It's a question we street painters get asked constantly. No lie, I get asked at least 10 times at every event I go to. The obvious answer is, the chalk washes away. The art work is here, and then it's gone. But why ask a question when the reply is obvious? Simple, they are looking for an emotional answer. One that conveys sorrow or empathy for losing the work you've literally spent hours on. Sometimes in extreme weather conditions and putting our bodies through hell.
I've thought a lot about this question and at first I didn't know how to reply to it. The anti-social and logical me wants to reply with: "What? Are you a dummy? It goes away!" However that's not the most polite answer.
After about the 100th time asked, I began to conjure up a short and simple reply to sum the question up into a nice neat bundle of knowledge. With a big ol grin and friendly disposition I'd go: " Oh you know, it fades away. Sometimes you even have to powerwash it off." As if I'm trying to make light of the situation. I've even heard from other artists reply with "we take a picture and we have it forever." or "As an artist if I want to see it again, I'd chalk it again." or a simple easy "eh, we just get up and walk away." No matter how many times I hear another artists version of a reply, its usually one that's on the happy side and as casual as we can make it.
Why is that? Why are we not sad that we lose the work? Or are we really just avoiding an awful truth and lying to ourselves that yes, this work is never going to be here again. So subconsciously we reply to the question to keep it upbeat so that we feel better about it. Also, no one wants to really hear a horrible sob story whenever they ask the question. ( Or maybe they do... Might have to try that social experiment )
I think about the questions patrons ask a lot. I pick them apart and think how could I better answer the ones that come up frequently. But this question in particular has given me the most trouble on how to reply. Because the patron is not just asking for the obvious answer, they are trying to connect with me. "What happens when it rains?"
Then the most amazing thing happened to me yesterday. I was packing up my things from work, getting ready to head home. Bridget Lyons, a fellow street painter who lives close to where we were chalking last weekend texted me a few photos. Tampa Bay had gotten a pretty wicked thunderstorm the day after the Hyde Park chalk walk event and we all knew past Sunday our chalk art wouldn't be there anymore. However the photos Bridget texted me made me smile from ear to ear. They were simply amazing!
And I replayed to Bridget text with "Wow, that is so neat!"
As a street painter we never really get to see the outcome the natural elements impose on our work. In my mind, it's always there, even if I chalk at an event a year later and don't see it. But these photos of our weathered work, the result of a full day of hard rain has sparked something new in me I'd never even considered. Time and the weather decided to add its own little artistic touch to it. Though weathered it's still beautiful. As if I passed it off to someone else to finish it. The metaphors here are just endless, and to each street painter I'd like to believe we are proud of this simple connection we have with our work and the with the elements. Street painting impacts people on a different level than typical traditional art for this reason.
It's an interesting and strange partnership we have with the weather. A contract I unknowingly signed each and every time I'm at an event.
I'm not sad that my work is temporary. If it rains, it rains! I may not have planned it to be that way, then again I have to remember the shady deal I made with the weather.
I still don't have a great answer when someone asks: "What happens when it rains?"
But at least now I have more perspective.