Street Painting: History

In cities across North America, Europe, and Australia, tourists and locals may find an artist creating an ephemeral street painting using hand made soft pastels mixed with pigments. Street painters, madonnari, strassenmalerie, buskers, pavement artists, and other names for this unique art form have been creating there work for centuries. No one knows for sure where the art form originated but there are many stories of how artists create ephemeral visual images through out the seven continents. In North America, the ancient Aztecs used ground flower pedals to create images of their gods to invoke rain. To this day in Mexico City one can find a group recreating this ancient ritual for donations. In Europe, this art form was a religious tradition for artist to make copies of the Madonna for coins thrown in their baskets. It is said that El Greco from Syria traveled across Europe to work in the courts of Spain and he arrived in Spain by the dropped coins he received while creating street paintings in local towns and festivals. The oldest recording of a street painting is of an artist drawing the Madonna in London taken around the turn of the 20th century. The oldest street painting festival is in Grazie, Italy. George Orwell wrote a novel about a street painter, “Down and Out in London and Paris” and Charles Dickens mentioned a street painter in his novel Oliver Twist.

Today the art form is going through a revival by younger artists. Before work was finished in one day, now artist will spend days sometimes weeks on one work. Artist will take all measures to protect their work from the rain and elements by building tents and using sand bags and tarps. Many styles and techniques are being used. On lookers will find images of architectural master pieces to abstract expressionism layed out on the pavement. Another term being used for the artists are the new 3D pieces based on the work of Andrea Mantegna and Hans Holbein. These works are based on camera lenses and one point perspective. 

Today’s street painters are fascinated with the process and the battle with the elements. Street painters will spend hours and days planning the work they will create on the pavement. Once the time is right they will execute their work on site for the thousands of people that will watch the process over a long period of time. To the street painter this performance is what creates the satisfaction and not the finished product. Today with the invention of the digital age, the work of the street painter is finally being recorded and appreciated.

Through out the world organizers are hosting street painting festivals to show off the wonderful talents from around the world. In the United States there is a street painting festival for every weekend in the year. Street painters are brought to cities and towns to be featured artists and teach their methods to a wanting audience.

Today Murals of Baltimore and Michael Kirby are leaders in this unique art form. Recognized world wide for innovation and originality they are constantly at work recreating this ancient art form.