him images on a sidewalk? A concrete artist? Perhaps, but usually they're referred to a sidewalk artists. Over the years I've written about at least two, Joe Mangrum and Kurt Wenner. Joe creates complex abstract designs using colored sands; Wenner uses colored chalk to render his startling 3-D illusions on sidewalks literally all over the world. The next level beyond the works of Mangrum and Wenner is using a street, road, or highway as a base for creative expression. The difference is that when you switch to art on such a scale, the impermanence of sand and chalk dictate you also find a new color medium. In this case, it's highway (sometimes called asphalt) paint. Chalk and sand are fine for relatively small-scale works but when you're a "highway painter" you need paint and lots of it...gallons and gallons and gallons of it...not too mention the money to buy it and lots of help laying it down.
Mueller combines the natural features of the street with his catastrophic paintings to heighten the realism.
It all started in 1972 when the American painter, Gene Davis, a former Washington, D.C. sportswriter, decided to paint the world's largest work of art (414 feet long). He and a small army of volunteers set about painting the broad avenue leading up to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He called it Franklin's Footpath (top). The work consisted of a series of ten-inch-wide stripes (the width of a paint roller) in red, yellow, blue, aqua, white, pink, and green. The work has since been destroyed. In more recent years, street painters such as Edgar Mueller (above), are not satisfied in painting color field stripes but have manage to combine it with the best of 3-D illusions on a scale (above) rivaling Davis street stripes.

Though not as extended as the volcanic inferno seen in the previous painting, this one "works" visually from any point across its base.
One of the fundamental limitations of 3-D sidewalk art is the fact that, being relatively modest in size, they has only a single point of view beyond which the illusion becomes distorted, and eventually loses touch with reality. However the, larger the image, the larger that ideal "sweet spot" becomes. With an extended, elongated image, a camera positioned at virtually any point on the street will still capture an illusionary image.

This one ought to stop traffic, or at least slow it down.
In some cities, 3D illusionary speed bumps have been used successfully to do the same.
the Swiss-American art duo Sabina Lang and Daniel Baumann have made over the Strelka Bar in Moscow, as part of "Bistro 16," a collaborative project with fashion designers and artists. Lang and Baumann have transformed the outdoor street and the interior of the bar with iconic, simple and ergonomic forms, adding a burst of light and color to the environment. They have also maintained a naturalness as the streamlined forms highlighting the architecture while mimicking the lines of the surrounding road. Their flat installation continues their interest of integrating psychedelic geometry into unexpected spaces.

The Strelka Bar (on the left) with Lang and Baumann's
broad geometric strips just outside. Imagine
staggering out of a vodka bar at one a.m.
(Moscow time) and encountering this.

Not just any paint will do.

Lang and Baumann have worked together since 1990. Not ones to limit themselves to the confines of exhibition spaces, they have become known for creating works of art on an ambitious scale that all but takes over the public sphere (below). Attracted to unexploited public spaces, they compellingly intervene and in doing so, have gone on to create a range of on-site artworks including, murals, sculptures, and install-lations that play with architectural design elements. Their creations have included inaccessible staircases and parasitic inflatable structures that literally grow out of buildings. The streets of various cities are treated, then turned into a massive urban canvases which explore the overlooked dimensions within them. Always surprising and invasive, their art still manages to blend in perfectly with the urban and rural spaces that host them. With six paintings already completed in various locations since 2003, Lang & Baumann went on to create their seventh installment in the series in Rennes, France (below). Laid out along Jules Simon Street, it was right in the heart of Rennes where it remained until May of 2014.

While street paintings are far more durable than such art done in chalk, they have never come to be considered as permanent.
Conceptual art has even found it's place on the street. First you dump a substantial quantity of paint at an intersection, then let traffic do the rest.
Street art teaches young
children about safety.
If I were to say that street painting is not easy, the comment in return would be, "obviously." Actually some of the greatest difficulties in street painting have little to do with art, the paint, or the skills involved in applying it. Choos-ing a good location comes first followed by persuading the "powers that be" that such a massive work of art is just what they need to put their town on a map. That usually means closing the street to vehicular traffic for a short period (with geometric de-signs) and a much longer per-iod for those involving 3-D illusions. Obtaining donations to pay for the paint and still leave something for the artists is never easy. Then there's the matter of security. Street paint tends to dry fairly quickly, but even with the street closed to traffic, you don't want pedestrians tracking through the artwork. And finally, there's the matter of negotiating the timespan for the display (usually a year or two at most). Rome wasn't built in a day, but then again, neither Romulus nor Remus had in mind to paint stripes on the streets.

Slow! Children at play.

before playing.


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