Pick of the Week

Beauty on the Sidewalk

Take a look at muralist Ignacio Garcia's "Our Lady of Mona Lisa," and at first glance, you may think it's an illusion. Is it the Mona Lisa? Or is it the Virgin of Guadalupe? Both are correct. What is seen first depends on the eye of the beholder.

"It's a powerful image," says Garcia. "There's a little shock value in two different perspectives. You get a middle-class family who says, 'Wow, this is the Mona Lisa.' A lower-class family will say it's the Virgin Mary and not know it's the Mona Lisa. It's interesting to look at that."

Garcia first created the piece last year at an I Madonnari event coordinated by Leia Maahs. Maahs is the director of the Tucson Madonnari Chalk project. When interviewed by the Weekly last year, Maahs defined I Madonnari: "Going back to the 16th century Italy, artists began transforming pavement into canvas using chalk. This form of art was named after the Italian translation of Madonna. In Italy, street painters are called madonnari after their historical practice of creating chalk paintings of the Madonna. ...

"The tradition was revived 400 years later in 1972, when the Italian village of Grazie di Curtatone hosted the first known festival of street painting."

The creation of "Our Lady of Mona Lisa" started with a conversation between Garcia and Maahs. "I met Leah at Tucson Designer Showhouse. We connected. She had been to Italy. She had seen my work and was blown away. She said it was exactly what you see in Italy. ... She was mentioning doing a chalk festival. ... My idea was to have two symbolic ideas from the Italian and Hispanic (heritages). Leah sparked the (idea); I put it together. ... Two iconic images put into one that fits together. It's great."

Garcia will re-create "Our Lady of Mona Lisa" at the Tucson Madonnari Chalk Festival on Saturday, April 29, at the Joel D. Valdez Main Library, 101 N. Stone Ave. The free festival will be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the west side of the library. For more information, call 400-9227 or e-mail tucsonimadonnari@yahoo.com.

Maahs says she has been working on the Tucson Madonnari Project for about 18 months. The goals of the project are to create an annual festival in chalk and to provide a youth-mentorship program.

Twelve artists will participate in Saturday's chalk festival, each with an apprentice in tow. "I contacted artists whose style would lend itself to the festival, as well as (artists with) an interest in youth mentoring and community art," explains Maahs. "Artists were asked to make a contemporary adaptation of original Italian artworks."

Painter Gwyneth Scally is familiar with creating contemporary adaptations and will create a chalk piece at the festival. Maahs says, in the past, Scally has taken Michelangelo's "The Creation of Adam" and made Adam a merman--complete with a tail.

For some artists, it will be the first time they've created a piece of art publicly. And for UA fine art student Patsy Gelb, it is a chance to go from apprentice to featured artist.

But before the chalk goes on the pavement, Maahs says, each artist has a composition of what they will be working on. For most, that is in the form of a sketch. With each chalk creation measuring either 4 feet by 8 feet, or 4 feet by 4 feet, the location of each piece must be planned out. They last "as long as the weather allows them to be there."

Besides watching the artists create their chalk masterpieces, the public will be treated to music beginning at 10 a.m. with classical guitar. At 11 a.m., JazzWerx performs big-band jazz. Dance performances begin at 1 p.m. with Art in Reality, showcasing flamenco, break dancing and Brazilian capoeira.

For those who want to get their hands on the chalk, the public is invited to create a giant chessboard, measuring 40 feet by 40 feet. At 2 p.m., the board will be the stage for an interactive chess theme game called Checkmate, performed by the theater troupe Flam Chen. The Mat Bevel Institute will create recycled art headgear to be worn by Checkmate participants. At 3 p.m., high school students present original poetry.

Maahs says she would love to see the festival grow and continue each year. "As it grows, so will the scope of artists. I am working on an international exchange program to bring artists here. (But I thought) it's important to begin this project locally."

And local muralist Garcia is more than happy to participate. While the majority of us cannot create a chalk masterpiece, Garcia explains its appeal. "Everyone has used chalk. Everyone can understand chalk--what it is and how it feels. When people see how we manipulate it, people become amused and entertained."