Native Americans and Buddhists have been doing this kind of art for centuries, and local art historian Erika O’Malley is continuing the tradition starting today with the second annual Chalk the Walk event in downtown Reno.
“It’s a spiritual journey in a way,” said O’Malley, who has a master’s degree in art from the University of Texas, “to do a painting that has meaning and know it’s going to go away.”
Chalk the Walk is a free, three-day event in which residents can hunker down over an area of sidewalk and work alongside seven professional artists to create their own momentary masterpiece. As the event is held in conjunction with and is sponsored by the Reno Rodeo, the theme is “Where Art Meets West,” which O’Malley said is meant to give artists a starting point for conceptualizing their work.
After holding the event at downtown Reno’s City Plaza in 2007, O’Malley said a couple of factors prompted her to find a new venue. First, she said the concrete there is too smooth; the ground needs to be a little porous to hold the chalk. Second, the event ran out of space and she had to turn people away.
When O’Malley began scouting for a new location for 2008, she wanted to find a place along the Reno Rodeo’s parade route, and when she approached the management at Harrah’s she said they were on board right away. O’Malley said she expects the Harrah’s plaza to be full of artists after the parade on Saturday at 10 a.m.
Sidewalk art festivals are held all around the country, and Reno’s is relatively small in comparison. One of the largest and most well-known is the I Madonnari Festival in Santa Barbara, Calif., with more than 400 participants. O’Malley said there is also a large festival in her hometown of San Antonio, Texas.
“The chalk art in the 2007 festival was so exciting and colorful — the bright colors of the professional-grade chalk the artists use is really special and different from regular sidewalk chalk,” O’Malley said. “Naturally, the pros used those colors to make really gorgeous masterpieces, but even the young kids were able to create some impressive sights with the brilliant spectrum of colors available.”
With the success of the first Chalk the Walk, O’Malley was able to get more sponsors and hire more professional artists to participate. One of the seven professionals is Ray Valdez, a Reno-based artist who specializes in fine art paintings with a Southwest theme. Valdez said he has already sketched a horse that he will spend the next three days transferring from paper to pavement.
On Saturday, Valdez led a workshop on sidewalk art during which he went over some of the techniques for drawing on the surface. He also gave some tips on comfort – most importantly, wear knee pads.
“(Wearing knee pads) didn’t even cross my mind,” said 34-year-old Reno resident Marie Gilbert, a former professional artist who planned to bring her daughter and some nephews and nieces to draw on the ground. “I thought about bringing an umbrella and water but I didn’t even think about knee pads.”
Gilbert pointed out that everyone’s life has temporary art, whether it is setting up a Christmas tree or putting out ghosts and other decorations at Halloween. The art created by chalk artists this weekend will meet a watery demise, which will be a little different for Gilbert, who said she is used to seeing her work go up in smoke.
“I’ve done art at Burning Man,” she said. “There we make it and then burn it.”
In addition to organizing the event, O’Malley will also participate by reproducing a Georgia O'Keeffe painting entitled "Cow's Skull: Red, White and Blue."
“O'Keeffe painted this piece as a response to the idea of the ‘all-American painting,’ ” O’Malley said. “I think it is particularly suited to the festival's theme because she used Western imagery from her home in New Mexico – the cow's skull – to represent finding beauty in unexpected places.”
For more information on the festival, go to www.renochalkthewalk.com.