Atlantic City streets decorated with chalk art

Artist Chris Carlson from Denver creates a 3D image of the Rock'Em Sock'Em Robots on Indiana Avenue in Atlantic City for the 3D Chalk Festival this weekend.
Artist Chris Carlson from Denver creates a 3D image of the Rock'Em Sock'Em Robots on Indiana Avenue in Atlantic City for the 3D Chalk Festival this weekend. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 21, 2013

ATLANTIC CITY - This is a place that specializes in the ephemeral.

Sand sculpting. Bathing beauties crowned one moment, dethroned the next. Temporary art parks built on borrowed empty casino lots. The summer season.

And now, chalk art.

Situated on Indiana Avenue near what is perhaps the most ephemeral thing of all - the eroding shoreline - artists from around the world are in Atlantic City this week for a 3D Chalk Art Festival.

With chalk and tempera paint, they are creating works that, when viewed through a lens from a fixed point (marked by the artists with tape or a footprint), look three-dimensional. The art will be completed Sunday, when forecast rain may start its inevitable disintegration.

The technique is called anamorphic projection. The pavement craters, the train roars up from below, the frog jumps, the Delahaye Sedan teeters off a cliff, the Rock'Em Sock'Em Robot rises from the ring.

Mr. Monopoly jumps up over the board.

It is an art form dating back to Leonardo da Vinci (and possibly cave dwellers), given currency by the ubiquity of cellphone cameras and social media.

The particular mix of Atlantic City onlookers - tourists from Jersey to Missouri to Turkey, casino executives, Bally's dealers, DJ's, rappers, bicycle cops, and slot players - has been gathering in appreciative growing numbers since Tuesday. "It's amazing," said Chris Meredith, of Mays Landing. "It breaks my heart that when the rain comes it's done."

Actually, the artists are untroubled by the fact that their work will be either washed away by rain, hosed off by municipal workers after they leave, or left to fade over time, said curator and Monopoly artist Tracy Lee Stum, who has curated festivals all over the world and was brought here by the Atlantic City Alliance (DoAC).

Their gig is about the process, the moment, the photo captured and disseminated over social media. Popular in 16th-century Renaissance Italy when artists began chalking images of the Madonna and Child on pavements outside churches, it was revived in the early 1970s in Italy and then California.

The artists see wisdom in creating art that does not last, comparing themselves to the Tibetan monks' sand mandala. And since the 3D shows up in photos, it seems meant for the iPhone age.

"Most people think it'd be horrible to see it washed away, but I like it," said Chris Carlson, 27, an artist from Denver who created the Rock'Em Sock'Em Robot painting. "It has to be experienced immediately. It teaches you not to cling too tightly."

"That's the best part," says artist Michael Lascasas of West Palm Beach, creating a fantasy scene. "It's all about the process. How many people get to go to the artist studio and watch them paint?"

Some worked with elaborate grids painted on or stretched with string to measure out the elongated dimensions that create the optical illusion. Others like Gary Palmer, originally from Dublin, Ireland, now living in Venice Beach, Calif., who created a chalk and charcoal trip through street-painting time, from caveman to himself painting himself painting, seemed to work freehand.

Artist Marion Ruthardt of Germany was attempting a painting that from one end showed a train emerging from underground, from the opposite, a telephone booth. "I hope it'll work," she said. She, too, liked the temporary nature of the work. "Everything is going away sometime," she said.

The festival site brought the international artists right into the heart of tourist Atlantic City. They painted along Indiana Avenue just off the Boardwalk near Bally's, alongside ArtLantic Art Park, the critically acclaimed but still mostly overlooked by visitors art playground, near Brighton Park with its old-fashioned fountain and stone steps, which were being turned into a geometric optical illusion by Mimmo Rubino of Rome.

With their global accents, bohemian dress, and rolled cigs, and mostly puzzling over this casino town and its seagulls, the artists brought a truly novel flavor to a gorgeous September afternoon.

People were indeed fascinated. They took photos from the marked points, marveled at the illusion, posed inside the paintings. They were urged to post with the hashtag #DOAC3Dchalk. The artists are there from 10 to 6 through Sunday.

"It's phenomenal," said Walter Serra, 47, of Virginia, there with Jacinda Hammons, 34, of Missouri.

Hammons felt she'd landed in a cutting-edge artistic metropolis. "You don't see these things in Missouri," she said.


Contact Amy S. Rosenberg at 609-823-0453 or arosenberg@phillynews.com. Follow on Instagram or Twitter @amysrosenberg.

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