When San Rafael Becomes the Canvas, An Interview With Artist Genna Panzarella

Genna Panzarella is a Marin artist whose bright and whimsical art was chosen for this year’s Italian Street Painting Festival poster. You can watch her and other talented street painters transform the pavement of San Rafael to an outdoor gallery of vibrant and colorful, large scale images at the Italian Street Painting Marin on June 24-25 in Downtown San Rafael. I caught up with Gemma to learn more about the festival and her craft.

Congratulations on having your artwork chosen for the poster this year. Can you tell me more about your plans for the festival this year?

I start my piece at the top with the original poster by Alphonse Mucha in 1896.   Then below I skip a hundred years later to draw the Mucha girl in Stanley Mouse's rock concert poster from the summer of love, and next to it I draw the  Mucha girl a third time from my poster fifty more years later as we still celebrate peace and love and freedom.  I call it "Mucha's Hippies". The art of the poster lives on!

You work so hard to create a beautiful piece. How do you feel with the idea of your art disappearing?

It provides me the advantage of not having to hold on to it.  I keep the best photos, and if I love it I can make a painting to last forever.  But I use this transitory art form to stimulate my ideas in a flow of imagery passing through my mind.  I have to grab something quickly, as I've been doing a new piece every week for 2 months....

How does the Bay Area inspire you to create?

The Bay Area has great art museums and galleries and views all around including Mt. Tamalpais and the Bay.  The people and artists and students I get to play with and draw with, give me great joy as well.

What is the most gratifying part of the creation process when open and on display to onlookers?

Your question answers itself, as you have discovered the greatest pleasure of drawing on the street;  the onlookers!  It is delightful getting to talk with people about the work, and find out what it means to them!  I hope to inspire people to create their own art, and to think about art as they watch it unfolding from the artist's mind.

Who are some of your favorite artists, creatives or intellectuals?

Today my favorite is Alphonse Mucha, and that is part of the thrill of street painting.  I get to chose an artist to study and trace and learn from as I add my own ideas and images to complicate things.  I have worked with Dali, Caravaggio, Michelangelo, Maxfield Parrish, Matisse, Chagall and Bernini.  I love them all and so many more.  I also have my favorite street artists from around the world and here!  at this festival!!

Final Thoughts?

Street painting began by soldiers copying paintings of the Madonna onto the streets.  My particular process for using this originally imitative art form, is to combine a pre-existing piece of sculpture, a painting, a photo, an ancient mural, and then add to it something in my world that complicates it into a new sentiment.  One year here I did "Man's search through the centuries for Ms Right". It grew from Willie Wonka with binoculars like a bridegroom at the altar. Then  I got to surround him with a famous painting of a woman from each century up to the present which would today be Wonder Woman!  The search goes on...

You can meet Genna and witness these masterpieces emerge on the streets only at the Italian Street Painting Festival in San Rafael on June 24-25.