Taking place between High and Webster streets every year on the fourth weekend of August, the Palo Alto Festival of the Arts will once again turn University Avenue into an open air gallery, showcasing masterpieces from 300 fine-art and fine-craft artists. The 34th annual festival will be held this weekend, Aug. 22 and 23, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Like previous years, 150,000 people are expected to visit the festival, said publicity manager Claudette Mannina.
Hosted by the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce and presented by the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, the festival will feature many artistic highlights, including an Italian Street Painting Expo that benefits the Youth Community Service and the Kiwanis Club, and a Sculpture Plaza that includes the garden of fountains by ceramic artist Damien Jones. In addition, the festival offers gourmet food and wine stands, and music performances, such as an ukulele jam session and street corner concerts.
"You're always going to see something fresh and unique at the festival," Mannina said. "We always try to add something new and unique each year."
Two of the 300 artists who will be presenting their work at this year's festival are painter Melissa Mahoney and jewelry artist Davide Bigazzi.
Mahoney transfers energy from canvas to viewers
Coming from a family of painters, Melissa Mahoney learned how to draw sketches from her mother starting from her toddler years. Always inspired by the artwork of her mother and her grandparents, Mahoney became a passionate painter whose paintings have been featured in international and local arts galleries.
After earning a degree in fine arts and going through classical training, she studied and worked in various countries including Hong Kong, Italy and Singapore. She found her passion to be abstract painting and developed her own style, which she deems quite different from that of her family members. Fascinated by her travels throughout Asia, Mahoney saw something special in the Japanese cultural symbol enso. Based on this inspiration, she started her current series called "Vortices."
"(Vortices) are not just circles; they're spatial. They have some depth to them even though they're two-dimensional," Mahoney said. "I've been on this series for 10 years and I'm not tired of it yet. I keep reinventing it."
After studying calligraphy and hand-lettering in Italy, Mahoney started using a Chinese calligraphy brush for some of her paintings, in addition to flat brushes and her own hands. As opposed to certain Japanese calligraphers who aim to make a perfect circle in one stroke, she draws her circular figures in multiple strokes, working on them until "they feel balanced and complete."
"I (draw) the feeling of energy behind the moment," Mahoney said. "I like the idea of transporting people or transferring the energy from me to the canvas to the viewer."
Because she manages her graphic design company from home, Mahoney can spend a portion of her time painting in her backyard. Her long-term goal is to study abroad and take art classes in a different country for a month every year.
Mahoney is excited to be featured in the Festival of the Arts for the first time this year and share her pieces with arts enthusiasts.
"(Painting) makes me feel grounded. It also gives me almost an adrenaline rush like running," she said. "When I'm painting, I just forget what I'm doing. I'm absorbed in it ... and I find it really rejuvenating."
Bigazzi adds flavor of Italy to ornate jewelry
A master of jewelry from Florence, Italy, Davide Bigazzi has practiced the ancient technique of chasing and repoussé along with shaping and embellishing silver and gold with handcrafted, bas-relief designs for decades. He started learning the art of shaping metal at 14 years old when he started an apprenticeship with a master in Florence. After working with different mediums from large-sized sculpture to jewelry for many years, Bigazzi opened a studio in his hometown and started teaching his art.
In 2003, Bigazzi came to the United States, opening his studio in Menlo Park in 2006. He currently makes and sells a big portion of his artwork in that location, working with his visitors on customized orders and holding weekly classes for locals. He also offers monthly workshops to people from all over the U.S.
"When I make jewelry, I'm trying to transform the words into material," Bigazzi said.
Through each piece of work he creates, he endeavors to convey a message.
"For example, when I do custom work ... I always tend to speak for half an hour with the person and try to understand what she wants to say with this piece," he said.
From each metal tool used to make jewelry to bas-relief sculptures in the studio, he makes everything with his hands, Bigazzi noted. Applying the chasing and repoussé technique, he starts from the back side of a flat piece of metal, and using the little handmade tools, slowly pushes out the metal to create the relief on the other side. When the back side is done, he refines all of the details on the reverse side and completes the bass relief.
"In jewelry everything has a construction behind it, ... you have to go step by step," he said. "For many people who come here, it's like going to therapy because everything is a little bit slower, everything needs a little bit more time... and (they) can breathe the history a little bit and a flavor of Italy too because all of this stuff comes from there."
Bigazzi has been presenting his work at the Palo Alto Festival of the Arts for many years. He thinks the festival is "a great show" that is unique because of its location since it "puts you in contact with an audience that is also a little bit different than the traditional crowd that are going to these shows."
"My life is not only making jewelry but it's also getting in contact with (people) and kind of have an exchange of experience," he said.
What: 34th annual Palo Alto Festival of the Arts
When: Aug. 22-23 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Where: University Avenue, Palo Alto
Cost: Free admission and parking.
Info: Go to mlaproductions.com/PaloAlto.