Every year, our mountain town features a two day Chalk Art exhibition. A local bank donates the use of its parking lot and a handful of volunteers tape off various squares of space for people to use as a drawing space. The artists can do a small drawing, x-inches by x-inches, or go big – and we mean BIG, several feet high by several feet across. Just by filling out a fairly generic application form (name, mailing address), anyone can participate. Sponsors have been lined up, and they provide the money for free boxes of chalk, a few cash prizes, and lots and lots of popcorn. Gotta love free bags of popcorn.
This year, like last year, hundreds of people came onto the asphalt, playing with chalk. We talked with a few of the artists; when you see someone drawing the Little Mermaid on a parking lot, the person seems very approachable. We enjoyed a brief conversation with a pleasant stranger but realized, later, that we'd be mentioning him in the B-O-Rama.
(The guy above? Not the Pleasant Stranger. We have pictures of the stranger, we know his name, we even know where he lives -- but, since we didn't ask if we could tell all in the blog, we're keeping some of those details to ourselves.)
Pleasant Stranger had dreams of being a fine artist, once upon a time. As he made his way through life, finding the girl of his dreams, his priorities shifted. Two children later and a mortgage to pay, PS realized he wasn't meeting the bills with the use of his oil paints. Putting away his brushes, he found a regular job…but he still had an itch to do art. He discovered chalk art festivals and street art. So, when time and opportunity permits, he packs his supplies, jumps in the car, and heads for the next available asphalt easel.
When we met him, he’d already put eleven hours into his drawing – he was doing one of the BIG squares – and believed he had another eight to ten hours of work before he’d finish. There was a chance he’d win a little money (the People’s Choice award was a tempting prize but far from guaranteed) but a greater chance that he’d go home out-of-pocket.
“If this was about the money,” he said, “I’d make more pulling the day shift at Burger King.” We knew it wasn’t about making a ‘name’, either, because the maintenance crew would be out in the parking lot tomorrow, washing away everyone’s work. So why does PS do what he does?
“To have fun, to be artistic. To connect with other people, I guess.“ Then he paused. “For the joy,” he said. "Not everyone understands that. Not for the money, for the joy."
We understood, we said. We’re writers. And he nodded.