Victoria welcomes classic art at street level

First chalk art festival touches ground

Government Street chalk art fixture Ian Morris helped inspire Victoria’s first chalk art festival

It’s a medium that is fleeting but delivers high art at street level. Chalk art lives at the mercy of the wind and rain and shoes.

Most people who have strolled the old section of Government Street have seen this art from the talented hand of Ian Morris, who most often sketches recreations of the Renaissance masters – haunting images of Raphael, Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci.

Where the work of Morris occupies small sidewalk spaces, the first Victoria International Chalk Art Festival will bring a full-blown exposition to Government Street next weekend.

Five artists, including Morris, will have two days to create 8 x 10 foot masterpieces on Government, which will be closed between Fort and Yates streets. Tracy Lee Stum, the premier 3D chalk artist in the world, will start Sept. 12 in the lower level of the Bay Centre on a 20 x 20 foot creation.

For Morris, this is the first time in his nine years as a chalk artist that he’ll meet his peers from around North America.

“From the start I hoped something like this would happen eventually. I’m proud to bring this art form to Victoria and proud it’s got to this level,” Morris said. “I’m eager to meet others of my tribe.”

The 44-year-old artist admits he started street art as a means to pay the bills. Now he’s embraced the centuries-old tradition of the Madonnari – Italian folk artists focused on drawing images of the biblical Madonna on sidewalks. Morris focuses on Renaissance reproductions, but is also developing “3D” art – images that appear eerily three dimensional when viewed at a specific angle through a camera lens.

“I enjoy the classical reproductions a lot. There’s power in them – grace, beauty, history,” Morris says. “But I got tired of people asking me about 3D (chalk art), so I decided to up my game. They’re a lot of fun, but it’s like learning to draw all over.”

Morris sees his art as part of a larger tapestry of encouraging a vibrant downtown core and creating compelling public spaces grounded in art and culture.

“My real imperative is community. (My art) is a tool to make this a community where people want to be,” Morris says. “There’s more to city life than shopping and working – or there ought to be.”

This philosophy meshes with the goals of John Vickers, creator of the chalk art festival, and the international busker festival, which completed its second season this summer.

“This is part of a bigger picture. Years back I was looking to create three international festivals for the downtown,” says Vickers, noting that he’s looking at a kite festival for the third festival event. “I’m a passionate supporter of downtown. This is about creating free entry, family-friendly festivals in the downtown.”

Vickers, known for his pumpkin art, had the inspiration for a chalk art festival after seeing Morris’ work, and then travelling to Sarasota, Fla., to see North America’s largest chalk art festival, organized by Denise Kowal. It’s Kowal’s connections that allowed Vickers to draw top talent to an untested, first-time festival in Victoria.

“It’s an opportunity to get a considerable number of people down there. An overwhelming number of merchants support this. It’s a boon to business,” Vickers said. “We’ve got to promote the downtown and give it more of a sense of community. We have to keep the downtown relevant.”

“(Vickers) is on the same page as me. To make the downtown a human community you need life, and bringing festivals is a way to do that,” Morris agreed.

Over the years, Morris has become an expert on creating art on sidewalks – he says the brick on Government street sidewalks is ideal for for chalk art. The pebbled road surface might be tougher.

“The road is different. It’s like silk to sandpaper,” he says, shrugging. “You just do what you can.”

Tracy Lee Stum will begin her chalk art drawing at the Bay Centre on Wednesday, Sept. 12. The other artists will create their pieces on Government Street on Saturday and Sunday (Sept. 15 and 16). The event is rain or shine (artists will have tents in the event of rain).

Go to victoriachalkfestival.com for more information.

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