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Street-Level Art : A Centuries-Old Tradition Comes to Santa Barbara Next Weekend

April 26, 1987|Joyce Miller \f7

CENTURIES AGO, ITALIAN street painters were vagabonds, minstrels of the visual arts. They arrived in villages, painted or drew scenes in public squares, then vanished. Sometimes their artwork didn't stay around much longer, especially if rains came.

Today, one of the foremost practitioners of the European art of street-painting is a Southern Californian--Kurt Wenner, who drew "Dies Irae," pictured here, on a corner in Geneva, Switzerland, last summer. True to the vagabond tradition, Wenner travels most of the year, painting and studying. Next weekend he'll touch down in his hometown, Santa Barbara, to create one of his astonishing chalk works for an Italian-style street-painting festival, part of the bicentennial of the city's mission.

Wenner, who studied at the Rhode Island School of Design and at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, moved to Rome at age 22. His first street painting was done in front of the city's train station, an experience that introduced him to the challenges of this very public and transitory art form. Wenner, working in pastels he makes by hand, tailors his drawings to the angle from which they'll be viewed. Hung on a wall, they would look distorted, but on pavement they appear in proportion.

At the festival, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday on the mission parking lot, Wenner and fellow artist Manfred Stader will draw a scene of St. Francis speaking to the fish, with the Santa Barbara mission reflected in a pool. The rest of the parking area will be divided into more than 200 squares, the "canvases" for artists representing sponsors who have paid from $50 to $400 a square. In preparation for the influx of street painters, the 20,000-square-foot lot has been freshly paved with asphalt. Information about the festival, a benefit for the Children's Creative Project, can be obtained by telephoning (805) 963-8654. Old Mission Santa Barbara is at 2201 Laguna St.

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