Saturday, April 6, 2013

Resistance: draw on your town's sidewalks with chalk, please...

A fellow artist here in Maine, wanders the streets of Freeport and draws monsters and other creatures with chalk on the sidewalk, trash cans or the signs of willing store owners.  Last year there was a write up in a local rag about how he received a ticket for drawing with chalk on public places.  Vandalism.  Graffiti.  with chalk.  that washes away when it rains.  or if it is walked upon.  Hmm?

Recently, he was told again to stop by the local police because he was making the town look bad.  Vandalism.  I'm curious about the drawing of chalk monsters on the edge of manhole covers as being a wanton act of destruction.  Interesting too is how drawing yellow buttons on bricks is an act of malicious damage.  Personally, these things make me smile and let me know the community has a sense humor and a vibrant arts presence.  I would want to be in a place like this.

Graffiti historically is a record of presence.  We know that someone was there before us.  It is a visual cue to what the community holds dear.  My friend's playful chalk musings cue whimsy and openness.  There are numerous instances of folks being charged with vandalism because of chalk drawings. One instance in Doylestown PA left a teen who was drawing sea turtles facing summary citations and potential fines.  Chalk drawing in this case was cited as a gateway attempt to large vandalism.

In Los Angeles last July, a chalk walk was organised as a way to practice free speech.  Police intervened and began lobbing non-lethal projectiles into the crowd after it sounds like it got too large. (to be fair it sounds like some of the "chalk walkers" began throwing rocks at the police...)  Tear gassed because of chalk drawing.  In both of these stories, the chalk was gone after the first rain washed it away.  If not photographed, there would have been no evidence of "vandalism."

Which brings me to the definition of what vandalism truly is: Vandalism is a "scrap" that remains long after the person who made it has left.  Think cave paintings or marks in the Roman catacombs.  And those bits of graffiti act to tell us what was going on from the perspective of the undervoiced.

So my friend's chalk drawing might be a gateway venue to broader graffiti with spray paint, but it's not.  He likes chalk.  It is impermanent   It goes away.  It is ephemera that must be caught and then let go because it will leave anyway.

What needs to happen perhaps is a mass chalk drawing event.  Go to Freeport Maine or perhaps just to your own town or city and draw on the sidewalk with chalk.  Gently let folks you were there.  Also, let some of the uptight folks that are hounding my friend that you have his back.

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