Chalk artists create 3D illusions on the the streets of Atlantic City

 Japanese artist Tomoteru Saito of Japan created this dinosaur. (Alaina Mabaso/for NewsWorks)

Japanese artist Tomoteru Saito of Japan created this dinosaur. (Alaina Mabaso/for NewsWorks)

On Indiana Avenue, near Bally’s Casino in Atlantic City, a giant centipede crawled out of a yawning black hole in the pavement where a sewer cover had been dislodged. But instead of running away, a crowd of families were getting out their cameras.

That’s because the leggy giant was a magical mix of tempura paint and sidewalk chalk from Ukrainian artist Alex Voiskam, one of fourteen artists who came from around the world last week for the DO AC 3D Chalk Art Festival. With subjects ranging from a giant Monopoly board and seascapes to bugs, dinosaurs and astronauts, the free festival drew 3D thrill-seekers to Indiana Avenue from September 17-22nd.

Blowing up Monopoly

The festival was organized by globe-trotting chalk artist Tracy Lee Stum, a former Temple University student who is now based in Ventura, CA, and the Atlantic City Alliance. Chatting with NewsWorks at the festival last Saturday, she remained on high alert as onlookers couldn’t resist walking across her giant Monopoly board, where flat chalk dice and Monopoly game pieces loomed up fantastically from the pavement.

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“It never fails—we finish, and literally within five minutes, there’s a child in the middle of it,” she said of the challenges of street art. But that’s the joy of it, as well: “I love fostering imagination,” she added, explaining that in addition to creating her chalk masterpieces, she teaches workshops on the venerable art form across the world.

A world-record holder

Stum holds the Guinness record for the world’s largest chalk painting by an individual: a version of Da Vinci’s Last Supper that was 35 feet long and 18 feet high. As it turns out, Da Vinci’s famous mural is only about a century older than the art of street painting itself. This public art form can be traced back to 16th century Italy. Traveling artists known as “madonnari” chalked Madonna and Child pictures on church and cathedral pavements for holy festivals.

Anamorphic illusions

Today, Stum explained, artists have a wide range of tools to achieve what’s called contemporary anamorphic art, a “designed method or technology used to create the illusion of 3D on 2D surfaces.” It’s a method of drawing founded on the geometry of perspective, often using photography or computer programs as tools to achieve the final chalk-and-paint illusion.

She said each Festival artist brought his or own vision and design, including an idea of how viewers might interact with the pieces. Some of them worked from very specific plans, and some preferred to work in the moment, adding to their pieces during every day of the festival.

Trampling the art

Stum’s own Monopoly board drew a steady stream of fans on Saturday who couldn’t resist putting themselves in the middle of it. “They don’t realize the minute they step on it, it’s going to start disintegrating,” she said, showing young visitors where to safely put their feet. But the ephemeral nature of the work is part of its charm.

Stum and her Monopoly partner, Sharyn Chan Namnath, chose to depict the classic game because it’s such a “quintessential” touchstone for the area.

“What a great piece to honor Atlantic City,” Stum said. “It’s a fun piece for people to play with and recognize.”

Beware the Tyrannosaur

Some artists chose to work in chalk only, and others used tempura paints as well, which are just as washable once the rain comes through. Japanese artist Tomoteru Saito of Japan delighted visitors with a parallel universe that seemed to appear underneath a crumbling hole in the pavement: Tyrannosaurs running amok on the streets of a city below the asphalt, with one hungry reptile rearing up to snap at passersby. Some pieces were designed to be viewed with the naked eye, and some looked best through the eye of a provided lens.

The painter painting the painter

Nearby, Belfast-born artist Gary Palmer was working on a smaller chalk drawing titled “The Painter Painting the Painter Painting…” In it, a cave man paints gazelles on the wall in one corner, while another man paints a scaffold that holds another man working on a mural, while a chalk-drawn artist on the sidewalk appears to be drawing the whole scene himself. Palmer explained that he, too, becomes part of the piece as he draws that artist on the pavement.

Unlike many other Festival participants, Palmer enjoys a “minimum ingredient” approach, using the color and texture of the actual pavement, “weaving lines like a classical drawing” to complete the illusion.A former architect whose studio is now based in Venice, CA (where the sunny, dry climate is perfect for a sidewalk artist), Palmer added that after many years of chalk art, he has become more interested in the narrative in his works, rather than the scale or sheer spectacle.

“I like it to evolve on the street,” he said of his improvisational approach to the work. “I’m very willing to veer away from the sketch.”

The DO AC 3D Chalk Art Festival was held on South Indiana Avenue between Pacific Avenue and the Boardwalk from September 17th-22nd, featuring fourteen artists from eight countries.


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