Jay Schwartz was first introduced to I Madonnari in 1992 when he was walking by a locker room in the UCSB Arts complex and spied a poster announcing a call for artists at the I Madonnari festival. At the time Schwartz was involved with an independent study project under Arts Professor Gary Brown and experimenting with large murals in pastel on paper he had taped to the wall — creating what he called chalk pastel murals.
“The idea of working on the ground to create something that I knew wouldn’t last more than a few days after I finished it sort of intrigued me,” Schwartz remembered. “It was also a different way of looking at using pastels from the murals I’d been doing and it sounded pretty cool.” Not too long after he called Kathy Koury, the festival director, and made himself available.
Having no clue what he was in for, Schwartz showed up totally unprepared. “No hat, no sunscreen, no gloves, no knee pads,” he said with a laugh. “The sponsor was Merrill Lynch,” he added, “and they wanted something for the 200th anniversary of the stock market. I decided to do a representation of a bull and bear, and it actually turned out pretty nice and I knew I was hooked.”
Fortunately, Schwartz was able to make Santa Barbara his home after graduating with a degree in fine arts that year and soon was picking up jobs as a freelance artist, an occupation which allowed him to return to work his magic at the I Madonnari festival each Memorial Day weekend and eventually to morph his freelance work into what is now a very successful design and marketing company known as IdeaWork Studio.
Over the past few years Schwartz has focused on the works of Thomas Hart Benton, an American painter and muralist whose fluid, sculptured figures often depicted everyday people in scenes representing everyday life. “I saw an imperfect, flowing style in Benton,” he explained, “I loved the colors, the shapes, the faces, the way he minimized the detail but evoked powerful emotions through the use of color and design. It fit what I liked doing perfectly.”
Don’t expect to see Thomas Hart Benton this year, however. Another one of Santa Barbara’s local street artists, Ann Hefferman, is joining Schwartz on a completely different type of painting. “We’ve blocked off a 12’x24’ area directly across from the feature artists to do our depiction of Hieronymous Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights,” he said with a grin. He turned around to his computer at the IdeaWork office and opened up a copy of the iconic work by Bosch. “We’re still working out the details,” Schwartz said.
“This isn’t exactly a painting that the mission fathers will appreciate if we paint it the way Bosch did.” Zooming in on the image so the details can be clearly seen, the problem becomes clear. There’s not only nude people everywhere but some of them are performing acts that probably wouldn’t be appropriate for a “G” rated audience.
Hefferman is a librarian at UCSB in the Map and Imagery Lab and also a long time I Madonnari contributor. Her first painting at the Mission was about the same time Schwartz was working on his bull and bear painting. “My husband was doing promotions for a local radio station,” Hefferman remembered, “and he asked me to be the artist for the radio station group. It turned out to be a little 4×6 area that I filled with floating coffee cups in a colorful kitchen with an old fashion radio near the bottom.
“I was so terrified,” she added. “But a friend told me, ‘Once you try this you’ll be hooked,’ and I was. I haven’t stopped since, can’t get enough of it. It’s a passion.” Coming from a family with two architects in it, Hefferman was heavily influenced by the clean simple lines inherit to that profession but added her own touch. “I love color and form and there is so much of it in the botanical world,” she said — something she described as architectural shapes of the plant world.
“Doing Bosch will be a challenge,” Hefferman said. “We need to retain as much of the strangeness of the painting as possible without making it controversial. Actually, we’ll only be doing a small part of the “Earthly Garden” painting, a part of the main panel that has a lot of birds in it and we should be able to do that without conflicting with the spirit of the I Madonnari festival.”
Both Schwartz and Hefferman love the public aspect of street painting. “It’s a form of performance art,” she explained. “It’s not only be able to bring art out of the gallery and making it accessible to everyone, but being able to talk about what you’re doing while you’re doing it.”
They both also acknowledge the ephemeral nature of their paintings. “I’m drawn to the fact that what we are putting down on the pavement is fleeting. It’s here for us to share and for people to enjoy while we are making it,” says Schwartz. “You go into the weekend knowing that you are going to say goodbye to it at the end,” Hefferman added. “It’s so much more about the process, engaging with your audience, working against time and the elements, building friendships while you paint and in the end having had a really great time.”
Join Schwartz and Hefferman at the 27th annual I Madonnari Festival this coming weekend and share a few moments with them.