Revisiting Italy and the History of Chalk Art

A fellow member of my book club recently rented a copy of our CHALK DVD from Moreland City Libraries and after viewing it, she took the time to write to me and tell me how much she enjoyed it.

Her comments took me back to the time I was first introduced to the world of pavement art, and the wonder that chalk art can create.

“I have often marvelled at footpath chalk artists when I saw them at work in the CBD, but had little appreciation, other than as a ‘passer-by’ of the big story behind their work” she explained, “The DVD took me from Hope Street Brunswick (literally around the corner from home) to that unique festival in Italy – and as I met Jenny, Anton and the other artists, I learned so much about their talent and decades of commitment to their art. The DVD was fantastic in every way and took my understanding to an altogether new level”.

It’s 5 years since Jenny McCracken and Anton Pulvirenti travelled to Lombardy to compete in the Incontro Nazionale dei Madonnari, the world’s most influential and gruelling pavement art competition and I’ve been fondly remembering that journey as I watched the artists participating in this years competition.  Since then our documentary has screened on TV in Australia, UK, NZ and around the world on Qantas.

Now you can own your own copy and relive the journey with us, and learn more about the intense and intricate world of street art (it comes ‘Highly Recommended” by Mary!).

For more information and to view the DVD trailer click this link or for more info about our chalk artists head to the Zest website.

Australian Artist Wins World Street Painting Festival

Arnhem, Netherlands played host to the World Street Painting Festival from 9-12 July.  Thirteen artists from Italy, Germany, Ukraine, Holland, USA, Mexico, Ireland and Australia were invited to produce 3D artworks based on the theme ‘Inspired by Van Gogh’.

Australia’s Champion Pavement Artist Jenny McCracken and I travelled to the event to represent Chalk Urban Art Festival. The standard of work was incredibly high and neither of us expected Jenny to take out top prize. “It’s a real honour to be recognised amongst such an exceptional group of international artists” said McCracken, “it was a well curated event and great to see the public being so responsive and posing in the artworks”.

1ST:  Jenny McCracken (Melbourne, AUSTRALIA)
Photo courtesy of Michelangelo LC

2ND: Roberto Carlos Trevino Rodriguez (Monterrey, MEXICO)

3RD: Ruben Poncia (Utrecht, NETHERLANDS)

The jury consisted of representatives of City of Arnhem and Arnhem Museum.  Jenny McCracken was chosen because of her concept, effectiveness of 3D, technique, composition, colour and interactivity.

Usually the artists would work in chalk but this year they worked with latex paints.  The artworks will be on display in Arnhem for the next two months.

To see more images visit Chalk Urban Art’s Facebook page and contact us if you’d like to find out more.

Read all about Jenny’s win in the Herald Sun.

Putting it in Perspective

Putting it in Perspective

In preparation for the World Street Painting Festival, this week your intrepid reporter Andi Mether travelled with Australian artist Jenny McCracken, Dutch artists Leon Keer and Marije Spelbos, and Irish artist Gary Palmer to The Hague to visit Escher in het Paleis and Mauritshuis.

The Escher Museum is a wonderful mind twist of magical illusions, the perfect place to play with perspective.

Escher’s constructions can exist within art but not in reality. Many of his works appear to make sense but on closer inspection you can see that Escher connected various details to create an impossible reality.

Escher went to secondary school in Arnhem (location of the World Street Painting Festival), it’s here that he began dreaming of the impossible staircase and failed his final exams. He went on to study graphic design at the Haarlem School of Architecture and Decorative Arts.

Our next stop – Mauritshuis to visit the Dutch and Flemish masters, in particular Vermeer’s ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’.

We were entranced by Vermeer’s soft and luscious colours, enthralled by Rembrandt’s brush strokes, and particularly enjoyed the humour in Avercamp’s ‘Ice Scene’ painted in 1610, especially the ‘photo bomber’ (can you spot him in the image below?)

To our amazement we also discovered graffiti in ‘The Tomb of William the Silent in the Niewe Klerk in Delft’ painted by Gerard Houckgeest in 1651.


All in all an inspirational day!

Next post – we’ll see how the artists fared at the World Street Painting Festival.  To see the daily progress our Facebook page.


Aussies Abroad – Netherlands Here We Come!

Well, it’s time to wave the Aussie flag again. It’s almost 3 years since we caught up with our overseas counterparts in Europe and the USA. In lieu of holding Chalk Urban Art Festival this year Australia’s most highly awarded pavement artist, Jenny McCracken and I are heading to the Netherlands.  Our first stop is Utrecht to work on a project with Dutch artist Leon Keer for the UK’s Chester Zoo and then on to Arnhem for the World Street Painting Festival.

On our last visit to Europe we filmed the documentary ‘Chalk: An Australian Perspective’ which has since screened on SBS1 in Australia, Sky Arts in UK and NZ, as well as the Pacific Islands. ‘Chalk’ explores the history of pavement art, its origins in Italy in the 16th Century and how this once dying art form has evolved and exploded in popularity around the world. We travelled to Grazie di Curtatone in Lombardy to compete at the world’s most influential yet gruelling pavement art competition, ‘Incontro Nazionale dei Madonnari’ and Jenny McCracken won a gold medal for Australia.  In Sydney in 2014 we showed the world what we could do by creating Australia’s largest 3D Street Painting at Customs House in Sydney, the media reach was over 44 million – you can view time-lapse footage here.

Australia’s most highly awarded pavement artist Jenny McCracken

Our journey this year is about reconnecting with our international counterparts, as it is with most of you, we too have our industry conferences where we research and share techniques and collaborate on ideas. Jenny McCracken will be representing Australia at the Festival in Arnhem while I’ll be working behind the scenes with the organisers (local Council) and international artists. I’ll also be speaking with the public and seeing how they engage with the various artists. After all, that’s why we do this – its art for the people by the people in a public space. Festivals like this bring people from all cultural and socio-economic backgrounds together to inspire, evoke and share ideas.

Stay tuned for updates!

You can reach Andi Mether through our contact page.

Chalk: An Australian Perspective – NOW SCREENING!

Our Chalk documentary airs on SBS1 7 October at 1pm

‘Chalk: An Australian Perspective’ follows Australia’s Champion Pavement Artists Jenny McCracken and Anton Pulvirenti

We journey with them to the piazza of Grazie di Curtatone in Italy to compete at the world’s most influential yet gruelling pavement art competition, Incontro Nazionale dei Madonnari.  We explore how this once dying art form has evolved and exploded in popularity around the world.

My Blue Angel, 3d chalk art by Jenny McCracken










Above: ‘My Blue Angel’ 3D chalk art by Australia’s Jenny McCracken

We meet Master Artist Kurt Wenner, the inventor of 3D pavement art and share in the excitement as Jenny McCracken wins gold and achieves her dream of becoming the first Australian Madonnara.

Narrated by Charles Waterstreet, CHALK: An Australian Perspective explores the art of street painting and the passion these artists have for chalk.

‘CHALK: An Australian Perspective’ airs on Foxtel’s Studio Channel at 9pm on Thursday 28th August on SBS1 on 7 October at 1pm. View the trailer here:

A Zest Events International production
Financed with the assistance of Forming Circles and Mrs C.Norman.
Format: HD
1 x 54 minutes

Distributor: Lara von Ahlefeldt, SBS International

Executive Producer: Renata Cooper
Produced and Directed by: Andi Mether
Written by: Andi Mether and Claire Balart
DOP: Claire Balart
Editor: Rodrigo Balart

Lucy Turnbull – Chalk Ambassador

Urbanist, business woman and philanthropist, Lucy Hughes Turnbull AO, has just been  confirmed as Ambassador of Australia’s international pavement art competition Chalk Urban Art Festival. This unique street festival will attract a live audience of 200,000+ people and far greater extended audience online. It’s where people come to check out what the cool kids are doing, a showcase of talent, inspiration and innovation.

Lucy Turnbull with Charles Waterstreet at the VIP screening of Chalk: An Australian Perspective

Lucy Turnbull with Charles Waterstreet at the VIP screening of Chalk: An Australian Perspective

“I’m proud to be involved with this exciting event”, said Ms Turnbull. “As an advocate for social innovation and the Arts, I’m looking forward to seeing Sydney’s streets transformed into an open-air gallery that brings people together and showcases Australia’s talents to the world.”

Chalk Urban Art Festival will be held in Customs House forecourt, in the heart of Sydney this October. The centre-piece to the event is a spectacular 3D street painting which will showcase the incredible talents of artists to the public. Visitors get to see the artworks come to life on the pavement and have the opportunity to speak to the artists while they work.

Participants in previous events have gone on to make careers for themselves and represent Australia at festivals and events around the world.


Kurt Wenner – Recreating Creativity

While at Sarasota Chalk Festival I attended a lecture on creativity by Master Artist, Kurt Wenner and almost 3 weeks later I’m still thinking about it.  Here’s a very brief summary that touches on a few points that were discussed as well as a few images that demonstrate Wenner’s creativity.  

In his lecture Wenner discussed how society is starting to realise that creativity is a vital part of human intelligence that may determine the success or failure of an individual or even of a nation in the next decades. But, he questions, how can creativity be incorporated into education systems when it’s own definition is flawed?

According to Wikipedia,  Creativity refers to the invention or origination of any new thing (a product, solution, artwork, literary work, joke, etc.) that has value. 

So if this is the definition who determines the value and when do they do it?  Definitions from other sources aren’t much better. The current definitions keeps creativity peripheral when it should be central.  Creativity is present, it is not past while knowledge is past and never present.   A good teacher needs to bring text into the present. 

According to Wenner, creativity has two parts  1. the idea, which is non-physical, eternal, pervasive and cannot be owned; and 2. the process, how it becomes real.  Creativity is the process of manifesting an idea. It’s an ongoing process that includes destruction. For without destruction, how can there be change and growth?

Historical preconceptions about what creativity is and how it operates need to be pushed aside to develop a new education system the enables students to bring their dreams to life in the physical world.  Wenner has spent a lifetime creating art forms, works of art and architecture, as well educational programs in a vast array of venues and media. Central to his own creative process is the knowledge of both classicism and sacred geometry — two subjects that have been removed from general education in the US.

Currently education is about testing.  Corporations are all about competing.  Rather than basing everything on survival of the fittest, Wenner suggests we should look at better ways to interact.  Throughout his lecture, Wenner illustrated how a new approach to the idea of creativity can lead to an infinite number of discoveries and inventions.

So Kurt Wenner you have stirred up the bees I have in my bonnet about education and reignited my passion for arts in education.  My own education in Australia was fraught with text book teaching which stifled my creativity, thankfully I overcame the boredom of my schooling and have taken revenge by producing arts education programs to inspire students and conference art programs that engage audience and invite ideas and further their development.  This too is why Chalk Urban Art Festival exists, it’s a public platform for social commentary, where ideas are born and developed.  

Stay tuned for a TED talk by Kurt Wenner in the near future on this subject. To find out more about the arts education and conference art programs organised by Zest Events International Pty Ltd, contact Andi Mether.

Sarasota Chalk Festival 2012 – It’s a wrap!

Well over a hundred thousand people visited Sarasota Chalk Festival this year, I was one of the lucky ones to experience the festival from start to finish and see international chalk artists, street painters and graff artists produce magnificent works of art.  Having taken a sabbatical from Chalk Urban Art Festival to experience other festivals and explore international opportunities I am really glad I included Sarasota on my list this year.Sarasota Chalk Festival has a great program that attracts people from far and wide. In addition to the artworks there was great music, spectacular circus performances, artist talks including a lecture by Master Artist Kurt Wenner (my next blog will be about this) and a performance by Dance Fuzion on Kurt Wenner’s 3D artwork.  My own program was very full when I included  local attractions (Lido Beach, Siesta Key, Ringling Museum).   

When directing Chalk Urban Art Festival it’s all go, go, go; visiting Sarasota Chalk Festival I seized the opportunity to experience it from all different angles – volunteer, visitor and this may surprise you…chalk artist!  Experiencing the festival from all angles was brilliant, I was able to step back and be objective and think about it in relation to our festival.  I met many people , brainstormed ideas and have started the ground work for new plans for Chalk Urban Art Festival.  Being an artist at the event, well that was fabulous, receiving affirmations from visitors to the festival had me on a high each evening that made the body aches and pains disappear.  

Hats off to Denise Kowal and her strong team of volunteers.  While the artists are the stars of the show and are totally inspirational, without the unsung heroes behind the scenes on this event and other chalk festivals around the world it would not exist at all.  I’m looking forward to Chalk Urban Art Festival working with Sarasota Chalk Festival in the future.

Visit Sarasota Chalk Festival on Facebook to see more images from the Festival.

To stay up to date with the latest from Chalk Urban Art Festival, register on our website as an artist, volunteer or fan; find out how you can get involved and be sure to follow us on Facebook.

Wallenda crosses the line

Day four of Sarasota Chalk Festival and the artworks are coming to life.  The variety of interpretations of the circus theme is a heaps of fun for all attending. 
Watching Master Artist Kurt Wenner and his team produce the major street painting is a highlight everyday but today we had a nail biting experience when world renowned hire-wire walker Nik Wallenda arrived on site to pull one of his more daring stunts.

Wallenda who has just completed a crossing of Niagara Falls was back in his home town to walk on a high-wire line created by pavement artists Anthony Cappetto, Shawn McCann and Wendy Stum. The three artists admitted this was the first time they have every tied a knot for a high-wire line and feared they could be putting him in danger. It was a breathtaking moment when Wallenda walked the wire today but true to form he survived the danger zone and lives to face his next challenge, crossing the Grand Canyon.


Inspired by the circus theme I took time out today to visit Sarasota’s Ringling Museum of Art.  The museum was once the home of John & Mabel Ringling, John Ringling was one of the five original circus kings of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, he was an entrepreneurial genius who made his home in Sarasota. He invested heavily in the area and made Sarasota the winter of home for his Circus.  The Museum houses a wonderful Circus Museum included a miniature circus created by Howard Tibbals, this is a must see – its an  incredibly beautiful 3,800 square foot replica of The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.  You can also see hand-carved painted wagons, circus memorabilia and John and Mabel’s private train car.  Another wonder of this museum is John & Mabel’s incredible art collection which includes Rubens, Van Dyck, Gainsborough as well as early twentieth century bronze and stone casts of iconic Classical, Renaissance, and Baroque sculptures including Michelangelo’s David from Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Italy.

Ringling Museum of Art
 houses an incredible collection, it’s a fabulous place to visit and a great companion to Sarasota Chalk Festival.


Sarasota Chalk Art Festival begins

After a great evening out in Deep Ellum checking out the street murals and live music scene in Dallas I made my way back to Dallas Airport (is there a bigger airport in the world?) and caught a flight to Sarasota.

First day on site was a reunion!  I caught up with Denise Kowal, the Organiser of Sarasota Chalk Festival and artists I met in Italy including Tommo Saito (Japan/Italy), Marion Ruthardt (Germany), Ruben Martinez (Mexico), Cesar Paredes Pacora (Peru) and many others.  They and others are here to work with Master Artist Kurt Wenner on his 3D illusion designed for Sarasota Chalk Festival.  

Kurt Wenner and Bernardo von Hessberg were the inspiration for Chalk Urban Art Festival in Australia. Kurt will also feature in our documentary It’s been great catching up with him here in Sarasota and I’m really looking forward to spending more quality time with him over the next few days and seeing this new artwork come to life.










On day two of the festival the 3D street paintings and graff works on the vertical spaces are slowly coming to life on Pineapple Avenue (got to love all the tooty fruity street names in Sarasota!).  Over the next few days the artworks and crowds will build.  Australia’s Champion Pavement Artist and first Madonnara Jenny McCracken joins ‘Team Kurt’ tomorrow, I’ll be catching up with her and reporting back in on further progress here in Sarasota, Florida.


In Dallas, Texas having a nice day…

Dallas Skyline in TexasI can’t remember being in a place where everyone is so polite, even the discussions about the election are polite!  “Have a nice day” they say, and so that’s what I did.   I’m here in Dallas for a 2 night stopover before going to Sarasota Chalk Festival in Florida.  After the long haul flights to Europe back in August I was determined to take a break this time and I’m very glad I did.

Dallas has a great art scene and Tex-Mex food is perfect for this hungry art fan.  After ducking into North Park Mall and grabbing a pair of Levi’s to fight off the cold (9 degrees today – brrr!), I’m sure it’s no surprise to anyone that my first stop was the Dallas Museum of Art.  Situated in the Dallas Arts District, the Museum hosts an incredible collection of over 25,000 works of art from all over the world.  It’s easy to lose a few hours here, highlights for me included seeing paintings by Picasso, Pisarro, Monet, Mondrian, Modigliani, Frida Kahlo, Diego Riviera and Winston Churchill (until today I did not know that he painted – did you?), as well as many sculptures by Henry Moore, Andy Warhol’s ‘Electric Chair’ series of silk screen prints and a wide range of American Art which includes painted works as well as furniture, ceramics, glass and silver.  I really enjoyed seeing the American collection and learning more about artists such as Church, Hopper, O’Keefe and Wyeth.  The Ancient American Collection is also fantastic, it includes ceramic vessels, stone sculptures and plenty of gold objects from Peru, Columbia, Guatemala, Mexico and south-west US.


The Dallas Arts District is also home to the Nasher Sculpture Center, Crow Collection of Asian Art, the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, the AT&T Performing Arts Center, the Winspear Opera House and much more.  It’s a beautiful area that hosts much talent.  Like I said earlier, I only wish I had more time but now it’s time to explore Deep Ellum and the night scene there and while I do that, you make sure you…



On to Geldern for the 34th International Street Art Competition!

Following Grazie Jenny and I headed to Geldern for the 34th International Street Art Competition in Grazie.  Geldern is a total contrast to Grazie.  This event first started in 1979 to celebrate the 750th anniversary of Geldern.  While the Council thought it should be a one-off event, the public had other ideas – they voiced their opinions and were heard and thus here we are at the 34th anniversary.

This town opens it arms to street painters, in fact you could say this town is breeding street painters.  Children as young as 4 years old take part in the festival, all ages do – children, youth, adults from the town and surrounding area as well as more experienced artists from other countries. Approximately 35,000 people live in Geldern and this year 332 people participated – numbers were lower than expected due to the extreme heat.  

Jenny McCracken was guest artist at this years event.  She was last in Geldern in 1991, at that time she and Roland Josuttis won first place with their artwork ‘Red Gorbi’ based on Yeltsin taking over from Gorbachev. 21 years later the duo reunited to produce ‘Iron Ladies’ – Angela Merkel and Julia Gillard enjoy European and Australian teamwork.

Jenny McCracken and Roland Josuttis winners at Geldern in 1991 with 'Red Gorbi'

Angela Merkel and Julia Gillard enjoy European and Australian teamwork as do Jenny McCracken and Roland Josuttis in 2012

While Jenny and Roland and all the other artists worked, I met with Gerd Lange from the city of Geldern and shared information about Geldern and Australia’s Chalk Urban Art Festival and discussed ideas for the future and opportunities for artists.  I also met with many artists who would love to come to Australia – stay tuned for more news on that, discussions will continue with Festival Organisers from Italy, Mexico, France, USA and the Netherlands as well as Germany. 

Arrivederci Grazie…

There were so many outstanding artworks at Grazie that we couldn’t depart for Germany where Jenny is guest artist at the Geldern Street Art Festival without sharing some more images with you.  

Find out more about the colourful characters we met on our journey in our documentary which will be released in early 2013.  Be sure to stay in touch with us so we can keep you informed as to where you can view it as well as the latest news about Australia’s own Chalk Urban Art Festival .

Australia’s first Madonnara

Australia’s Jenny McCracken has won first place in her division in the ‘Olympics’ of Street Painting in Grazie di Curtatone, Italy and will return to home as Australia’s first Madonnara of Grazie.  Jenny impressed the judges with her original design, technique and skill of anamorphic perspective.  

Jenny McCracken wins first prize in her division at Grazie di Curtatone

There are 3 levels to the competition in Grazie.  While Jenny has one the title of Champion Pavement Artist twice in Australia, she came in to the competition in Grazie as a novice in the ‘Madonnari Semplici’ division. She now enters the next level ‘Qualificato’, the next step will be to win that division to become a ‘Maestro’,  This is a fierce competition at all levels, but as Jenny has said, it is more a competition against the fierce heat, the rough surface and lack of sleep than against the other artists.  The 24 hour competition definitely requires stamina, a strong mind and fit body to work all night.. 

This year is the 40th anniversary of the world’s original street painting festival, Incontro Nazionale dei Madonnari.  When the festival began a handful of artists took part in the festival.  The hope was to keep this traditional art form alive. 40 years later 146 artists from Italy, Germany, France, Japan, Mexico, Peru, USA, Korea, North Africa and Australia have made the pilgrimage to Grazie to pay homage to the traditions of the art form.

The winner of the Qualificato Division and the new Maestro winner is Juandres Vera from Mexico for his original artwork ‘La Pieta’.  



The competition heats up…

The competition and the temperature are heating up!  Most of the artists have worked right through the night, some have slept by their artworks, others have managed short breaks.  

Today is the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, thousands of people attend mass conducted by the Bishop of Mantova. People continue to flow through the piazza as the artworks form an incredible gallery of colour and passion by artists from all over the world.  It is a majestic sight.  The endurance  of the artists is to be applauded.  Regardless of the official results everyone here is a winner in our eyes.  With 5 hours to go everyone is working hard to be finished by the 5pm deadline.  Everyone is a winner in our eyes.



The ‘Olympics’ of Street Painting begins!

Artists from around the world have descended on Grazie di Curtatone for the 40th anniversary of Incontro Nazionale dei Madonnari.  The festival opened with a street parade reflecting the medieval history of the region followed by an airshow and skydivers parachuting into the piazza delivering chalk to the Bishop to bless and distribute to the artists. The Mayor and other dignatories were also present and journalists and photographers from around the world are here to capture every moment.

The atmosphere in the piazza heated up as the competition began.  Literally thousands of people have come to see the artists at work.  Thankfully the temperature has cooled and there is no rain in sight.

Australia’s Jenny McCracken is doing well but has a long way to go yet!  The talent pool is incredible – we’ve met and interviewed many artists from Japan, Mexico, USA, The Netherlands, France, Germany, Columbia, Peru and Italy.  While the artists work, the festival organisers from are discussing exchange programs and further opportunities for these fabulous people to take their art to the people all around the world.   

We’ll provide a further update and keep you up to date with the progress of the artists in a few hours… 

Anticipation builds, artists prepare and organisers from around the world meet

The temperatures and humidity are set to soar tomorrow, artists from all over the world are arriving and registering for tomorrow’s competition.  The pavements have been swept, cracks from the recent earthquakes are being filled and many espressos are being consumed as artists nervously examine their allotted spaces and make their preparations.

I suspect Jenny will be up late tonight finalising her designs.  The more preparation, the easier it will be on site for her.  While she has 24 hours to complete her design, the heat and potential rain could dramatically cut down her time.

Today was an important day for Festival Organisers from around the world.  I represented Australia at the International meeting of Street Painting / Pavement Art Festivals.  Organisers from Italy, Holland, Germany, Mexico, USA, Peru  also attended.  There was much discussion about the respect for the Madonnari and maintaining traditions as well as funding and government relations.  

40 years ago in Grazie, 5 artists were brought together, the intention was to document these last living artists and their work.  Pavement art was a vanishing art form, the gathering wasn’t designed to be an on-going event, it morphed into that.  Tomorrow 146 artists will participate, around the world over dozens of festivals are now held.  As a result of the meeting an international association will be set up to enhance the future of the art form.  It is great to be part of such an important page of art history.  More news tomorrow!




Benvenuti Australiani

We are in Grazie!  The Australian delegation are the first to arrive in Grazie di Curtatone and have been warmly welcomed by the organisers of the festival and the residents of this tiny town.  We are all extremely excited to be here.  

Jenny has been quick to get out and assess the surface she’ll be working on.  The ground is stained with the remains of artworks from last year.  In some areas the ground is badly cracked, in others splotches of tar mark the space.  Fingers crossed she’ll have a good space to work on.  

While Jenny prepares, we’re filming and lining up our interviews, we will visit the Street Painting Museum and Church this afternoon.  This evening there will be a gathering of Madonnari and a memorial service in honour of Toto, a very popular artist who passed away last year.  The next few days are going to be very interesting.
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