I hated it and was in ecstasy when I got
A few years ago in Scotland any blaze ofcolour. be it brilliant or balderdash. would have got attention and financial reward. simply for brightening up a drab city centre street. But nowadays the general surfeit of precinct performers has put paid to one guarantee of patronage on grounds of novelty value for the pavement artist. Their ﬂourish is often surprisingly sophisticated. but people have become more discerning. and demand effort. talent and originality.
The police. not generally renowned for their promotion of the arts. are partially responsible for engendering the recent upsurge in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Just over four years ago there was a general laxity. no legislation or stipulated policy. in attitude towards street artistes; ‘move along now‘ could not be more anathema to someone whose work would have to stay where it was.
The burgeoning vitality of pavement artists is often thought to be largely the result ofthe phenomenon‘s newness. but ground drawings are ages old. akin to cave art even. and their urban practice. specifically in the Central Belt. was very popular in the Thirties and Forties when Glasgow‘s Broomielaw was the most famous patch.
In recent years the Second City‘s shopping precincts (Sauchiehall Street. Buchanan Street and Argyle Street particularly) and in front of the National Gallery and RSA in Edinburgh are the most common sites. and already this year the good weather has. well in advance of traditional summer. produced a flurry of chalkdust.
Alison Dewart (24) from Dundee. recently set up in Edinburgh; resplendent in anarchic-goth gear. dayglo green hair and snake-painted Doc Martens. she was more eye-catching than the boring Botticelli spread before her alongside the usual ‘I‘m an Art Student and need money for materials. food. etc‘ plea. l tentatively suggested that there was no reason why art students deserve any special dispensation — that it was rather like begging.
‘Oh definitely.‘ she replied flatly. ‘I‘ve never been inside an art school and I don‘t think I‘d want to mix with those pseuds. but I write that ‘cos I‘ll be at a disadvantage if I don‘t. since they all write it.‘
Alison is a relative newcomer. having only been chalking for a few weeks. Like many ofthe practitioners older than student age.
6 The List 16— 29 June 1989
she is a refugee from office work. ‘I
sacked! But then I spent months depressed on the dole before coming up with this— no boss. your own hours. inconsistent money but better than the dole. . . The worst thing is getting hassled. Because I‘m a girl on my own. guys come up thinking I‘m easy prey; they seem to think working on the streets is the same as walking them.‘
In contrast is 29 year-old Richard Price from Nottingham. a slick operator with five years experience. including several lengthy stints abroad. In Glasgow two weeks ago with a crowd-stopping display of three large Renaissance faces. he was able to set up on the difficult brick-sized paving stones on Sauchiehall Street because he used carpet-underlay paper. The masking tape border was so strongly chalked into the ground that a surprising number ofpeople didn‘t notice the paper. Numerous ‘What a shame it‘s all going to be washed away‘ comments could be heard. I asked him ifit was ethical since surely the appeal of pavement artists is that they are giving something to the shoppers for that immediate time. like buskers‘ music. and not something they can keep at the end ofthe day.
‘I don‘t know. I see myselfas a busker.‘ he contended. ‘though I only did the middle one today. I carry the other two around and enjoy the travelling lifestyle. I used to vary the pictures but for the last two years I just do these same ones because it‘s only a way ofeking out a living while I paint.‘
Themes vary considerable according to area. In Amsterdam. for example. lodged in a 1970 time warp. people pay for Jim Morrison. Jimi Hendrix and so on. but in Glasgow. 5(ls‘ Americana fares much better. Germans are often cited as the best appreciators of art. and the most broad-minded. The South of England is considered one ofthe meanest areas in Europe with regard to any themes and styles. In the States the fashion is nearly always towards ultramodern montages and violent imagery. close to graffiti art. and the Italians are often nationalistic to the point of bigotry with regard to imitating ‘foreign‘ artists.
()ne of the most talented and well known pavement artists in Scotland is our cover artist Glaswegian James Logan. A successful freelance artist by profession (his pavement work has appeared on album covers and in Forbes magazine) Logan does consistently vary his work. seeing the
street as an ideal platform for experimentation and expression.
‘Moneywise. it‘s not a reliable income and you‘ll never get seriously rich or anything. But it can keep you going. You‘re always subject to the weather and it helps if it‘s the end of the month (wages time) but the most important thing is how good you are. People are fussier now. but ifthey like your pictures they are usually kind enough to give.‘
For Logan the cost ofdoing pictures is usually about £7—L‘9 for chalks going straight onto the ground (they wear out rapidly) and up to £30 for the bigger ones. His pictures are generally on a larger scale than most other peoples.
"I‘he ground is the largest canvas imaginable. Why do some people have to squint through the crowd to see. when you can give them something unavoidable - slap them in the face with a huge dramatic effort‘?‘
Pavement Art maybe mostly imitative and light-hearted but compared to the sedate galleries any sense ofstatement. even ifit is just incidental or accidental. will not go ignored.
‘That‘s true. and highlights the fun ofdrawing on the pavement: that there is interaction. which is often interesting. and usually amusing.‘ explains Logan. ‘Whenever I do Darwin (Logan‘s repertoire includes such diversities as Einstein. Bacall. Dean. Chaplin. Monroe and Morrison) there‘s always some Jehovah's Witness wants to have it out with me about evolution. I stuck a Santa Claus hat on him at Christmas. got a lot of laughs — not much money. mind you.‘
Logan sees it in terms of the difference between live and studio music. ‘You don‘t get the chance to correct your mistakes. nor to have the environment to be technically excellent. But it extends beyond mere imitation: trends emerge. people feed offeach other. original compositions as well as styles happen. It‘s vibrant and enjoyable — and very sore on your skin and muscle joints — because it is not constricted by hierachical snobbery. like the Arts Schools era. nor limited in entry; it‘s just something anyone can try and virtually everyone sees.‘
Pavement pictures may not aspire to Huneker‘s definition ofart being ‘an instant arrested in eternity‘ since they will soon be dissolved by the rain. But they are also relieved of the artist‘s tortuous and pointless search for immortality and perfection: they have a relaxing feeling about them. existing as they do solely and literally for the here and now.