There comes a time when the doings of street culture succeed in ruffling whiskers in rarefied art circles. I am tempted to believe we have reached that crossroad a-gain. While traveling up the pleasant gradient of Ho Plaza, my vision was seared by a splash of brilliant acrylic blue. Dazzled, I bent down and waddled nearer, squinting: The baby blue, perfectly complemented by a sedate orange, spelled out, with high visibility, the words, “The Hangovers.” But these colors, lively as they were, were not acrylic at all: They were chalk colors. “I would like to hang out with the artist who spilt genius onto this Ho,” I thought. “You wag,” I thought, furthermore.
To call these sidewalk depictions marketing is to miss the greater purpose of chalking, which is to relate one’s singing group or one’s own self to nature’s beauty. It should come as no surprise that chalk is made of gypsum, a word derived from the Greek verb meaning “to cook” — cooking, another newly recognized art form. Sometimes it is the lowliest of functions — eating, self-promotion, urination — that produce the most surreal and unexpected art forms. Fret not, dear reader, for I was once shallow enough to misunderstand chalking — when it seemed to me a fire hydrant, and I, its dog with caustic yellow font. My penance will arrive as a three-part documentary on chalking, followed by the release of a full-color 2009 calendar (all proceeds will go to children).
While I remain unaware of the time-space of chalking’s antaean transformation into an art form, by focusing on contemporary techniques — those I’ve been cataloguing ever since my recent encounter on Ho Plaza — I hope that the public will zip up its mean fly and see, finally, the beauty at its feet.
Below are several techniques I behoove you to take camera-phone photos of:
The Francis Bacon: Categorized by a blow-dried, acid-dissolved color smear, obviously taking advantage of post-millennial chalk-spray technologies; typically the color palette is limited to grey, blue, purple and yellow.
The Takashi Murakami: Imagine that the most splendid girl in the world has been burned into the ground as a 2D cartoon and, subsequently, her effigy made more beautiful — you might understand. Her eyes, often arranged in the cubist manner, are as opalescent and twinkling as the mother of pearl or Sailor Moon. (Someone familiar with the matter claims salt crystals from the Dead Sea are often employed for this effect.)
Emboss: If you’ve ever wished you were alone so you could bend toward the sidewalk to touch the baroque “C” in Class Notes, you have experienced the work of a master artist. I’ve attended several Class Notes events based solely on the embossing of that letter.
The Fibonacci: A most recent development in chalking that utilizes the graininess of Ho Plaza’s cement canvas, and math. The Hotel School entrance was recently graced by a dance troupe’s conch shell logo of immense proportions — it was scaled-up to 20-times life-size, likely using the Fibonacci series. Still, the shell remained intricately textured, thanks to the graininess of the sidewalk, and to prime numbers.
And there are others, but they are still only tentatively titled. I expect to publish the finished Digest of Chalking for public access in late Summer (available at a deep discount with the purchase of the calendar or documentary DVD).
Now, reader, I place the chalk in your hands. I ask you to be mindful where you step, because you may be stepping on the Johnson’s next exhibition.