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3D street art — alternatively known as pavement, chalk or sidewalk art — is a form of anamorphic art pioneered by American Kurt Wenner. Sprawling over sidewalks, walls, and public spaces, artists use chalk or pastels to render pictures that use mathematical continuation of perspective to give the illusion of three-dimensionality. Though the medium is widely regarded as a modern art, street art traces its origins back to the Renaissance.

Renaissance Roots

The penchant for putting chalk to sidewalk was practiced widely by Italian vagabond artists. Known as the Madonnari because of their copious reproductions of Madonna, the artists would travel between festivals, creating religious works from brick, charcoal, colored stones and chalk. Giving credence to the ‘starving artist’ stereotype, the Madonnari lived solely off the coins passers-by tossed at them for their skill. This practice continued for centuries until the hardships of WW2 significantly reduced the numbers of the Madonnari. However, the art form was revitalized thanks to the International Street Painting Festival in Northern Italy, and the tradition has morphed and continued to date.

Founding Father: Kurt Wenner

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The pioneer of 3D street art, Kurt Wenner saw the artistic possibilities of combining the traditional street technique of the Madonnari, with his classical training in architecture and perspective. Born in Michigan, Wenner studied at the Art Centre College of Design and Rhode Island School of Design, and had a short stint at NASA before leaving to study art in Italy in 1982. He first introduced the concept of 3D pavement art the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and founded the first street painting festival, The Old Mission Festival, in the US in 1980.

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