Recently, Syracuse Elementary fourth and fifth-grade students had the unique and special opportunity to visit with and learn from one of the world’s foremost chalk artists.
David Zinn came to the school as part of Honeywell Center’s Educational Outreach program, which “provides curriculum-based arts-in-education experiences for students in (its) 12-county footprint.”
Zinn’s temporary street art is composed entirely of chalk, charcoal and found objects, and is improvised on location. Two of Zinn’s recurring characters are Sluggo, a bright green monster with stalk eyes and irreverent habits, and Philomena, a phlegmatic flying pig.
Zinn’s work seemingly makes the sidewalk come alive in three dimensions. “It’s all about perspective and tricking minds into seeing something that isn’t really there,” he said. Prior to working with cement and chalk as a medium, Zinn worked as a pen-and-ink illustrator as well as a computer graphics designer. “It’s all very low-tech. It gives me a chance to get away from the computer and get my hands dirty.”
Zinn credits his early exposure to art to his uncle. As a game, Zinn and his siblings would scribble randomly on a piece of paper. Their uncle would then turn those scribbles into a meaningful picture. Eventually, as the children were taught the technique, they were able to play the game with each other. “It allowed us to get over the fear of a ‘blank canvas’ which all artists experience,” Zinn said. “Sometimes the most difficult things as an artist is figuring out where to start.”
Similarly, the sidewalks on which he now uses as his canvas are fraught with their own “scribbles.” Cracks, chips and inclusions are but a few of the pre-determined flaws Zinn turns into assets as he creates his work.
Anamorphic art, the technical term for what he does, is as mathematical as it is artistic. Zinn must elongate his work in order to give the illusion the drawing isn’t actually flat, but rather appears to be in three dimensions.
“The biggest part of it is practice,” he said. “It required a lot of trial and error.” What he does requires him to turn off his own depth perception, a skill he has honed since beginning this type of art. To properly see one of his pieces in person, he says the easiest way is to close one eye, since the brain is so complex it doesn’t allow the eyes to be tricked into seeing something that isn’t really there. The other option, he said, is viewing it through a camera lens or in a photograph, since the lens doesn’t care what the brain thinks.
Noting his artistry is constantly evolving, he joked his own self-evaluation is probably what keeps him from ever getting a tattoo. “As an artist, any tattoo I would ever get would have to be my own design,” Zinn said. “Everything I’ve ever created I dislike after about five years, since my abilities change and improve. If I got a tattoo, I know I’d hate it in five years, plus I’d have to figure out a way to tattoo it on myself.”
See more of Zinn’s work on his website, www.zinnart.com.