♥♥ The origins of pavement art ♥♥
Artists often speculate on how street art started; some say it was born out of a folk tradition dating back to the Madonnari’s (street painters) of Italy over 500 years ago. This is a romantic notion that has little bases in fact; it’s a very attractive idea for modern day pavement artists to align themselves with the Italian Renaissance, the high water mark of ‘traditional ’painting and artistry; to feel a connection to Da Vinci or Michelangelo almost as if it were an unbroken thread across time.
But history tells a different story; it could also be a myth to believe that pavement art has been poorly documented; since I’ve been exploring the history of this art form, I’ve found lots of information that has lay dormant or been forgotten about simply because nobody has had the inclination to put this stuff together into an intelligent enough form to tell a story. It’s also true that what people don’t know, they make up. Speculating on the origins of pavement art is like trying to find the origins of cave painting.
Boy drawing on a sidewalk. Photo by Helen Levitt, 1937
On the child chalkers of New York James Agee wrote in 1939:
”All over the city on streets and walks and walls the children ... have established ancient, essential and ephemeral forms of art, have set forth in chalk and crayon the names and images of their pride, love, preying, scorn, desire ...The Lady in this House is Nuts... Lois I have gone up the street. Don’t forget to bring your skates... Ruby loves Max but Max hates Ruby... And drawings, all over, of ships, homes, western heroes and monsters ... which each strong shower effaces.”
Photo by Arthur Leipzigs: Chalk Games, New York 1950
These chalk drawings and games became a part of the New York child culture for well over 30 years and this photo ‘Chalk one up’ taken by Arthur Leipzigs in 1950 shows that perfectly. Chalk Games captures several children in their element in Prospect Place Brooklyn, New York. To the modern sophisticated mind this may not appear as ‘art’ but that’s exactly what it is. The children have decided ‘this is our space, and we are taking ownership on it’ naïve drawings compete side by side with ‘made up’ street games.
Children chalking a war scene: England 1941 by DH Calcaft
At the same time; this photo appeared in Daily Herald newspaper on the 14th November, 1941. It shows a group of children drawing a wartime chalk scene on a street pavement in England.
You give children some chalk and they start creating stuff on the sidewalk. The striking thing here is that they do it as a community wherever they are; they create art and games together, a shared experience in a public place. These are the true origins of pavement art, they happen independently; across the world and from different cultures. The adult version of this we call ‘art’ but really it’s just ‘grown-ups’ playing on the streets and creating new forms of ‘Shared experiences’ in a public place.
Peanuts street game: London 1938 Photo by William Vanderson
On the 6th December 1938 Children were photographed in King’s Cross Street London, pushing peanuts along the pavement with their noses in a race to cross the finishing line.
1950 Children playing games in the street, England.
The above photo by Haywood Magee appeared in THE PICTURE POST, UK on 8th April 1950 the caption underneath reads: “Children playing games in the street.”
6th April 1958, Liverpool, England. Photo by Keystone
So, we were not the inventors of anything new on those long summer days of my childhood, we just kept the Flame of Art going on.
Have you did any pavement art as a kid?
♥♥ Pinky Honey