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Home » Music

Contemporary Modannaro

Submitted by on February 26, 2010 – 12:25 amNo Comment

“I think it’s better than the original, and that you’ve captured her essence,” says Stavros Zoukis, a 55-year-old tourist, stopping to see Francois Pelletier’s French Realism recreation of La Treille by Adolphe William Bouguereau.

Pelletier’s sidewalk-chalk recreations of Italian Renaissance works like the Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci or Girl with a Pearl Earing, a Dutch Golden Age masterpiece by Johannes Vermeer, trap people in temporary trances.

As if stuck in a pedestrian traffic jam, most passersby stop, stunned and still. Their facial expressions vary from amazed to elated, and they almost always take pictures, deposit some change in Pelletier’s hat or lend him a compliment before continuing down their paths.

“People are really receptive to what I’m doing,” admits the 26-year-old artist from his post in Ottawa’s Byward Market. “I meet so many different people of different ages, different backgrounds, and I always get different reactions.”

On Sparks Street during the Busker’s Festival or in the capital’s Irish Villa every weekend, weather permitting, the comments he hears range from 95 per cent positive – “You’ve got a real gift,” and “That’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” – to 100 per cent ridiculous, two guys prove as they pass by Pelletier’s piece proclaiming that: “Painting on the street is like hitting on a dike,” alluding to the fact that when it rained the water would wipe all pastel and chalk, a street painter’s weapons of choice, clean from the sidewalk.

“But rain’s part of the game,” Pelletier states. “I watch the weather and hope for the best. The plastic wrap (used to cover his work overnight) will help a bit, but if it comes down, it’s over.”

Shaded from the Saturday sun under a straw hat, Pelletier’s face, like those pictured in many of the portraits he produces, is as smooth as the western planes are flat. Clean cut, his brown hair hangs just above bright eyes that light up when he smiles. Pelletier’s demeanour is personable. He speaks softly and moves slowly, but swiftly. If the art gets people into the store, so to speak, it’s Pelletier’s pleasant nature that sells the service.

Pelletier’s father, Pierre Raphael, an artist himself, says that while he loves to see his son recreating masters like Michelangelo, it’s not so much the classic art that gives him that sense of father-son pride.

“I’m proud of his work, but I’m also proud that he’s a good person and that he’s not a bragger,” he says, adding: “He likes to talk to people, likes to see people, so it’s nice because he does his thing and he chats with good people.

Chalking since the age of nine, at first under his older brother’s tutelage, Pelletier is one of those rare creatures that will never know how good he really is. Humility is one of his strong suits. His ability to see colour is uncanny; his attention to detail unmatched; his gift, god given.

A modern-day Madonnaro and good student of the game he plays, Pelletier is in tune with Italian Renaissance street painters who worked in front of churches and toured festivals throughout the 16th and 17th Centuries. Maintaining a Madonnari tradition that, because of its impermanence has like oral native follore, been passed from one generation to the next with little evidence of its past, Pelletier rarely even photographs his work.

“I should probably catalogue my work but, I don’t know, I just haven’t got a round to it,” he says. “I do receive pictures from people who walk by. Nowadays with digital cameras it’s pretty convenient. All I have to do is give my e-mail, and it comes back.”

What passersby don’t ever see when they are taking his picture is the price Pelletier pays for his passion. Over a weekend he spends almost 30 hours drawing his piece, and upwards of 48 working, chatting and answering the same questions over and over.

“It’s exhausting and takes everything out of me,” he says. “Your whole psyche gets attacked. Sometimes it’s hard to stare everyone in the eyes after a long day.”

The humble hedonist from Hull Quebec says that what keeps him elevated through the exhaustion, other than the sheer enjoyment he gets from practicing the art of street painting is that, unlike creations crafted on canvas, no one can possess a sidewalk-chalk piece.

“Drawing knowing that you’re not going to keep the work allows me to try different things here,” he says, motioning to the sidewalk. “Nobody will own it. So it gives a different perspective on how to work on it, rather than to do a commission for instance. Here I can test things and have fun.”

Having spent a year crafting his works in front of the Centre Pompidou in France, a museum that houses the world’s largest collection of European classic and contemporary works, Pelletier hopes to expend more energy travelling the world, touring festivals and practicing his art.

Pelletier is an affable enigma, both as a man and artist. His philosophy is best captured when asked if he feels that he is recontextualizing the portraits he paints: “I’m not trying to make a statement out of it. It’s just something that I do for the pleasure – for me and for the people.”

Remi L. Roy

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