New York Times Sunday Book Review, December 2, 2011 Steven Heller
Today realism is just one more fashion, which can leave a Renaissance talent out in the cold. That's exactly where Kurt Wenner often works. A former scientific illustrator for NASA, Wenner is a street artist par excellence, who draws amazing original works (and occasional reproductions) in chalk and pastel directly on the street. ASPHALT RENAISSANCE: The Pavement Art and 3-D Illusions of Kurt Wenner (Sterling Signature, paper, $24.95), by Wenner with B. Hansen and M. Hospodar, exhibits his sidewalk murals of classical compositions — destined to be washed away by time and rain — that might have put Michelangelo to shame (at least the church let him do his indoors).
Wenner, who learned perspective and dimension in Italy, is one of an increasingly popular breed of street performers who earn tips for their artistic labors. At least the bills are higher denominations these days, as Wenner is invited the world over to decorate various public spaces. "It is interesting for me to see the way in which the different cultures perceive my work," he writes. "In Europe and the United States, the impermanence of street painting is foremost in the public's mind. . . . To Eastern minds, the impermanence of street painting is completely natural, even unremarkable. They are most fascinated by the drawing style itself, which is very exotic and intriguing to them."
"Asphalt Renaissance" is an art book, with startling color photos of the work in situ, often with observers standing around providing context. But it is also a process book. Although Wenner's own comments are sometimes inspiring and the text is enlightening ("The invention of an entirely new form of perspective was born out of Wenner's need to make an irrefutably original artistic statement within the context of classicism"), I could have done without the layout tricks, including photo captions in obtrusive color bars with faux chalk shadows. The monumentality of the work also begs for a larger format than this. But no book could be as incredible as Wenner's live work, which would be difficult to reproduce under any circumstances.
Business Insider Julie Zeveloff, December 5, 2011
We recently stumbled across some trippy art by artist Kurt Wenner.
Wenner's specialty is the centuries-old practice of street painting. But what sets him apart from other artists who cover swaths of public space with their work is that Wenner's work is 3D. It appears to drop deep beneath the ground into another world--one often filled with characters from Greek mythology or a fairytale. We asked Wenner a few questions about how he creates his larger-than-life installations and what it's like to be an artist working in the midst of a crowd. He's also been kind enough to share some photos of his art with us; check out the full gallery on his website.
How did you start doing street art, and how did you develop the 3D style?
I started to paint on the streets of Rome, Italy in 1982. I was studying in the museums directly from the great master works of art and needed a way to make ends meet. For six months I spent eight hours a day drawing and learning from paintings and sculpture. At first I sold the studies to tourists and museum guards, but it did not cover my expenses. I did not speak Italian and had no permission to work in the country. One day, I saw a street painting and asked the artist what he was doing. He explained the tradition of street painting in Europe to me, where it was a traditional form of folk art. After viewing my museum drawings he asked if I'd like to paint the head of an angel while he went to lunch. At the time, it was not a sophisticated art form, and my drawing skills were more than sufficient in order to distinguish myself. Working with the chalks came very naturally, and from that point on I've been street painting. The three-dimensional street painting is my own invention. I created it by studying a type of anamorphism that existed in the 17th century. For several decades artists designed large works to be seen from one specific point of view. I was invited to climb the scaffolding in several churches to see he frescos up close during the restorations. I even touched the Sistine Chapel ceiling. On some of the baroque ceilings I noticed that the figures were elongated to appear normal from the ground. I was aware that my street paintings were subject to similar viewing circumstances- people looked at the work from an angle rather than straight-on. I started creating my particular perspective geometry by adjusting the proportions of the painted forms to accommodate the viewpoints of the spectators standing at the base of the work. Unlike traditional anamorphic compositions, such as church ceilings, the viewing angles were very wide, and I started to use a curvilinear fisheye lens to document the compositions.
My own geometry is different from the 17th century works, and I have not published it. It combines a logical use of linear perspective with a projection outward from the human eye. Other artists that emulate the three-dimensional pavement works use a more traditional geometry called "quadratura" that does not involve complicated calculations. They do not understand that my geometry is unique.
What's your favorite project that you've completed? Is there a least favorite or one that was most challenging?
I think the image "Dies Irae" remains my favorite work because I learned the most from it. Now I am working on stereoscopic street paintings, which are a lot of fun. I am happiest when I am trying to solve an interesting problem. When it is solved, I tend to move on to another idea or problem.
Do you like crowds gathering to watch you work?
Street painting initially requires a lot of courage. Few artists are immediately comfortable sharing their creative process; it is intimidating to them. What I have found is that the process results in a catharsis. The artist learns that the public does not actually understand the process well enough to be critical, and is truly fascinated by the creative process, even if it is imperfect. It is a great liberation to learn this. That being said, street painting for tips was initially a survival skill. It was immensely difficult, but the rewards have been proportional to the effort.
How long does it take to complete a project?
I usually spend about a week and a half on the conceptual part of a project and a week to ten days on the execution. I have a lot of preparation done for a number of possible future projects, and this makes it possible to produce works faster if need be.
How do you come up with ideas for new installations? Do you work with companies or brands for promotional pieces?
Much of my current work is done for promotional purposes, and this can influence the designs. Many companies come to me with conceptual briefs based on my past work, but I also have a large cache of new ideas for projects. This is very important for keeping the work fresh. By creating designs for the fun of it, and then shelving them, I can often present a creative solution that is innovative even when there is a very challenging deadline.
What are some of the best responses you've seen to your street art?
Street painting has always had a fantastic popularity with the public. It is difficult to imagine another art form that would have such a widespread demographic. In the beginning the reaction was surprise, wonder and a bit of confusion. Now people approach the image with expectations of what to see. The diffusion of the images has been broad. I sometimes miss the old days for the reaction of the audience.
What's the hardest part about working outdoors and doing art in public areas? What's the best part about it?
Working outdoors is not comfortable like it is in the studio. The environment is often too hot or cold, the light may be harsh or dim, and it can be noisy and distracting. Sometimes it is so pleasant that one feels privileged for the experience, but this is rarely the case. Working in public areas is an entirely different issue for me. If I am not in physical discomfort, I can honestly say that I really enjoy working in public. There is a certain energy I get from the spectators that is really enjoyable and conducive to creating.
What are you working on now?
I am working on creating books and programs that will teach geometry, perspective and illusion as well as classical drawing and painting. I currently have a book out, Asphalt Renaissance, which covers my street painting experiences and the history of the art form by Sterling Publishing in New York. I have also developed a new kind of stereoscopic street painting that premiered in London. At the moment I am redoing my website to be more informative and offer giclée prints of drawings and pastels.
If the sidewalk in front of you suddenly opens up to reveal the depths of Hell, you've probably stumbled across the work of
Street artist, geometry innovator and former NASA employee, Wenner has been mastering the art of 3D drawings since 1982
when he abandoned his native California to study Renaissance painting in Italy.
Covering sidewalks in images of beautiful sirens and marauding monsters for pedestrians to stumble upon wasn't always part
of Wenner's plan.
"One day, I saw a street painting and asked the artist what he was doing," Wenner writes about his early days in Rome on his
website. "He explained the tradition of street painting in Europe to me, and after viewing my museum drawings asked if I'd
like to paint the head of an angel while he went to lunch. Working with the chalks came very naturally, and from that point on
I've been street painting," Wenner explains.
Street art has a history in Italy dating back to the 16th century, when vagabond artists called madonnari would draw religious
effigies on the streets with the hope that passersby would throw money on them in hope of a miracle or blessing.
But back then 2D was the norm. Five hundred years later Wenner hit the scene and anamorphic — or 3D — street painting
"Three-dimensional street painting is my own invention," Wenner said in an email to the Star. "I created it by studying a type
of anamorphism that existed in the 17th century."
Climbing scaffolding to examine baroque frescoes in churches across Italy, Wenner noticed the artists had used elongated
figures to make their works appear normal when viewed from the ground.
"I started creating my particular perspective geometry by adjusting the proportions of the painted forms to accommodate the
viewpoints of the spectators standing at the base of the work," Wenner said. "Unlike traditional anamorphic compositions,
such as church ceilings, the viewing angles were very wide, and I started to use a curvilinear fish eye lens to document the
The son of a mathematician and a music teacher, Wenner painted his first mural for a Santa Barbara, Cali. ice cream shop when
he was 16. Wenner now lives in California.
"I portrayed the family of the owners in a composition that was a cross between the Last Supper and Alice in Wonderland,"
Since then he has painted a rendition of the Last Judgment for Pope John Paul II's visit to Mantua, Italy, bucking broncos and
their riders spiralling out of a brick pit at the Calgary Stampede and sharp tooth monsters crawling from the crypt for the
launch of Microsoft X-Games Gears of War in Los Angeles.
In all, his love for late Italian renaissance and early baroque frequently shines through and they all appear to be in 3D when
viewed from the proper angle.
Perched on the world's pavements Wenner used to complete his drawings freestyle, carefully manoeuvring over each painted
section, so as to not scuff his work, as crowds gathered to watch. Since taking on more commissioned pieces, he has turned to
sketching the final street art/optical illusion before laying it down on the concrete.
Most of his works take five to seven days to complete and cover around 25 square metres.
But Wenner didn't start his career as a street artist. Instead, he initially worked as a visual artist for NASA.
"[I] created artist's renderings of future projects to Mars, Venus, and even the sun. The images were created by hand from
scientific data, landscapes of outer planets and future spacecraft," Wenner said.
Today, Wenner is preparing to release a book, Asphalt Renaissance, on his street art and hopes to move into making
permanent, museum installations.
But until then, his street art remains, as long as the rains, wandering pedestrian feet and city cleaners permit them.
Monsters climbing through the floors, magic carpet rides through fantastical cities... Yes, it's the return of the 3D artist
By EDDIE WRENN and TAMARA ABRAHAM
As tourists watch in wonder, a bizarre assortment of mystical animals appear to enjoy a rowdy lunch.
Elsewhere, two children are taken on a magical flying carpet ride across a peaceful city, while a woman is startled out of sleep
when a crowd of angry bikers and drivers plough through her living room wall... in the centre of Waterloo Station.
We've either slipped into an alternate reality where anything is possible - or we're exploring the imagination and perceptionbending
3D artwork of street artist Kurt Wenner.
The artist is known all over the world for his dazzling masterpieces, which fool the human eye into seeing a 3D image.
Viewed from any other angle, the illusion shatters, but pick the right spot and the bizarre scene comes to life.
The American's three-dimensional chalk pictures have included muses swimming in a pond by the side of a road in Lucernes,
Switzerland, a Judgement Day scene in a medieval town square, and most recently a virtual Renaissance city painted on the
pavement in Bettona, Italy.
In recent years, Kurt has been commissioned to create works for big-name brands as part of their advertising strategies.
Last year's bank vault (below) was commissioned by comparethemarket.com to represent the £16 million they claim their
customers had saved that year so far.
And in 2007 he transformed London's Waterloo Station for Sky HD with a design that saw a rickshaw crash into a living room.
Commuters could be seen posing on the chalk in an effort to become part of the image.
Wenner began painting in Rome in 1982, having been inspired by Renaissance frescos and sculptures.
He uses anamorphism - the technique traditionally used by artists to create the illusion of height - in his work as a means of
lending depth to the street surface.
The Michigan-based artist was formerly a NASA employee, designing artist illustrations of future space projects.
Then, inspired by the artwork of centuries-old frescoed ceilings he began his eye-bending masterpieces.
The technique can be seen on Renaissance frescoed ceilings, which were painted to give a distorted illusion of height for
admirers viewing from below. The most famous example is Michelangelo's 16th century design for the Sistine Chapel in Rome.
One of the artist's first commissions was a piece to honour the visit of Pope John Paul II to the Italian city of Mantua.
Aside from his more commercial commissions, Wenner has since concentrated on classical myths and legends.
Over the past 27 years Wenner has travelled the world with his talent, creating pavement art in an incredible 30 countries.
This guy is unbelievably talented and a true artist. I've seen his work it's really awsome.
Kurt Wenner was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, he began street painting in rome in 1982. Wenner is a God gifted artist famous
around the world for inventing three-dimensional street paintings and 3D pavement art, in this post we have gathered some of
his brilliant street paintings for you inspiration, we hope You will be mesmerized by his beautiful painting.
Three-dimensional illusions of Kurt Wenner
For my hour
A new book from a selection of street-dimensional illusions Kurt Wenner, a former employee of NASA, who uses mathematical
skills to create three-dimensional illusions on sidewalks all over the world. When looking at the correct angle it seems that
there are people standing on them, fly through the air, and in situ concrete may seem like a bottomless pit. Kurt perfected his
technique in 1982.
Teper, using the skills he perfected over 30 years, he is able to create stereoscopic images such as in the photo above, so that
people could walk on the unreal Wide Web, released Spider-Man.
For 25 years, the artist uses complex calculations from his previous work – the creation of conceptual images of
extraterrestrial landscapes in NASA – to liven up the floor and walls. Due to the emergence of computer-generated images, he
was one of the last artists who studied mechanical expect the prospect of using a pencil, paper and complicated equations. But
in 1982 he stopped playing and space projects, once sold all their belongings and moved from the U.S. to Italy, where he now
applies his knowledge in the art.
He says: "The drawings look real because they are calculated completely, and mathematically accurate. They would have
looked that way, if the objects in my paintings were actually real. I use the rope to limit the distance from the point of view to
my drawings. This allows me to calculate exactly what needs to be perspective. The figure midsize takes me five to seven days.
Twisted Sifter- The Inventor and Master of 3D Sidewalk Chalk Art – Kurt Wenner
Kurt Wenner was born in Ann Arbor in Michigan, USA. He attended both Rhode Island School of Design and Art Center College
of Design. He was employed by NASA as an advanced scientific space illustrator, creating conceptual paintings of future space
projects and extra-terrestrial landscapes according to the latest scientific information provided by the Voyager spacecraft. He
is an artist best known for his street painting and chalk murals using a projection called anamorphosis. These 3D chalk
drawings on pavement have been featured in many newspapers and on several television shows. In anamorphic art, paintings
are meant to "deceive the eye". A painting may look ordinary from one angle, but view it with a curved lens and it becomes 3-
It may interest you to know that Kurt is the artist who first developed the technique of illusionistic street painting in the early
1980s in Europe. His early work and development of this street painting technique was documented by National Geographic in
a documentary film "Masterpieces in Chalk." He has taught a few artists and has had many others try to imitate the technique,
which he considers a compliment.
When working on a project, Wenner usually spends five or six hours each day on the floor, an unusual skill in and of itself. He
said there is no exercise that can prepare a body for the time he spends on the floor. When he stands up for breaks, it takes him
a while to get moving normally again.
When he first began street painting his creations were temporary. They lasted as long as the elements and traffic would allow.
Like the painting he created for Gears of War, most of his recently commissioned creations are painted on canvas which is
ideal for pastels because it isn't affected by humidity, which can ruin works created with chalk
In 1987, Masterpieces in Chalk the National Geographic documentary featuring Wenner's work in Europe, won first place in
the fine arts division at the New York Film festival. In 1991, Swiss-German Television created a 45-minute documentary on his
work in Italy, which aired in Switzerland and Germany. His work has also been seen world-wide on Televisa, the international
Spanish broadcast station.
Wenner was asked to create a print ad for Absolut Vodka as part of its prestigious artist ad series. The ad, known as Absolut
Wenner, began appearing in magazines in September 1996. Absolut Vodka also filmed the creation of Wenner's art for a
More than 3,000 square feet of Wenner's oil paintings, decorative plaster, and architectural details can be seen throughout the
residence known as Villa Zeffiro (modeled after Palladio's Villa Barbaro near Venice, Italy).
In 1991, the Kennedy Centre in Washington D.C., honored him with a one-man show at the Center. He has also been awarded
the Golden Bacchus from Barolo, the Golden Giotto from Milan, as well as several other awards.
When Pope John Paul II arrived in Mantua, Italy, Wenner was commissioned to create an original composition for a 15' x 75'
street painting based on the Last Judgment. Under Wenner's direction, thirty of Europe's best street painters worked 10 days
to create the work. The Pope signed the mural, officially recognizing street painting as an official form of Sacred Art.
His illusionistic paintings are increasingly popular with corporate clients and advertising agencies. His images have been used
in print ads, television spots, and point of sale displays. Corporate clients have included: Absolut Vodka, Amp'd Mobile, BMW,
Cadillac, Champion Sportswear (Italy), Dunkin' Brands, Hampton Inn, Knorr Soups (Canada), Kraft Good Seasons, Lexus,
Lincoln, Lucky Strike Racing (Formula 1), Microsoft, Party Poker.com, Schick, Toyota, and the Washington Lottery.
THE 15 MOST FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
1. Q: What happens when it rains?
A: Rain is a great enemy of street painters as drops of rain will stain a picture and there is no foolproof means of protection.
Tenting the picture or covering it with plastic helps, yet water can seep under just about anything if the rain lasts long enough.
I fix damaged areas by reapplying the chalks.
2. Q: How long does it take?
A: I paint somewhere between four and six square yards a day. The complexity of the design and the quality of the surface
determine how much I am able to accomplish.
3. Q: Are you disappointed when it washes away?
A: I am always aware of the impermanence of street painting; wind, sun, dirt, and rain constantly remind me of its fleeting
nature. Even as I'm creating a new part of the picture, I can see the finished parts are already fading. I'm not disappointed
when it washes away because street painting is performance art; it's very much like attending a symphony. When the music
ends everyone leaves with a memory of the music. My work is the same except one is left with a visual impression. And much
like a musical recording helps preserve a moment, I photograph my paintings when they're finished.
4. Q: How long does the painting last if it isn't destroyed?
A: It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when the picture is "gone." In Switzerland, where the climate is very harsh, I've returned to
old street painting sites after a year and still seen a faint image of the pictures. Climate, cars, bicycles, and pedestrians are all
factors that determine a paintings survival time. They can last anywhere from a couple of days to more than a year.
5. Q: Can you spray something on the picture to keep it from washing or fading away?
A: The permanence of any work of art depends more on its environment, support, and the quality of materials used in the
creation than on a protective varnish. Anything sprayed on chalk will immediately change the surface and cause undesirable
effects such as turning white into gray. Any sort of fixative applied to chalks on the street will do little to prolong the life of the
6. Q: Is it permitted to do this type of painting everywhere?
A: The occupation of public space worldwide is generally covered by municipal codes, which change from location to location.
I've not heard of many places where street painting is forbidden, although Zurich, Switzerland is one of them. Therefore, most
street painters select a spot they are happy with and begin working. It usually doesn't take too long for a uniformed peace
officer to show up and informs a painter if they need a permit, or must move on to a town that permits their work. Street
painters tend to assume it is permitted to paint until they are told otherwise.
7. Q: Can you make a living doing this?
A: As with any occupation you generally find people engaged in the work because it supports them. And, like any other trade,
there are different degrees of success. Some painters live hand‐to‐mouth and others enjoy it as a lucrative profession. Success
is very dependent on the sheer number of people who pass by a work, their reaction to a particular image, and the artistry of
8. Q: How many people make their living as street painters?
A: There are probably two hundred to five hundred artists at any one time that depend on street painting as their primary
source of income. There are many more seasonal painters, those who only work in the summer months.
9. Q: How did you learn to do this?
A: I worked on my drawing and perspective skills at art school and was a scientific illustrator for NASA. In order to further my
training I left for Italy in order to study directly from the great master works of art. For six months I spent eight hours a day
drawing and learning from paintings and sculpture. One day, I saw a street painting and asked the artist what he was doing.
He explained the tradition of street painting in Europe to me, and after viewing my museum drawings asked if I'd like to paint
the head of an angel while he went to lunch. Working with the chalks came very naturally, and from that point on I've been
10. Q: What kind of chalks are you using?
A: I actually use handmade pastels, which are stronger and more permanent than commercial products. When I first started
street painting I used commercial chalks and pastels. I soon found the chalks to be too dusty and they constantly blew away on
the street. The pastels were more permanent, but too costly as I would consume a couple hundred sticks per picture. It didn't
take long before I began experimenting and making my own pastels with pure pigments and binder.
11. Q: Why are you able to walk on your painting and not damage it?
A: Most of the painting's color is in the pores of the pavement and not on the surface. Although I try to walk on the picture as
little as possible, sometimes I must in order to retouch a spot, or remove debris that has blown onto it.
12. Q: Do you make a drawing of what you are going to paint?
A: When I first started street painting I seldom made drawings of what I would paint. Now that I only paint for special events I
work out the composition and geometry prior to arriving at my painting site. It is important for the host to approve the
design, and it speeds up the execution time.
13. Q: How can you see what you are doing?
A: Unlike other projects where it possible to stand back and view an entire work, street painting and large scale mural
painting are unique in the sense that one must imagine the whole painting while working on a detail of it. It takes special
training and experience to work in such a format.
14. Q: Do street painters ever create permanent work?
A: Many street painters create permanent works of art in a variety of mediums. Street painting can be an ideal way to test
ideas and public reaction before committing to the time and cost of creating a permanent work.
15. Q: I would like to begin street painting. What is the best way to get started?
A: The best way to start street painting is to find a safe location with heavy foot traffic, set out some baskets for offerings, and
begin. An alternative is to look for one of the many festivals posted on the internet and sign