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StreetScapes puts a museum on Clifton asphalt

By Laura James · September 29th, 2007 · The Big Picture
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  Streetscapes takes over Tellford Avenue in Cliftonthis weekend.
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Streetscapes takes over Tellford Avenue in Cliftonthis weekend.



This weekend marks the sixth anniversary of the popular Clifton art fair STREETSCAPES, which allows local artists to re-create masterworks in chalk onto Telford Avenue. To give it a moniker like "art fair" is somehow deceptive. As the event's coordinator KIP EAGEN tells me, "It's unique (in that) it is the only art fair in our area that has nothing for sale, no judging, no awards."

Instead, participants in StreetScapes -- who range from individual artists to teams of a half dozen -- think of it in terms of performance and a little art history lesson.

The artists began in workshops several months ago, picking famous works of art to re-create. They sketched and planned. They made diagrams. Then they made their chalk, something designed specifically to adhere to pavement.

"It's a compound of beeswax, linseed oil, Ivory soap. (The artists) literally push the pigment into the compound," Eagen says.

This weekend marks the sixth anniversary of the popular Clifton art fair STREETSCAPES, which allows local artists to re-create masterworks in chalk onto Telford Avenue. To give it a moniker like "art fair" is somehow deceptive.

As the event's coordinator KIP EAGEN tells me, "It's unique (in that) it is the only art fair in our area that has nothing for sale, no judging, no awards."

Instead, participants in StreetScapes -- who range from individual artists to teams of a half dozen -- think of it in terms of performance and a little art history lesson.

The artists began in workshops several months ago, picking famous works of art to re-create. They sketched and planned. They made diagrams. Then they made their chalk, something designed specifically to adhere to pavement.

"It's a compound of beeswax, linseed oil, Ivory soap. ... (The artists) literally push the pigment into the compound," Eagen says.

The process of transferring image on paper to image on street is not as straightforward as it might sound.

"The technique is like a fresco," Eagen says, referring to the Italian wall painting. "The artists draw the images large-scale and make a cartoon or a template."

The cartoon is then laid on the street, and artists poke holes in the paper, marking where the image will lie with baby powder. The baby powder serves as a basic outline to the picture they will then fill in.

About 5,000 people will come to watch the artists work this weekend. The visitors will see an early Jackson Pollock (still in the figurative stage, says Eagen; just imagine the precision it would take to re-create "Number One"), a Picasso, a Manet, the Pieta, a Norman Rockwell, a Renoir, some Non-Western art and a Franz Marc. In other words, the artists have chosen masterworks from various centuries, countries, aesthetics and movements.

"It's a museum of the streets," Eagen says.

And he's right. Not only does the art mimic a museum but also the artists themselves act much like docents and curators. They have all spent time learning about their artists -- the careers, the materials, their skill -- which allows them to interact with the crowd, answering questions, telling stories, engaging.

Art fairs like this are not unique to Cincinnati: Many cities and towns in America have them. More than that, however, is the history of art fairs like StreetScapes.

"It goes back a long time," Eagen says. "In the 16th century, itinerant painters would come (to a town), and the town would take them in."

During their time there, these itinerant painters would showcase what was happening in other parts of the world -- a kind of contemporary art lesson in the days before slides and lectures in darkened rooms, before museums were open to the public, before books came cheaply with high-resolution images.

So it has been, and continues to be, a form of interactive teaching. The lessons are never boring and they come accompanied by the straightforward awe of making something beautiful right before someone else's eyes.

For the artists, it is a happening of sorts. The special chalk will set into the pavement for up to two months, fading day by day. It is never meant to be permanent. Like Buddhist monks with sand mandalas or graffiti artists knowing full well the city will paint over their work, the creation of StreetScapes plays around with the notion of the masterwork -- the fight against time is always lost.

There will also be a "Kiddie Area" in the fair, where children get ordinary street chalk at no cost and are able to create their own blocks of wonder.

And a street fair just isn't a street fair without musicians, magicians, face-painters and Irish dancers.

StreetScapes, which is free and open to all ages, runs 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.



contact laura james: ljames(at)citybeat.com
 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
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