SHADOWTRACING

Emerging from darkness our perception is guided by the transition to light defined by the edges of shadows. We take shadows for granted, as common as the air we breathe. Rarely noticed in lieu of the bodies that create them. Although shadows exist in both day and night light, it is the night where they take on more significance. Perhaps it is because they are more plentiful, or that they symbolize our darkest fears. Created from fixed artificial lights, night shadows are usually fixed in one position in the landscape. Shadows cast from natural sources such as the sun and moon, are certain to move, but shadows cast by streetlights, buildings, etc. are as fixed on the landscape as any of the other man made objects that define our cities. Fixed shadows are rarely noticed because they do not act out to gain our attention.

As an artist I am usually focused on the edges of things when I try to draw them. A drawing is made out of a series of lines defining the contours of what lies in front of the artist. The line is one of the artist’s most basic and powerful tools. One night I took a piece of white chalk and drew a line along the edge of a fixed shadow. I was amazed how this simple act increased the vibrancy of both the chalk line and the darkness of the shadow. I guess this phenomenon is created by the fact that a white edge is being placed next to a dark field, but I was struck by the degree of the transformation. Almost like framing a picture. I drew more along my street, and all of a sudden the nocturnal landscape was transformed into a drawing. Kind of like the movie Waking Life. All the shadows were much darker and more proud of themselves. Dressed up in their Sunday best and ready for a good show.On Thursday night 3-19-09, I enlisted fellow artist Ian Nitta and we illustrated a two-block section of the sidewalk along College Ave. College Ave. has a thriving nightlife with many bars and restaurants. This was the first time that we took the idea public, and were not sure of the reaction. The idea seemed cool to myself, and fellow artistically inclined people, but would the general public get it. Would we be arrested for defacing public property? Well the reaction was immediate and overwhelmingly positive. There was not a single person that walked by who did not give us a positive reaction. Two women hugged us and many more wanted to take our picture. Most people thought that we painted the shadows with black paint to make them darker. Some of the shadows looked as if we filled them in with another color because the white border helped enhance the actual color of the shadow. A man was certain that a shadow was painted with blue paint, until I had him place his hand so that it cast a larger shadow beyond the chalk.
I took a walk down College Ave. this morning to see if there were any lines remaining. They chalk lines were still there, but empty of the life the shadows gave them. They stood as cryptic evidence, a drawing of the landscape, onto the landscape, and a window into another reality.
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