Chalk in the park

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Over a hundred pieces of vibrant, life-sized art were created at the last official Via Colori in 2005, but the only remnants of them lie in visitors' memories and photographs. Just as the street-painting festival began to slip into the haze of time, organizers, artists and volunteers worked to bring it back to the Short North.

Via Colori will return to Goodale Park this weekend. More than 136 artists, professional and amateur, will create large-scale chalk pastel drawings during the two-day event. Thousands of spectators are anticipated for the free festival, which also boasts a strong lineup of local bands and food vendors.

One of the festival's most climactic moments is the lighting of more than 500 luminarias around the artwork Saturday night, said artist and former Via Colori participant Brian Williams.

Williams spoke more about his past experience at Via Colori.

What separates Via Colori from other art-gazing events?

It's definitely a lot more interactive. Going to Gallery Hop or any sort of art festival, you see the finished project and it's framed and ready to be bought. With Via Colori, you get to see the artist in action. It's as much fun watching the artist work as it is seeing their finished product.

What kind of artwork can people expect?

What really caught my eye was the variety of style. Some people were doing old family photos, giant chalk renditions. Some of them did these really beautiful abstract, kind of three-dimensional patterns that jumped up off the ground - they didn't look like flat chalk drawings. Some of them were just fully rendered scenes of dragons, castles and all sorts of crazy stuff.

I think many spectators are surprised by the level of detail in these street paintings. Tell me how you approach a design.

First layer, I do the flat areas of color. I get everything more or less down so I can see what I need to do next. I go back and start adding color on top of the colors. I can blend colors that way and kind of create the illusion of dimension, like adding a light color onto a dark color or doing highlights, shadows and things like that.

Many people play with chalk as a kid, but when did you really start exploring the medium?

In school at CCAD. For my illustrations, I did a lot of chalk and pastel. It's basically the same medium I use outside, just on paper.

What's the biggest adjustment when moving from paper to pavement?

The size. Both squares I did [in past Via Colori events] were six-feet-by-six-feet, so that's 36 [square] feet to cover and it literally took me all day. That and the amount of chalk you go through.

In 2005, you chalked a rendition of a Renoir painting for the Columbus Museum of Art. Was it hard to recreate a piece, let alone one by such a respected artist?

It was a little intimidating. Naturally it came across as a kind of a remix, a Renoir painting in my style. But the Impressionists worked in chalk themselves, so it was really an easy translation.

What kind of impressions, no pun intended, did you get from people?

[Laughs.] Everyone always has questions and I think that's what makes it so fun. They get to actually engage an artist in a conversation about their work, which is rare in any kind of art festival.

What did you enjoy most about participating in Via Colori?

It's probably the whole performance aspect. So much about being a visual artist can be sitting alone in your studio and nobody sees your stuff 'til you put it up in a gallery or an art festival. What's fun about Via Colori, and what was different in my experience, was working on something while people are walking around watching, seeing it in progress.