The Monday evening at the end of the three-day I Madonnari chalk art festival is usually one of celebration and joy for my friend John Danner, who is a fireman from San Francisco, and a perennial visitor each Memorial weekend. Like me, “JD” as he is known, is a photographer who specializes in chalk art and together we prowl through the Mission area, checking out the art and renewing acquaintances with the artists.
If you’ve come to I Madonari recently you know JD. He’s the tall, skinny guy with the outrageously colorful beach-style shorts, bright yellow top and red tennis and disposition to match. Together we not only have a great time but take what I think are some pretty good photos. In the past years we’ve always had fun putting together what we called the “Top 10” list, the best of the best each year of the chalk art we are so fortunate to be able to experience being created. It has always been a fun thing, and we always end of with way more than 10 on the list given the incredible art that is created every year, but this year our heart just wasn’t in it.
Given the deadly rampage in Isla Vista just a few days earlier and the impact it has had on both the personal lives of the many victims and the community, this year I Madonnari took on a different meaning for both of us. The juxtaposition of the uplifting spirit of the artists and their creative talent against the terrible loss of lives having just occurred a few miles away was heartbreaking and a bit difficult to put into some sense of proportion: on one side of town a lone gunman had just destroyed the lives of a half dozen people; on this side, a group of people were just about to affirm what it is to be human and creative and good and kind.
Art, poetry, music — these are all things bring out the best in all of us and what it is to be a part of a community, the sense of being part of something bigger than self. For three days at the end of May we come together as a community to celebrate the art that is created here at the Mission. There is a sense that borders on awe of the artists who can take the blank canvass offered them at the Mission steps and in just a few hours turn them into beautiful works of art, in the process uplifting those of us who share our time with the artists. Perhaps in doing so it helps restore in our hearts that which is lost when such terrible deeds are done by others.
This year for me, I Madonari became more of a haven, a place I could spend a few days with the artists. It became a time to reflect on what is so positive and good about us as humans and remind myself of the essential goodness of the human spirit rather than being drowned in the despair that events like the Isla Vista tragedy create for us. JD has always played an important role in reminding me of such things as well. Each year when he comes down to Santa Barbara he is loaded with goodies: lots of photos of last year’s paintings to distribute to the various artists; t-shirts and other goodies for his friends, and most of all a smiling face that never seems to go away.
So this year there is no top ten or list of this or that — just an appreciation that out of the goodness of their hearts, a hundred or so artists joined us this past Memorial weekend to share something very special and very good and to create art that reflects this. More than the art, this year it was the faces of the artists themselves who I remember most and would like to celebrate: the young Crane School artists who joyfully pieced together a very colorful elephant; the chalk-smudged young women who created a very bright and very, very yellow solstice sun; Catherine, who always does the most beautiful eyes but never seems to finish; Joy who is a joy who always brings us a reminder of the beautiful Nepalese people; Melanie whose red-haired lady was so captivating, and Ann and for the captivating image of the jimson weed rising from the burned out shell of the Jesusita firescape. And so much more …….
Thank you most of all to Kathy Khoury and her dedicated crew of volunteers that make all of this magic possible.
There were so many excellent paintings that it wan’t easy putting together a collection of the ones that I captured. To look at many more of the chalk art paintings, check out the links below/