Alison Garwood Jones

Performance Art

July 18, 2015

I’ve been doing chalkboard art on the windows at The Merchant Tavern for two weeks now, armed with my ruler, Sharpie paint markers, Q-tips and a bottle of nail polish remover.

The Merchant Tavern, Toronto: Window Chalk Art.

One hundred thousand commuters flood Toronto’s Financial District on weekdays, and during the morning rush hour about ten thousand of them walk past the spot where I’m working (the owner filled me in on the math).

Because I stand right on the sidewalk to do my work, I get a lot of comments. I’ve gone from being a solitary writer to a performance artist and have quickly learned that shout outs, and even a bit of heckling, come with the territory. It’s like having a live Twitter stream marching behind me.

Here are some of the remarks they’ve lobbed at me:

“You spelt it wrong.”

“Taco TOOOSDAY!” (see this post)

“Nice!”

“Is that tape coming out of your marker?”

“My kids could do that.”

For my last three windows I wrote “beer” in Spanish, French and Portuguese in an effort to pull in visiting Pan Am athletes and spectators. Last I heard, competitors in judo and track came in with their coaches for heaping plates of protein and carbs.

Chalkboard art on the windows of the Merchant Tavern, Toronto. This says "Cerveza" or beer in Spanish.

While I’m working, I hold my breath to keep my lines straight. Luckily I’ve discovered that if I extend my pinkie across the glass as I’m drawing, it acts as a ballast so I can go back to inhaling and exhaling without veering off course.

On Thursday, a young woman walked up to me and stood at my side as I was outlining the word “CERVEZA.” I didn’t acknowledge her at first because I didn’t want to break my momentum. I planned to talk to her — but just not immediately. Apparently, she couldn’t wait:

“How do you get paid to that?”

“I know the owner,” I said, colouring in the last “A.” But that was too simplistic. She wanted the big picture, the key to survival on this planet. I put down my marker on the granite ledge and wiped my fingers on my smock.

“Do you have a website?” I asked.

“No, not yet. I know I need one  … but I just opened a store on Etsy?”

“That’s a good start. What kind of stuff do you do?”

She pointed to the painted baseball cap on her head, then leaned in and lifted up the costume jewelry around her neck to show off a colourfully painted clay pendant.

“Nice!”

“Parents just don’t understand,” she said.  The comment made my heart jump only because my parents did understand. They totally got it. I felt this instinctive rush to share them with her.

“Keep drawing,” I said, “and start building your website this weekend.”

She smiled and shook my grubby hand. “I will.”

I turned back to the wall, drew in a breath and kept outlining.

As I push “publish” on this, I hope she’s uploading her final product shots on  Squarespace or WordPress and showing us what she can do.

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