Art News & Views

Julian Beever: Morphing Reality With Chalk Asthetics

Etc. Etc.

by Anurima Das

A not so comfortable camp chair, boxes of coloured chalks and a camera along with the stand adorns the corner of a street. This is the work station of “the pavement Picasso", he is busy locating distortions by closely observing his sketch on paper through his camera lens. This observant and keen eyed man is none other than Julian Beever. Based in Belgium the chalk artist Julian Beever has been working with his chalk to create wonders by painting 3D drawings on the streets. However, his stint with the chalk drawings is not something new. It was back in the 1980s that Beever discovered his affinity for chalk art and thereby introduced trompe-l'œil chalk drawings on pavement surfaces. The artist has to employ a string of technique and time to create each of his pavement art but, it just takes moments to preserve and destroy his art. Beever is happy with just a photograph of his work and believes this is enough of an appreciation for his otherwise momentary work.

To begin like a meticulous artist, he sketches his drawing on a white sheet of paper and then places the artwork on the street. He positions the drawing at the place where he would later begin crafting his work by simply using Chalks. The next step after the placement is of course observing distortions or trying to locate the 3D effect using the lens of his camera. He simply places his camera on the stand at an angle from the sketch and tries to measure the distortions by looking at the sketch with one eye.

This method of observation is better known as Anamorphosis. The idea dates back to the early Renaissance. Anamorphosis as a technique requires the viewers to occupy a particular position and thereby locate the distortions using a special device and compose the real meaning of the perspective. “The pavement Picasso” relates to this idea and thereby works with distortions by expanding his artwork over the streets. He employs coloured chalks to create the trompe-l'œil  effect and thereby gives rise to an optical illusion for normal objects to make them appear 3D. Though, this technique has been used many times to create an illusion in films and even for paintings as well. However, using the trick technique for street drawings and especially practicing the same using chalk is an exclusive effect and Beever deserves the credit for the same as well.

Beever begun his endeavor at United Kingdom and worked with distorted perspectives and started using his only weapon chalk to invent new drawings. His work involves disruption to give rise to a 3D image which invites the audience to become a part of the scene or simply stand in the midst of the scene by locating themselves at the right place. This trick art form was not an easy path for the artist and he had to work as a nomadic artist for a long time mainly for the financial purposes and thereby to support his travels. Till date he has painted streets of Europe, United States, Belgium, Brazil, Australia and beyond.  Water, breaking of buildings and even at times serious devastation in the middle of the street are some of the most common yet interesting themes which Beever loves to work with. However, one of the most interesting aspect about the artist’s work is the presentation. He is always ready to pose with his work after he has given that final chalk stroke. Among all his works, the one which he holds close to his heart is of course the 3D Frog painting wherein he made his daughter pose alongside the frog in the pond. She was glad to feature next to the illusion and was of course amazed by the proportion too.

Beever in all his works tries to go back to his childhood days and works with illusions and thereby tries to set them beside reality and reinvent them, to satisfy the ways of vision. He has successfully executed several Batman and Robin and even Superman 3D works on the street, that many has actually taken part in. When one finds a man trapped at the basement and Spiderman trying to hold his grip by his web, then automatically people have to stop and almost position themselves with curiosity to wait for the man to get rescued. Yes, this happens in real whenever Julian Beever is ready with his extravagant street drawing. The waterfalls and the brilliant swimming pools with the crystal clear water is so alluring that the passerby’s either have to wait to splurge into the water or simply avoid the water so as not to get wet.

A typical art work with the chalks requires a maximum of three days to take shape in the right way and is best viewed using a wide angle lens of the camera. However, the only hindrance to this artist and his artwork is of course the natural calamities and the policemen.  In response to the question of hindrances and archiving, Beever answered “If it rains it means I've done a lot of hard work for nothing, but I usually manage to avoid that. The important thing for me is to get a photo of it at the end.  For me, I'm working towards building a photograph as my end result, and if I get that I'm happy,"- as told to BBC in an interview while Beever was painting the streets of Birmingham's Chinatown with a huge 3 metre by 3 metre Chinese dragon in celebration of Chinese New Year. The BBC has also recorded his works during the three days spanning over the 27th, 28th and 29th January, 2006 to document his work and archive his talent.

“The pavement Picasso” realized his thirst for the 3D street drawings while he was at Brussels, it was the mere act of street tiles removal that actually triggered the idea of 3D chalk art and finally there was no looking back for this artist. Like most artists even Beever has his own line of great artists whom he has shown tribute and derives his inspiration from. The likes of Da Vinci and Michelangelo are his mentors and he derives the idea of the “the trick of the eye” from them. Apart from the great artists he has also painted the streets of London with the chalk portraits of Lady Diana and Queen Elizabeth I in 1997 and 1999 respectively. Applauds and front page coverage in the leading newspapers was just the beginning of the praises for the promising artist. In Rue Neuve, Brussels, 1995 Julian gave shape to a Rossetti masterpiece The Beloved which is counted as one of his most praiseworthy chalk art and is mentioned alongside his anamorphic arts.

Nothing has ever come in the way for this artist and he has gone ahead of street drawings to work with wall murals as well. His work in the murals describe celebration and are done up using acrylic paint. The versatility of the artist is noteworthy and he has even painted his self portraits on the streets of Brussels using his only weapon- chalk and a mirror- on the site itself. Apart from his general work for the masses he was also summoned by several companies to work their street art chalk advertisements at several points of time.  Until date Julian has created more than 100 chalk street arts spanning all across the globe. However, unlike many of his completed works he has many incomplete works to his credit as well. Many of his works have been disrupted mid way by the police protest and was rubbed off due to permission issues. Nevertheless, the artist is quite reluctant and does not spare a thought on these issues and simply rubs them off to continue on his chalk journey.

Among his gigantic works is the enormous Coke bottle, which just seemed rolling down the streets and people went away from its path in the fear of getting crashed by the bottle. He has also worked for causes and tried creating awareness using his simple yet most enduring chalk art of the “Earth” and animals like the Seal numerous times.  His other extravagant works includes the river rafting, road digging and even the giant Ballantine’s scotch bottle etc. His works have been long doing rounds over the internet and have left impressions on the pedestrians mind as well. However, it was only recently that a book was published by the Firefly Books named ‘The Pavement Chalk Artist’. The book celebrates Julian’s creations and has actually accumulated many of his famous works to adorn the pages and describes each work to its minor details quite beautifully. The book has worked as that extra feather to the credits of the artist.

Every step taken to honour the artist and his art form would fall short compared to the effort and passion he puts in each of his chalk drawings in the form of details. However, each and every tiny step taken towards archiving will help preserve and honour the artist who has actually innovated the concept of street art and broken the confines of the gallery concept and costly art practices to reinvent the much hyped 3D effect using simple Physics and the simplest of things- a chalk.

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