Student artists Chalk the Walk

Jinyoung Ko/HIGHLANDER
Jinyoung Ko/HIGHLANDER

A massive blue wave rises out of the deep waters of the Pacific Ocean, its cobalt color transforming to white as it crests. Rowboats lie below it, directly in its path, struggling to remain afloat as the hands of the turbulent sea reach to drag it to the seafloor. And yet, beyond the agitated water, the snowy peak of a mountain far in the distance rises above the chaotic maelstrom, emanating a sense of peace despite the howling and raging of the ocean.

This replication of the woodblock print The Great Wave off Kanagawa was one story of many told at UCR last week. But it wasn’t written or spoken — it was expressed in chalk.

During UCR’s 23rd annual Chalk the Walk event, UCR’s skilled crop of student artists were tasked with giving color to UCR’s gray, bleak sidewalks using a box of chalk and their imaginations. The result was a colorful display of UCR students’ artistic talent that brightened up the week of passerby, causing many to stop and gaze at the designs and colors leaping from the pavement.

The purpose of Chalk the Walk is as much for students as for the artists. Twenty-seven artists participated in this year’s Chalk the Walk, each leaving their own unique mark on the event. An illustration of a stormy sea was only one of a wide variety of sketches.

One artist showed her love for Nintendo by recreating a classic Nintendo controller with an 8-bit Mario leaping from the controller and out of the confines of the pavement. Another sought to convey a message of hope and encouragement in a world riven by conflict, disease and decay. The artist’s drawing featured a pair of worn hands carefully using a sewing needle to “sew up the world” and the gaping red hole in its center. The duality of human nature was captured in a portrait of Batman and the Joker, each facing opposite directions, yet sharing a common chalk boundary.

Behind every chalk drawing was the hard work of a UCR student, each of whom had his or her own reasons for participating.

“It’s a really fun experience … It’s like therapy. It makes me really relaxed,” expressed Yesenia Garcia, a fourth-year anthropology major. She worked with UCR student Thilini Abeygunaratle to faithfully replicate — in chalk form — the crashing waves of the woodblock print that inspired it.

Second-year Gerardo Perez said, decided to draw a pair of lions after remembering a scene from the Disney movie The Lion King. “When I was thinking of the tigers, it reminded me of Simba. And then after that, I changed the lions into tigers, gave them manes,” he said. Each, eyes wide open and gripping the viewer, stood poised and ready for action in front of a replica of Pride Rock, an homage to the artwork’s inspiration. “If you can get their eyes right, you’ll bring them in. The rest is their imagination,” Perez remarked. “It also helps me express who I am.”

Another artist drew inspiration from the painting Nighthawks, depicting a forgotten bar inhabited only by a few regulars during the dead of night. Instead of simply imitating the artwork, she gave it a futuristic twist by replacing the people in the 1942 Edward Hopper classic with Yoda, C-3PO and other characters from the Star Wars films. “It’s like mixing my modern interests with classic art,” Michelle Truong, a fifth-year biology major, explained. “It’s a sense of calmness … I’m very in the zone when I’m doing my artwork. I’m still at peace as well, even though it seems kind of chaotic … It’s a nice paradox of inner peace and some kind of challenging stress at the same time.”

Students marveling at the art seemed to appreciate the soul each artist channeled through the chalk and onto the concrete.

“I really like it,” said Daniel Nickfardjan, a fourth-year anthropology major. “It makes me pretty proud … this was brought by fellow students.”

“I like how people, they take original paintings and make it their own,” agreed Naomi Martinez, a first-year neuroscience major. “I really enjoyed it.”

Chalk the Walk was originally brought about to create artwork for the UCR community to enjoy. In so doing, each unique artistic piece, even if it only lasted for a week, would serve as a bright spot in an otherwise ordinary day for students shouldering the burden of impending finals.

As with all artwork, sometimes we forget that a painting, sculpture, or even chalk drawing does not magically appear for us to enjoy. Instead, each artist spent the time to express their feelings, dreams and desires and draw it out on the pavement for all to admire. The Chalk the Walk did more than generate art for students to appreciate — it conveyed the innermost thoughts of the students of UCR.

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