Turn the pavement into canvas

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By Kelly Dolejsi

In one image, the sunlight glares off the side of a Coke bottle, creating a blinding oblong star over the famous red label. In another, a narrow river suddenly plummets into an avalanche of white rapids. Both objects look completely believable, solid and without-a-doubt three-dimensional.

Never mind that the bottle is 5-feet tall, or that instead rushing down the side of the side of a mountain, the river and its attendant waterfall crash down the paved un-magnificent,  flat sidewalk.

Almost anyone with an e-mail inbox has seen similar chalk-drawn illusions by now: if not the Coke bottle or the waterfall, then a paper boat in a perfectly sun-dappled puddle, or a man dangling from the roof’s edge of an impossibly tall building, one that descends hundreds of feet into the formerly hidden depths of a hunk of concrete.

The art is astounding. The first time you see one of these images, it is literally breathtaking. Your lungs stop, letting your previous inhale pool in your distressed brain: “How come I can only draw doodly flowers and rainbows,” you ask yourself. Then, with unexpected horror, “That beautiful Coke bottle is going to wash away in the rain.”

It already has. The transient life of a chalk artwork is part of its charm. It doesn’t endure. You can’t see it next year. You have a chance to appreciate it during its fleeting little butterfly of an existence, and never again. But you also have a chance to propagate the chalk-art species – to honor the art form, to add to it, to draw.

Look no farther than your own downtown for inspiration. On Sept. 26, Los Alamos Arts Council (LAAC) will host the first-ever Sec Sandoval Chalk Walk, a festival and celebration of chalk drawing, the artistic process and, of course, all the local, creative, talented individuals who make Los Alamos an unusual and quietly exotic place to call home. It will be held on the sidewalks behind Fuller Lodge.

“I recently moved from Richland, Wash., where they’ve had a chalk festival for 10 years now,” said Arts Council Board Member Roseanna  Anderson, who first suggested the chalk festival to the LAAC board. “It gave everyone from young children to professional artists a chance to express themselves on the sidewalk and enjoy the process of creating art.”

Has it been a long time since you’ve held a piece of chalk? No worries. While Chalk Walk entries will be judged and prizes will be doled out, the festival is more about appreciating the artistic process than the perfection of the final product, which will leave the world almost as quickly as a dance.

“Not everyone sings or plays a musical instrument,” Anderson said, “but the visual arts offer everyone a chance for free expression...The chalk festival is for anyone who can hold a piece of chalk.”

Nonetheless, special prizes will be awarded to the entrants who draw the best representation of a Sec Sandoval painting and the entrants who portray the best image of Los Alamos during this year of celebration of Los Alamos’ 60th anniversary.

Other prizes will be given as well.

This is definitely a family event, and aspiring chalk-artists are encouraged to apply as a group or family for a three-block “rental” at a discounted entrance fee of $15. Otherwise, the entry fee varies from $5-$12 for individuals, depending on age.

Pick up an application – full of details about the event – at the LAAC office in Fuller Lodge, where preregistration is ongoing. Or, print out the online application available at www.laartscouncil.org. The first 25 entrants will receive free bags of chalk. Registration the day of the event will begin at 8 a.m. Drawings should be completed by 12:30 p.m., at which point artists will surrender their finished squares to the viewing public and the whims of the sky.

If you haven’t yet seen chalk art even in its quasi-permanent, pixeled guise, “Google ‘chalk art’ and see images of what other people do at other festivals,” Anderson said. “There are all kinds of crazy things that illusionists have been able to do with chalk art. Get inspired and enjoy the art.”

Call the LAAC at 663-0477 for more information.

Kelly Dolejsi is a member of the Los Alamos Arts Council.