Once a year I visit with John Danner on the Memorial Day weekend during I Madonnari. John is a San Francisco city fireman by profession but his passion is chalk art. John not only spends the weekend here photographing the art but at other festivals throughout the state so he not only knows the artists but has a much better sense of Santa Barbara’s niche in the world of street painting.
If you’ve been to I Madonnari I’m sure you’ve seen him. He’s the outgoing guy with the ready smile and colorful shorts – and at times I’m not sure who sports the better style – John or the artists who sit patiently applying chalk to the pavement.
Throughout the weekend we talk in short bursts. There are too many people to stop at any one painting to have long conversations about either the art or past times. It’s also hard to get an overall perspective of the art when each piece is surrounded by the slowly moving crowds meandering along through the narrow spaces between each block of paintings.
So we connect here and there, share a few thoughts about the art, connect with others we’ve met over the years, knowing that we’ll have a bit more time on Tuesday morning to reflect on the paintings. With John, however, being the talkative one, there is always time to talk with the featured artists because he knows them so well, and I get to see a side of them that I otherwise wouldn’t.
We are both extremely impressed by the artwork that is being created by a group of artists near the foot of the Mission in remembrance of Father Virgil. One can’t help feeling that he would be pleased by the tribute being given to him, the person without whom I Madonnari would not be what it is.
EARLY MORNING RISING
Tuesday morning comes early. I’m up a little after 5 a.m., hoping for early morning sunshine so the paintings glow. I want to be at the Mission not too long after six, before too many others are there, to catch the first light and have the paintings to myself for a few minutes.
I’m there at 6:15 a.m. with my camera in one hand and 8-foot bright yellow ladder in the other. The sun hasn’t quite come up so I have 15 minutes or so to get pictures before the light hits. John struggles in a bit after 6:30 a.m., coffee in hand, with what seems like a half dozen cameras hanging from his shoulders. Digital, 35mm, large format – John’s got it all.
There are still only a half dozen or so others out and about, so we have time to walk about, take pictures and do a bit of critical analysis of each of the paintings without getting into anyone’s way. As usual we are amazed by all of the paintings, even the kid works. Maybe especially the kid works because their simplicity and the way kids use color so freely make them especially appealing.
We naturally gravitate to some of the chalk art paintings. Some are brilliantly colorful; others intricately designed; still others with subject matter that provokes emotion. Over the next several hours John and I move from spot to spot, holding the ladder for each other, and in the process gradually narrowing down our list of favorites. Here’s a sampling: