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Art on the Asphault: Cecelia Ramos Linayao's Street Sketches

A short distance to the West, the Pacific shimmers an afternoon blue. With deft Disneyesque touches, Cecelia Ramos Linayao smears pastels on asphalt to recreate the ocean blue. She's a San Diego artist, and on this day, she's a street artist, heading up a small team working on the featured panel commemorating the 10th Anniversary of ArtSplash, the City of Carlsbad's annual celebration of the arts.

About 50 street artists have gathered for ArtSplash, each working in the afternoon heat to showcase their street-painting imagery -- everything from comic book characters to celebrity portraits to kaleidoscopic abstracts. The panels churn more color than the nearby famous Carlsbad flower fields.

The theme for this beachside city's 10th anniversary panel, the one Linayao is in charge of, is Under the Sea, an animated fantasy of mermaids with flowing hair and smiling fish -- clownfish, triggerfish, pufferfish, lionfish and more. Festival-goers, many of them families with with children slurping snow cones, stroll by, ooing and ahhing over the colorful underwater scene bubbling to life on the pavement below.

"Oh, look, Mommy, Nemo is here," says a young girl in curly golden locks pointing at a sporty clownfish. And Linayao beams, pleased by the girl's excitement.

For Linayao, the comments and praise are like applause. But it's not about ego for Linayao. Very private, very much in the background, she enjoys the interaction with people, especially the children, but she wants her art to do the talking. "I am always glad when people identify or relate to something in my paintings," she said. "However, I try to stay invisible. I want people to see the art -- not me -- the artist. I want them to see the image the way a writer writes a story that you never forget."

Linayao is a busy street painter, regularly invited to the nation's biggest festivals and street painting projects and winning many juried competitions. She painted in China for the 2008 Olympics. She was on the team that held the world record for the largest chalk drawing. She painted a mural featuring International Barbies for the Art Miles Mural Project. She painted at the Children's Museum of Houston, rated one of the best children's museums in the nation. She led a team that recreated the Sistine Chapel Ceiling in Little Italy, the first and largest project of its kind in San Diego.

The midday heat bears down. This is Linayao's second day on her knees, applying colors, trying to stay focused amid the steady stream of people. A sheen of perspiration dapples her face. She frequently towels it off, so it won't burn her eyes. She's a woman fond of hats, wide-brimmed hats to keep the sun from harshing her skin. Today's is a straw hat with a bright hatband of seaweed and tropical fish that fits the painting's motif. It's decorated with multi-colored paintbrushes inserted upright like feathers in a headdress. Her hair is too thick and curly for her hats to sit comfortably on her head, so she braids her hair in pigtails that dangle. She wears black, loose-fitting clothes for comfort along with open sandals so any ocean breeze might cool her feet.

She started early Saturday morning, it's now Sunday afternoon and she must finish before 4 p.m. It's art on deadline. It's art as performance. Linayao answers question from passersby, countless questions, many of them the same questions: "Are those pastels?" Yes. "How many hours will it take you?" About 14 or 15 over the weekend, she guesses. "Is that Ariel, the Mermaid?" Not really. She knows the distractions are part of the process and doesn't let the interruptions frustrate her.

Cecelia Ramos Linayao | Photo: Courtesy of Gordon Johnson.
Cecelia Ramos Linayao | Photo: Courtesy of Gordon Johnson.

Linayao spends the day seated, or crouched, or kneeling on a small rug, or a square of cardboard, her wide-brimmed hat her only shade, a plastic tray of various colors of pastels within reach. She wears blue vinyl gloves to wield a stick of white pastel to draw the outline of a lionfish. She applies other colors, green and brown and yellow and smears them with her gloved hand to blend for the right shade. It's amazing how she refines the scene with line and shading, how she can get it so smooth on the rough textured asphalt.

It's an arduous art, one that requires patience and stamina. "I practice a lot of yoga to be fit enough to do this," she says.

Cecelia Linayoa, also known as Cece, is a fine arts graduate from Cal State University Long Beach. "I feel very fortunate to be able to earn a living doing what I love. Especially in these economic times. It is ironic that as a private person, my profession is so public."

When she first saw street painting it was love at first sight. She knew she had to participate. "The sheer size and color was magnificent. What a challenge to create anything that large and in front of a live audience. My first piece was 4-by-6 feet. Now my average piece is no smaller than 12 feet. As for performing live it was learning another skill set. That includes making mistakes in public, working under tight deadlines -- again in public. And last, but not least, learning how to engage with an audience."

In addition to street painting, she maintains a conventional art studio in the Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego where she paints in oils, acrylics and pastels. She also works as a graphic designer for Cubic Corp. in San Diego, a job she's done for a good many years.

As a California-born Filipina, she often incorporates her ethnicity into her work, but does so without hammering a point. "For example, I painted a piece I title 'The Color of Beauty.' The painting is in black and white, and I wanted to see if people would change the way they think/feel about facial features if they saw them without color. Some people really got into it, wanted to discuss; they enjoyed the play on words in the title. Some people didn't get it at all. No matter. It was not a test. It was my way of expressing a thought/theory without being rude or offensive," she says.

"When I do deliberately paint something Filipino, it is very obvious. For example, an event's theme was 'Handog' which translates to offering or gift. My art is my offering/gift, thus my self-portrait."

When the festival is over, in the middle of the night, a street cleaner sweeps the art away, hours and hours of painstaking beauty forever obliterated in minutes. "Street painting by definition is temporary art. I know it freaks people out. There are layers to this art form. One of which is that it keep you, the artist, in the present. You can't worry about yesterday or tomorrow when you have this to do today. When you connect with the audience -- having this same experience in this one moment in time -- it is incredible!" she says.

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