Given the incredible range and spectacular beauty of the chalk art paintings produced at a typical I Madonnari Festival you’d think it would totally be dominated by a bunch of right brain artistic types. I’m guessing this probably isn’t too far off the mark but not always.
However, you’ll also spot artists such as Sharyn Namnath whom I watched painstakingly put together a colorful image of a Southern Bee Eater stroke by stroke at last year’s I Madonnari Festival. The bird is native to sub-equitorial Africa and whose diet consists primarily of bees (of course) and other flying insects. Richly colored it is a striking bird and perfect as an I Madonnari subject.
Sharyn is easy to spot in her dark black pants, white peasant style blouse and simple wide-brimmed straw hat set off by a colorful ribbon tied in the back in a decorative knot. She loves painting animals, including lions and tigers, colorful dragons and even the small creatures such as the baby platypus which she painted for her sponsor, the Museum of Natural History, in 2009.
“I love painting animals and specifically large cats, and even more specifically close ups of large cats,” she explains. “There is some hidden expressiveness about the way they look that I try to capture. Cats are mysterious creatures and it’s a challenge to portray the animal beyond the mystery. I chose large cats as opposed to household ones because I didn’t want to draw ‘cute’. I wanted to draw the quiet beauty & power that large cats exude.”
On the surface Sharyn appears to be one of those typical right brain types. Turns out she is a computer programmer by trade, has worked extensively on government research-related projects and is currently the West Coast Program Manager for the David Group, a major Virginia-based government service organization. Go figure.
“The scientific side, the artistic side, I’ve got them both covered,” she says with a laugh as we talk about her love for chalk art painting at her home in Goleta. To add a twist, Sharyn also loves motorcycles. As we walk inside I look up at her upstairs balcony and spot a cool-looking racing bike leaning against the wall. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a motorcycle indoors before, let alone upstairs,” I mention. “That’s my race bike,” she returns. “ I raced on pavement for 20 years before I began to focus more on my art.” Apparently the passion for bikes hasn’t gotten too far out of the picture as she admits to owning a total of six of them.
As it turns out, Sharyn’s interest in motorcycles was the key to her becoming addicted to street painting. Though she was an avid artist, Sharyn never had any formal art training. “When I was young I sketched a lot. I drew, drew, drew and loved it,” she added, “but in the end when it came to choosing a career she ended up at UCSB where she graduated in 1984 with a degree in Computer Sciences. It wasn’t too long before she was working as a computer programmer for a local company that focused on government contract work and spending her outside time on her bikes.
However, that changed in 2002 when Sharyn attended a party put on by her motorcycle group. “I met Tracy Lee Stum there,” she remembered. “Tracy was an incredibly talented artist who was becoming well-known in street art circles and we began talking about the upcoming I Madonnari Festival. Bob Weindorf, who owned the local Vespa shop at the time overheard us talking and said ‘Hey, why don’t you do a chalk art painting with a Vespa in it this year?”
Excited by her talk with Tracy, Sharyn was all in. “I showed up early that Saturday morning, eager to do whatever I could. This is so cool I thought but I could see Tracy was being driven a bit crazy.” Turns out Weindorf had recruited a number of others to help out and Tracy, who was used to doing her own work, was a bit overwhelmed by this. However, amidst the frenetic energy, Tracy noticed how much Sharyn was enjoying herself and the next year she called Sharyn and said, “Let’s do one together, just you and I?” And the rest is history. Today Sharyn splits her time working as the David Group and her own company, Sirius Art, which she started several years ago to allow her to work with Tracy, whose 3-D chalk art business has taken off.
This year Sharyn is taking a different approach to her I Madonnari painting. No tigers or lions or platypus designs. “I have a friend. Misa Kelly, I know from dancing, and she showed me a photograph of her in costume with another woman at the Courthouse, she told me. ‘It was so neat I knew I had to draw it. When I was a teenager I did tons of pencil drawings of people. Now it’s time to see how well I can do people again,” she explains.