The figure of Moses was the first subject I ever painted on the street. My first try was at the Rome train station. I was not able to complete it, so I did another version on the Via del Corso, also in Rome. Below is my account of the experience:
Early the next morning, I headed for the piazza determined to start a street painting on my own. I knew there were risks involved, such as having my fingers stepped on, or being moved on by the police. The idea of being able to apply all that I’d learned in the past months to a full-scale painting kept me from backing down. At the time, the train station was anything but gracious or comfortable. It had been under construction for many years, and was covered in rusty siding that funneled commuters into a narrow corridor. Black-market sellers, drug pushers, and Gypsies all sought their victims here. By the time I arrived at the station, my heart was pounding. I wove my way through the commuters, looking for an appropriate spot to set out my materials. As a visual reference, I was using my drawing of Michelangelo’s statue of Moses. An endless distracting dance of feet fell all around me, but soon a small group of spectators formed, and in their stillness I was protected from the surrounding chaos. I experienced for the first time a phenomenon that would come to repeat itself over and over again: The power of the image transformed not only the space but also everything and everyone around it. As the image grew, so did the audience, and the synergy created between the two was a tangible, positive force.
Being in the center of this radiant field gave me the confidence I needed to set out a few baskets to collect offerings. People tossed in coins immediately and enthusiastically. Given the shadier denizens of the area, I thought it would be difficult to hold on to the money. However, no one tried to take the coins from the baskets. At one point, a large group of garishly dressed Gypsies surrounded me. I tried to ignore their presence and concentrated on my work as they scrutinized the picture. They pointed and talked among themselves, in their own language, until they seemed to arrive at a collective decision. I braced myself. Suddenly, they all dropped some coins into the baskets, nodded at me, and then silently departed.
I only ever took very low quality photographs in the first two years of working on the street. It was lucky I took any at all. When it came time to publish my book, Asphalt Renaissance, I recreated some details of the early works to show the surface texture of the works and better tell the story. I have made this image into a limited edition print. It can be seen at the Andrea Smith Gallery in Sedona, Arizona. The address is below:
Tlaquepaque Suite D102
336 Highway 179
Sedona, AZ 86336
Their website is here: Andrea Smith Gallery Home.
My page is here: Kurt Wenner