Kurt Wenner produced his first commissioned mural at the age of sixteen and by that time he was already earning his living as a graphic artist. After attending both Rhode Island School of Design and Art Center College of Design, he started working for NASA as an advanced scientific illustrator, creating conceptual paintings of future space projects and extraterrestrial landscapes. In 1982 he left NASA, sold all of his belongings, and moved to Italy to study figurative drawing and art of the great artists from the Renaissance. Wenner lived a stone's throw from the Pantheon in the heart of Rome, where he studied the drawings, paintings, and sculptures of the old masters in Rome's best known museums. Over the years Wenner's work became known throughout Italy and in 1991 he was commissioned to create a work of art to honor the visit of Pope John Paul II to the city of Mantua.
In the 2000s Wenner first introduced 3-D pavement art at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. Shortly after that he founded the first street painting festival in the United States at the Old Mission in Santa Barbara, California. The Old Mission festival, also known as I Madonnari, continues to this day as do many of the festivals and events Wenner started throughout the country. One often-overlooked fact of Wenner's career is that he dedicated one month every year, for ten years, to teach more than 100,000 students from elementary through university level how to work with chalks and pastels. For his dedication, he was awarded the Kennedy Center Medallion for his outstanding contribution to arts education.
With the ever increasing popularity of Wenner's images, hundreds of artists around the globe became inspired to create their own versions of three-dimensional pavement art. Artists such as Julian Beever, Manfred Stader, and Edgar Muller as well as others can trace their roots back to his invention in the early 1980s. By using computer programs or a simplified geometry to create their illusions they are able to approximate the effect of Wenner's three-dimensional illusion.
In an interview to Business Insider, Kurt Wenner said:
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.
Wenner lived in Rome for twenty-five years before returning to the United States. His work has been seen in thirty countries and he currently creates work for clients all over the world.
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