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Have a heart -- step around it

Julian Beever hopes to complete his artwork by 6 p.m., Redondo Beach Pier patrons willing.

September 29, 2007|Diane Haithman | Times Staff Writer

Chalk it up as a "before" picture, not the "after." On Thursday morning at Redondo Beach Pier, sidewalk artist Julian Beever had only just begun to sketch out what would be a three-day project: a chalk drawing that would turn a flat sidewalk into a seemingly three-dimensional, multicolor fantasy.

Still, one would think that, faced with a heart-shaped outline measuring 4 yards across, passersby might choose to walk around it. Not so. Oblivion was the order of the day as more than a few of the morning's sparse group of weekday pier visitors avoided the vast, unoccupied space surrounding the artwork and, instead, trekked right over it or even paused in the middle to continue a conversation.

You can't really blame the sea gulls that wheeled overhead, doing their best to turn the sketch into a homage to Jackson Pollock. But the people -- well, you have to conclude that the chance to buy a corn dog or see the preserved great white shark behind the gift shop ($1.50 a peek) is more compelling than it would seem at first glance.

But then, the quirks of human behavior are part of the story for "Concrete Canvas," a half-hour weekly series that follows Beever as he draws on sidewalks in 10 cities around the world.

The programs, scheduled to begin airing Oct. 22 on Gallery HD, a high-definition TV channel devoted to the visual arts, will be available nationally on the Dish Network satellite service (Channel 9472).

In each city, Beever spends three days creating an image he believes captures the essence of the town. In London, he drew Big Ben, with silent film star Harold Lloyd hanging from the clock face. In New York City, he depicts Andy Warhol and Liza Minnelli descending into a subway.

And what for Southern California?

"When I think of L.A., I think of a huge, urban drawing -- outdoor, urban, affluent, indulgent," Beever says. "So I'm doing a swimming pool, a heart-shaped, pink swimming pool with an L.A. chick sunning herself, sipping cocktails."

By about 6 p.m. today, the Redondo Beach picture would be complete. But on the first day of drawing, the image was little more than a giant heart drawn with ordinary white chalk -- blackboard-and-hopscotch chalk -- and apparently not immune to foot traffic.

But not much surprises Beever, a 49-year-old native of Leicestershire, England, who has been creating 3-D illusions on sidewalks for some 10 years, with breaks to teach art and English as a foreign language. The people are part of the process, and the interactions will find their way into the TV show.

Not all step on his art; many ask questions, as did several visitors -- not cocktail-sipping L.A. chicks, but polite older women in wind breakers and slacks -- to the Redondo Beach Pier.

"When I finished art college, I didn't know what I wanted to do," Beever says by way of explaining his unusual career choice. "I did a Punch and Judy show, and I did a bit of street entertainment too. I did this juggling show, but you get tired of repeating the same routine.

"So one day, I sort of decided I wanted to go traveling, and I didn't want to have to carry all this equipment, so in order to be able to earn money while traveling around the world, I thought I could try sidewalk art. And I saw some other sidewalk art in New York, and I thought, 'Well, I can do that, as well as that -- perhaps better.' So I had a go at that."

In his earlier travels, Beever visited Venice Beach, before he began doing 3-D work. "I think I drew George Washington and Abraham Lincoln," he recalls. "I don't think it was a very suitable subject for Venice Beach, but that was when I didn't know Venice Beach very well."

Beever says he has taken breaks from street art because it's not that easy to eke out a living from occasional donated coins. But both the artist and Tamar Hacker, director of programming and executive producer for Gallery HD, note that Beever began developing a large cult following when passersby began photographing his works and posting them on the Web. Those images, Hacker says, led to the TV series.

"We began thinking about using him for a how-to show; everybody remembers 'The Joy of Painting' with Bob Ross," Hacker says. "But since we had the advantage of working in high-definition, we didn't want to show him doing a how-to on a black background."

Redondo Beach Mayor Mike Gin met Beever at a welcoming reception on Thursday night and hopes to see the completed image, which can be viewed by visitors between 5 and 6 p.m. today. Redondo Beach plans to keep the artwork on the pier as long as it can be preserved and may cordon it off, Gin said.

"I'm honored, frankly, that he chose to create one of his masterpieces out here on our pier," Gin said. "His unique style attracts curiosity. It really opens up the next rich textures of art to many individuals who might not go to see it in an organized setting. I was, quite frankly, amazed."

diane.haithman@latimes.com

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