don’t walk on the pavements

by Samyuktha PC

The story of Zeuxis and Parrhasius might be well-known to us as a localized tale in maybe a Tinkle comic. Born in southern Italy around 464 BC, no work of art survives to talk of how Zeuxis painted. The Naturalis Historia, however, prints the story of his defeat into history.  Once, he arrogantly challenged his contemporary, Parrhasius, to a painting competition. Zeuxis worked all night and unveiled a painting of grapes, so convincing that many birds flew down trying to peck at them. Parrhasius then led him to a curtain. Zeuxis tried hard to pull back the curtains, only to realize that Parrhasius had indeed painted curtains. He is rumored to have said, “I have deceived the birds, but Parrhasius has deceived Zeuxis.”

The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein (1533)

Later in the Baroque period, this perspective illusionism in art assumed the name ‘trompe l’oeil’, which means deceive the eye in French. Many artists have since tried to share the physical space of their work with the audience as an extension of explorations in realism and surrealism. In Italy, the I Madonnari, a group of nomadic artists, painted their work on the huge cathedrals, but were always in need of other sources of living once the cathedrals were done. They painted replications of their work with crude materials on the pavements waiting for pedestrians to throw coins for them. As pavement art developed, trompe l’oeil and anamorphosis were combined to create temporary masterpieces of chalk art.

Beneath Every Street by Julian Beever unearths the mechanics behind the luxuries the Western world takes for granted every day

Robert Charles Guillemin, pseudonymed as Sidewalk Sam, is a Boston-based artist, who is probably the first known pavement artist in the United States. He first took the streets in the summer of 1973, just like the I Madonnari, painting famous artworks on swarming sidewalks waiting for passersby to fill a bucket with change. In the early 1980s, he found some sponsors and shifted to more permanent paints. But it was his 30 feet fall from the roof of his home in 1994 that paralyzed him chest down that changed his life and work. His motto became, ‘Entertain, Inspire, Empower and Unite’. Ever since, in association with government agencies, cultural and community organizations, corporations, non-profits and individual art enthusiasts, he has organized art festivals, cultural events and participatory community projects that bring people together in extraordinary ways.

Protesters display posters, as they pose on a 380 square meter 3D farm artwork by world-famous pavement artist Kurt Wenner in front of the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Thursday Dec. 9 2010

Other well-known anamorphic pavement artists are Kurt Wenner and Julian Beever. The former’s association with Green Peace in their campaign against genetic modification of crops in 2010 collected over a million signatures. The latter dubbed as the ‘Pavement Picasso’ uses the projection technique to create three-dimensional illusions first designed on paper, then painted on the streets. Once the work is over, a camera is placed at a certain angle and distance for one to view the illusion.

Coca Cola by Julian Beever

Pavement art, and especially collage and anamorphic interpretations, have been incorporated heavily into advertising and marketing. It has even proved to be one of the most successful, effective and innovative ways to sell your products. Though the pavements continue to deceive you, are they not the perfect canvas for dialogue?.

“Thousands are held prisoners for their beliefs in places worse than this. Write until you free them all.” Amnesty International. (Advertising Agency: TBWA, Warsaw, Poland) 


Update from the Collective: We at Chai Kadai chose the internet as our first medium because we understand it as a public space. Dialogues start in a public space, where it is most needed. If you know of any artiste or issue relating to dialogue, art and public space please write to us in not more than 500 words and send it to chaikadai[at]gmail[dot]com.

2 thoughts on “don’t walk on the pavements

  1. Béatrice Coron «

What are you thinking about?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s