Local artist Shane Evans

A modest madonnari 

Local artist Shane Evans

Local artist Shane Evans doesn't see himself as being all that successful. But he is.

He has exhibited work in Paris, West Africa, Chicago, New York, Kansas City, and other major U.S. cities. He doesn't emanate arrogance, even though he's illustrated three nationally recognized children's books, including Shaq and the Beanstalk and Other Very Tall Tales and Osceola: Memories of a Sharecropper's Daughter. Evans studied illustration at Syracuse University and worked for Rolling Stone magazine designing covers in the summer of 1993. He is currently a designer for Hallmark Cards. He's a busy man, and there isn't a sign that he'll stop anytime soon.

Evans' work is rousing, but he doesn't chalk it up to just pure talent.

"I worked my tail off getting here," he says. "One could look at it all and say it just kind of happened. I was very methodical, but it could look like it just happened. I don't see it as all that successful, you know, cuz you never know what's going to happen. I just get up every day and do it, just for me."

He may not chalk his success up to pure talent, but, perhaps, as a result of his gift he'll be chalking up a 16-foot-by-16-foot mural as the featured artist at La Strada dell'Arte (The Street of Art) festival, June 10-11 at Liberty Memorial. Italian madonnaris (artists) have been using chalk as a medium for street painting since the 16th century, and Kansas City has caught on in the past three years with La Strada.

In all of his work, Evans' mission is to foster children's pride in themselves and to teach them positive moral lessons while encouraging diversity. Overall, Evans embodies what La Strada promotes. Evans is happy he was asked to be the featured artist for a number of reasons, one of which is that he'll be able to interact with children. "I'm going to do this larger piece and try to gear it toward children and education. I'll be out there for two days, and I'm just going for it."

With a particular interest in children, Evans wants to help kids realize their own legitimacy as humans, artists, writers, musicians -- whatever. "The main thing for me is to maintain integrity in my work and person. You always have to keep pressing forward and stay open, because you might miss something that can change your life," Evans says, sounding as excited about the possibilities that lie ahead as a kid himself, still full of ambition and a lust for what is out there. His youthfulness comes from practicing what he preaches.

As a personal goal, Evans has challenged himself to travel overseas every year because he likes to put himself in less comfortable situations. Comfort, he says, can keep people from observing. "I like to be in a place that shakes me up a little bit -- to be in it (where) what I've experienced will kick in and is reflected in my work," he says.

One of Evans' most profound experiences was in the bush in the West African Burkina Faso in 1996. "I slept outside one night, and I remember being able to think so clearly about things, you know? The next morning I sat outside, listening to my headphones, and this little kid came out and did his business in the bush, and then he came over and sat next to me. We didn't speak the same language, so I put my headphones on his head, and this smile lit up his face," says Evans, still amazed at art's ability to transcend communication borders.

Evans was deeply affected by his trip to Africa, and when he returned to the States, he began to evaluate his goals. "I felt the hand of God really taking over, this spiritual being, and I asked myself what I was communicating." Evans says he figured out that he wants to be able to create his work in the moment, then step back from it and view it with a detached, unbiased perspective, like a viewer rather than the creator of the work.

Whether it be through his travels or just innate in his personality, Evans keeps himself focused less on what he's done and more on what he can do. When he got the call from Scholastic to do the Shaq book, he was excited, but this man doesn't let anything go to his head. "It was cool, you know? It's flattering to have somebody really like what you're doing," he says. "When you get over that stage you realize how much work it takes and the challenge of it. From there, it's not just a job, but it's a job I love to do."

In addition to Evans, La Strada dell'Arte will feature more than 300 artists differing in age, experience, ethnicity, and style. A children's gallery will give youngsters a chance to join the artists in their street-painting efforts. Evans knows that the children at the festival will ask him all kinds of questions during his two days of mural-making, and he wants the older kids and adults to feel as free to talk to him as the young children do. "I'm very approachable, so at the festival I want people to ask me questions. I'm just this guy doing what he loves to do, so, you know, don't be afraid to ask me questions."

La Strada dell'Arte will colorize the pavement on the streets surrounding the Liberty Memorial at Main and Pershing from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, June 10, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, June 11. Admission is free. For more information on La Strada, call 816-931-ARTE. For more information on Shane Evans go to www.shaneevans.com.

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