Alameda artist sets a world record

ALAMEDA — An artist can have a vision so sweeping others might not notice it — at least from where they’re standing — even after it’s been chalked out in plain sight for all to enjoy.

You just need to get a bit higher to appreciate the work.

Mark Lewis Wagner wanted to create the world’s largest piece of ground chalk art by a single artist.

So he did.

“This is about the creative evolution of the Earth,” Wagner said on a recent morning as he looked upon his piece, sketched on the ground at the former Alameda Naval Air Station.

Last month, under a cloudy sky on a soccer ground where U.S. Navy sailors once took a breather from sports and exercising, Wagner set to work.

Six days later, following about 45 hours of labor and after independent monitors regularly checked his progress on behalf of the Guinness Book of World Records, he was done.

“I was relieved that I followed my vision,” Wagner said as he stood on the transformed space while his dog, “Karma,” ran and barked nearby, as if in celebration.

The work is called “Earth Blessings from the Creative Spirit.”

Walk past Alameda Soccer’s Futsal Courts and Wagner’s work can seem hidden.

That’s partly because his art — scattered in a rainbow of colors on the ground — – is behind a locked gate at the former military base, a place now busy with crews building apartments, condominiums and spots for offices and shops, plus reconfiguring roads and doing other work redeveloping the site.

Artist Mark Lewis Wagner is seen with his chalk drawing in Alameda. Wagner’s piece set a Guinness World Record for the largest chalk art. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group) 

The USS Hornet Sea, Air & Space Museum is near where Wagner made his creation. He worked with the Alameda Recreation and Park Department for permission on the project, which is on city property.

“Really, where is it?” said Betsy Hu, 47, of Oakland as she walked near Wagner’s art with her friend Janie Chou, 40, also of Oakland. The two women regularly visit the former Navy base for a walk and to exercise along the San Francisco Bay shoreline.

Both stood outside the locked fence and looked at the chalked sketch.

“It’s hard to make out,” Chou said as she gripped the wrought iron gate. “It’s really the biggest in the world?”

Wagner’s chalk display has already survived rain, as well as the spray that can sometimes blow off the bay, just a few dozen yards away. Soccer players already have sprinted and darted over it when the ground is open for a game, much to the artist’s pleasure.

“That’s pretty good, I think,” Wagner said.

Some of the chalk could disappear if the weather gets especially wet. Other chalk could stay for a couple of years, Wagner said.

Some chalk that ended up in the piece is the kind that contractors use to outline places on work sites. Some is the type kids scratch on sidewalks. Some chalk was like dust that Wagner sprinkled on the ground, like seeds. Other chalk he sprayed.

Artist Mark Lewis Wagner is seen with a three-dimensional part of his chalk drawing from this drone view in Alameda. Wagner’s piece set a Guinness World Record for the largest chalk art. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group) 

“But it was all chalk,” Wagner said. He noted that the Guinness Book of World Records required that any material he used be easily available to others — in the event someone wanted to challenge him and set another record.

The previous largest chalk painting by a single artist measured about 1,800 square feet. Federico Delgado Heredia created it in Montevideo, Uruguay, in February 2019.

“Mine is 10 times larger,” Wagner said.

He said he decided to do it to inspire creativity in others, especially children.

At 18,500 square feet, Wagner’s piece can be hard to take in, especially if you’re a soccer player who keeps his eyes on the ball, or a passerby walking a dog, not realizing what’s behind the locked fence.

To truly recognize what Wagner has achieved at 250 West Hornet Ave., someone must get above ground, literally.

Climb a stepladder, or maybe raise a drone with a camera, and you might take it all in.

The artwork includes a drawing of the Earth and slogans that represent political struggles.

Artist Mark Lewis Wagner’s chalk drawing is seen from this drone view in Alameda. Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group) 

From dinosaurs to buffalos, there are animals, as well as a Native American man, his heart visible on his chest, reaching toward an artist’s palette, as if struggling to create. There’s also a butterfly and a bird that appears to glide above.

There’s spirals and stars. And color. Lots of color: Blues, yellows, browns, reds and greens.

(A tip: If you visit, close one eye as you look at some of the animal images chalked on the ground and you will find that some appear vertical — as if standing up).

Wagner first began thinking about the project back in June 2008, when he helped spearhead through his nonprofit, “Drawing on Earth,” which aims to inspire creativity among young people around the world, another massive piece of ground chalk art at Alameda Point — a 90,000-square-foot piece of work, which also made it into the Guinness Book of World Records.

He said he was inspired by teaching art to students as a parent volunteer at Franklin Elementary School, when his two children were then students.

“I was just amazed by the work the students created,” Wagner said.

Some 6,000 people, including 4,000 elementary school children, helped create the earlier chalk art. A satellite photograph from 423 miles high was taken of it.

Artist Mark Lewis Wagner is seen with his chalk drawing from this drone view in Alameda. Wagner’s piece set a Guinness World Record for the largest chalk art. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group) 

As an artist who creates in multiple mediums, including paint and digital, Wagner has worked with the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, SpaceX, Target, Samsung, the Oakland Museum and the Oakland Zoo.

The Alameda resident said he spent about $400 on chalk for the latest piece.

Wagner celebrated his accomplishment with family and friends. Bottles of wine were opened at the site when it was completed.

As he raised a toast, those gathered said what they hoped the future would bring. Wagner hoped his work would remind people to try and change the world, especially to end violence against women and to support the struggles of indigenous people, no matter where they might live

“I am relieved for following my vision,” Wagner said. “But what I really want to see in the future is more human creativity on the planet.”

Artist Mark Lewis Wagner with his chalk drawing seen a drone view in Alameda. Wagner’s piece set a Guinness World Record for the largest chalk art. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group) 

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