An invitation to the Hudson Valley Chalk Festival is one of the highest honors that a street artist can receive. Much like Santa Barbara’s own I Madonnari festival, the first ever Hudson Valley Chalk Festival in New Paltz, NY showcases twelve of the best madonnari (or chalk artists) in the nation, and guess what: three of those artists got their start in Santa Barbara.
The Hudson Valley Chalk Festival in New York and the I Madonnari festival in Santa Barbara do more than display beautifully ornate chalk paintings on the sidewalk—they inspire local artists to pick up the chalk as a new source of artistic expression. Such was the case with Ann Hefferman’s street-art career. After participating in I Madonnari 17 years ago, Hefferman has traveled the globe creating her natural, botanical images on flat ground. Similarly, Sharyn Namnath always loved art, but her 2001 introduction to Tracy Lee Stum, a renowned, world-class street painter, sold her on street art, and Santa Barbara provided a perfect starting point for her.
And then there is Jay Schwartz. Schwartz fell in love with street painting while pursuing a Bachelor’s at the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1992. The combination of fine art and performance art lured him in to the chalky world of madonnaris, where he enjoys how “spectators often linger to watch my progress and ask questions. Their interaction makes the whole experience meaningful and rewarding for all of us.”
Schwartz enjoys street art so much that he has competed in 21 consecutive I Madonnari festivals. Not only that, but his madonnari-hood has taken him to the streets of Italy, Japan, and Mexico. He balances his street art “obsession” (his words, not mine) with a professional art career and his company IdeaWork Studios, Inc., an award-winning interactive agency with offices in Santa Barbara, New York, and Las Vegas, while still having time to enjoy his two dogs and wife, Karen.
But his true love will always be street art.
“The paintings we create are not only done “live”, but they’re also ephemeral, vulnerable to the elements,” says Schwartz. “Only viewing them in context can provide a lasting impression.”
-Taylor Micaela Davis