I’m sitting on the Mission steps chatting with Wayne and Cheryl Renshaw as we look down on the beginnings of their feature chalk art painting for this year’s I Madonnai Festival. Wayne and Cheryl have been coming to the Festival every year since 2003 and in the process have gone from 8×8 squares on the outside edges of the Mission pavement to the spot set aside each year for the key painting done in honor of the Mission’s support for the event.
“Santa Barbara was our first chalk art festival,” Wayne explains to me. “A friend of Cheryl’s said ‘I’ve always wanted to try this. Why not let’s get a group together and go down to Santa Barbara.’” Wayne graduated from Cal State SLO in 1988 and has a cousin in the Santa Barbara area so he knew the festival well. “So we ended with 15 or 20 of us, all packed on an 8×8 square,” he remembers, “and none of us had ever done anything like this, no experience, and we were all elbows and asses trying to get more chalk down on the ground than our backsides ….. and we had a great time. How could you not have a great time playing Twister with 15 of your closest friends?”
Over the years the couple made lots and lots of friends. “Actually we kind of liked being on the outside edge of the Festival because we bring so much junk with us,” Wayne tells me. “Also a lot of home made chocolate chip cookies,” Cheryl adds. “We’re cookie pushers. When someone would stop by and talk with us we’d offer them a cookie and found that it made the experience fun for all of us.” I haven’t tasted one of their cookies yet but it is clear that the first rule in the Renshaw family is that fun has to be a part of anything they do.
As important is the relationships they have developed with the other painters over the years. “We belong to a tribe of street painters,” Wayne says, one which developed in the 1980s in Santa Barbara and is now growing to include painters from throughout the United States. “We were on the way down to a festival in Lake Worth, Florida when we got a call from Kathy Koury, the I Madonnari Festival chair. “She said we’d like you to do the feature this year,” Wayne continued. “Here’s the caveat ….. you have to do a sacred image and you need to get your design OK’d by the festival committee.”
“And it needs to include Father Virgil and Father Serra in it,” Cheryl chimed in. “As we continued to Lake Worth we came up with lots of cool, and totally inappropriate ideas on the way down before we finally settled on the design we’re doing this year.” The image is from a Renaissance painting of a bridal chamber—with a view looking up at a dome with the sky showing through it and angels looking down from the top. “We looked at this image and thought we need to reinterpret the painting from the angel’s view since people at the Festival will be on the Mission steps looking down at it,” Wayne told me.
“We also wanted it to be a really nice tribute to Father Virgil,” he continued. “We never really met Father Virgil but he was always around, checking out the paintings, dancing on the lawn with the kids — you could tell this was his party. In the painting Father Virgil and Father Serra are depicted as saints looking down at what is a scene in a playground rather than a bridal chamber.
“I wanted our figures all to be in contemporary clothing but with angels wings,” Wayne says. “Something modern. As we look out over the outlines of the various figures, Wayne point to each of them. “These are actually all of our friends,” he continues. “That’s Carla. I went to Cal Poly with her and there she is with her little boy Bryce at the playground. The woman on the right with the spaniel just happened to be walking through the park when we were photographing the scene and I said, ‘Hey. Come over and join us for a moment.’”
By this time Wayne is on a roll and you can tell he is thoroughly enjoying the idea of what it looked like when they were setting up the photo shoot for their image. “Over here are the two saints, Father Virgil and Father Serra. Neither were available to photograph,” he adds with a laugh, “so we had my brother step in as Father Serra. Bought a hoodie at Goodwill and had him dress up in the bathrobe with the hoodie on top. He had a smile on his face that said this is really silly. Then we gave him a broom to act as his staff, got my father to serve as a body double for Father Virgil — and took the photo.”
But that’s only half of the story. All of the figures aren’t just looking down on the earthly scene, they are playing rock, paper, scissors, among other things. “Over here Saint Clair is doing the “’Spock” salute,” Wayne quips. “Father Virgil, he’s got the scissors, Father Serra has the rock, to the right is Saint Francis, a nod to the new Pope, he’s got paper.”
We like to have a good time when we create our street paintings,” Cheryl affirms, as if it weren’t clearly obvious that one of the big reasons they love doing this is all of the fun it brings them.
When the couple has the kind of image that works, the art they like doing best now is known as 3-D painting, which involves drawing the painting from a particular type of perspective by which it seems to ‘pop out’ or give the sense of being three dimensional. “Basically, it involves a kind of a reversal of the normal laws of perspective,” Cheryl explains. “Looking up at the mountains over there — meaning the Santa Ynez — you can see how they shrink into the distance, but in order to compensate for the diminishing of things we have to make them larger.
“We start out by figuring out what the perspective should look like mathematically, then we use that to understand how we need to shape the grid to achieve that effect. We distort it to the point that the perspective grid is the way we want using AutoCad and then we work out how to fit that onto the actual surface are we’ll be working on.
Come join Wayne and Cheryl at I Madonnari this weekend and check out Father Virgil and Father Serra from the Mission steps as they play a game of rock, paper and scissors with the new Pope, Francis.
Author’s note: I stopped by to visit with Wayne and Cheryl this afternoon [Friday] and they shared their cookies with me. Delicious!