Local artists take their work to the street

Friday, May 21, 2010
Alisha Castleman-Walter and her chalk art on Main Street. (FRED LYNCH ~ flynch@semissourian.com\)

Take a stroll downtown and you'll likely notice the drawings on the sidewalks. The colorful images are the work of local street painters who use concrete as their canvas.

Visitors to Capaha Park will soon see many more such works. The annual Street Painting Festival will coincide with ArtsCape on Saturday.

Street painting originated in the Renaissance, said Craig Thomas, owner of the Black Door Gallery in downtown Cape Girardeau. He initiated the street painting movement in Cape Girardeau several years ago.

"Most of the time, street paintings were reproductions of big artworks, or what people saw in churches at the time," Thomas said. "Nowadays, people mostly do reproductions of other artworks or their own artwork."

Thomas said the art form is made not to last. With pastel chalks as the utensils, rain and foot traffic clear away the images in a few days. However, that doesn't stop people from taking interest in street painting. Several artists in the Cape Girardeau area practice the style.

Alisha Castleman-Walter, 21, started street painting three years ago and now paints once a week, usually in front of Cup 'N' Cork on Main Street.

Though Castleman-Walter dabbles in other art forms -- oil painting, acrylic, photography -- she calls street painting, or "chalking," her favorite.

"I like how messy it is," Castleman-Walter said. "I get to get my hands in it. Whenever you paint, you have a brush between you and the painting. With chalk, you don't. Whatever you're using to blend -- your hand, your palm -- you're moving around and blending things. It's a lot more direct."

Castleman-Walter said she gets inspiration from bands like Death Cab for Cutie and Snow Patrol. H

"Their music is very descriptive," Castleman-Walter said, adding it was easy to turn their songs into art.

The first one she did in front of Cup 'N' Cork was inspired by Death Cab's song "Transatlanticism." She said the painting had special meaning to her, because her husband shipped off for basic training the same time she started painting in front of the coffee shop.

Castleman-Walter marks her street paintings with a chess rook, or castle, in the image. When she got married, she added a yellow ribbon to the mark to honor her husband, who is currently serving in Iraq. She said street painting is her passion and medium, but it also helps her get her mind off things.

Zack Petot, a fresh face to the street painting scene, picked up the art form six months ago through encouragement by Thomas and usually paints in downtown Cape Girardeau or at Jackson City Park.

Street painting is "very forgiving and a lot of fun," the 18-year-old said.

Though he does not paint as often as Castleman-Walter, he still pours a lot of dedication into his work, sometimes taking up to five hours to paint one 4-by-4-foot square.

Petot said his big thing with street painting is drawing people. He is planning on drawing a woman's face at ArtsCape this weekend, where he and Castleman-Walter will both be found street painting during the accompanying Street Painting Festival.

ArtsCape originally started out as a street painting festival 12 years ago, led by Thomas. Two years later, vendors making and selling handcrafted jewelry, pottery, woodworks and more were added. Some of these artists are recurring out-of-town attendees, while the others are local, like the street painters.

In addition to the vendors and artists, several musicians are lined up to provide acoustic music before ending the day with a community drum circle, in which any musician with any instrument can participate, said Tammy Maddock, interim director of the Arts Council of Southeast Missouri, which organizes ArtsCape each year.

The Cadmium River Group, Elite Travel, Cat Ranch Art Guild and VSA Missouri have planned and organized the children's tent, another main attraction.

"The community and ourselves provide artistic projects for the kids to make and take," Maddock said, referring to collages, cards, talking sticks and other arts and crafts children create.

While Castleman-Walter said she appreciates the "weird" creations children come up with, she thinks the festival entirely centers on street painting.

"It's great watching the process of it," Castleman-Walter said. "Even before I participated, I loved going to look at what people were working on at the moment."

Castleman-Walter said even though some sort of prize will be awarded for the street painting, she participates to enjoy her craft, and she's not the only one. Last year, 50 people came to ArtsCape to street paint. Both Castleman-Walter and Petot stated it's a good art form to get involved in.

"Just jump in," Petot said. "If you can make it stand out and look really unique, you get a lot of attention."

Thomas appreciates the work the two young artists are doing.

"That's what street painters do -- they get out and do it. It's good to have them in the art scene in the Cape Girardeau area," he said.

The Street Painting Festival will be from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and the entry fee $15 for a box of pastels and pizza meal. ArtsCape will be from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday in Capaha Park.

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