From South Park to street painting 

California master street painter Melanie Stimmell Van Latum talks about her unusual career trajectory

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - something fishy Local mixed media artist Taka Sudo tried his hand at 3D chalk art as part of a workshop last week in Mountain Square.
  • Photo submitted
  • something fishy Local mixed media artist Taka Sudo tried his hand at 3D chalk art as part of a workshop last week in Mountain Square.

One of the most gratifying moments in Melanie Stimmell Van Latum's strange and storied art career happened in the middle of Istanbul, Turkey.

She and fellow street painter Julie Kirk Purcell had been commissioned to travel to that city to paint murals in a plaza. They brought chalk along so passersby could stop to doodle alongside them. While the plaza was filled with people etching drawings, one man in particular stood out.

"We looked over and there was this guy in his full on three piece suit with a tie and the vest and the shoes, totally sharp," Stimmell Van Latum said. "His hair was all combed nice and he had a briefcase in one hand and he had chalk in the other and he was down on his hands and knees and we looked over at each other and said, 'Oh my God! This is amazing!' We didn't have our cameras with us so we couldn't take a picture, but that moment was so amazing. That something as simple as chalk could make somebody in this amazing outfit sit down and draw."

The story highlights the appeal of the public art form, which stems from centuries-old Italian street art tradition: it is accessible, fun and interactive.

Stimmell Van Latum, who lives in L.A., brought her team of street painters to Whistler last week for the second year in a row. She taught local artists how to translate their talent to 3D chalk art then took to the pavement in front of Olympic Plaza with artists Anat Ronen, from Houston by way of Israel, and Alex Maksiov, from the Ukraine, where they created three large murals.

"She taught us how to get the 3D effect by starting from a perspective," said local painter Vanessa Stark after finishing her piece of a bear in Mountain Square on Friday. "Everything is warped out because you want it to pop. You can notice it way more on the camera because it has one lens — or you close one eye."

For the uninitiated: 3D street art does, indeed, look like an impressive, but wonky image upon first glance. But snap a photo from correct angle and it pops out on screen. The other unique aspect of the medium is its temporariness. A single downpour or too many trampling feet and it's gone forever.

"I think the temporary aspect of it is the best part of it," says Andrea Mueller, another local artist and Whistler Arts Council's event coordinator, who created a dragon guarding a castle. "You kind of have to let go. A lot of the time you're really in control when you're creating a piece of art work. This has so many elements you're not in control of that it's actually refreshing."

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