- Associated Press - Thursday, March 6, 2014

DALLAS (AP) - When the Standard Pour opened in Uptown two years ago, the idea was to use chalkboards to feature the typical menu specials, maybe some cocktail-themed quotes.

But when one of the bar’s regulars offered to do some cocktail-themed images, her graphic designs of fedora-wearing bartenders and spirit-laden bar shelves quickly caught on.

Now Tania Lazarus, an architect, is the bar’s designated drawer, creating new stylish depictions of cocktail culture every couple of months. Meanwhile, at downtown restaurant Lark on the Park, a half-dozen chalkboards above the bar and dining room feature large-scale art pieces that rotate quarterly.

Chalk art, long an ornamental touch in restaurants and bars around town, is on the rise as bar owners and restaurateurs use chalkboards as showcase artwork featuring more elaborate designs or regularly rotating original illustrations.

“It really lends itself to the visual experience,” Standard Pour co-founder Brian McCullough told The Dallas Morning News (https://dallasne.ws/1ia2TtT ). “People are, like, ‘Wow, you actually care enough to change the ambiance.’ Rather than just going out and buying a framed picture and putting it up there.”

In West Dallas’ new Trinity Groves development, the massive chalk-drawn menu at seafood restaurant Amberjax takes up an entire wall, while Oak Lawn’s wine and coffee bar Ascension lists its music lineup on a large board adorned with illustrated grapes and coffee beans. At The Tavern in Fort Worth, chalk drawings evoke the city’s ties to cowboy culture.

“I’ve noticed more of it in the last couple of years,” said artist Jon Flaming, who did one of Lark’s inaugural series of chalk art pieces. “It’s akin to street art, like a more sophisticated graffiti, not necessarily permanent.”

In the public arena, chalk art still runs afoul of city ordinances banning alteration of city surfaces. In 2012, an informal “Chalk-toberfest” event encouraging downtown-goers to create sidewalk and chalkboard art at various central locations was thwarted by city cleanup squads, much to the dismay of organizer Patrick McDonnell.

“My response was, ‘Look, this is public space. Why not allow people to express themselves and make it more playful and fun?’” said McDonnell, then a Dallas city planner, who’d seen similar efforts in Mexico and Europe. “Codes and ordinances have literally designed the fun out of our city.”

For business owners, those rogue associations, plus chalk’s temporary nature and an accessibility that decreases the distance between artist and viewer, are all part of the draw. And for Lark owner Shannon Wynne, the large-scale chalkboards are a way to showcase and encourage freehand illustrators whose skills are less appreciated, or required, with the advent of graphic design software.

“Doing commercial illustration, especially before computers came along, was just a natural thing,” he said. “Illustrators have always gotten a bad deal. They never get any acclaim.”

At Lark, the images - from jazz bands to cityscapes - change quarterly, with previous images erased and replaced with new ones. Some creations toy with chalkboards’ lecture-hall associations, detailing scientific equations or notated moves from a Bobby Fischer-Boris Spassky chess match.

Many selected artists have never done chalkboard art before. Flaming portrayed a family enjoying a day at Dallas’ Klyde Warren Park, while video producer Philip Lamb, whose turn coincided with the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination, drew a large black limousine and the two words “ASK NOT.”

Pencil and watercolor artist Narda Lebo was the space’s inaugural artist, eager to create an image of her own since most of her work involves preconceived designs. Her piece, directly above the bar, shows a pair of benign snakes, a nod to the serpent’s image in psychology as a link to unresolved issues.

“I thought, OK, this is in the middle of a bar; people are talking about whatever pops into their heads,” Lebo said. “This would be a great thing to look at and see what comes into their minds.”

The medium itself is more accessible to people than most art, she said, simply because most people know what it’s like to use chalk.

“A lot of art is abstract and expensive and hard to discuss,” Lebo said. “People who aren’t artists can come in and go, ‘I get this.’ They feel they can talk about it. And little kids love it because it’s a chalkboard.”

When staff members pointed Lebo out as the work’s creator during her visits to the restaurant, she said, people were more likely to talk with her than in a typical gallery setting.

“That’s something I didn’t expect,” she said. “They’d say, ‘My granddaughter wants to be an artist,’ things like that. A lot of times people don’t come up and talk to artists because they think we don’t have anything to say to them.”

Despite the form’s mostly temporary nature, artists appreciate it, too. Lark’s pieces generally require the better part of a weekend to create, and a few months later, they’re gone.

Carmen Smith, director of education for Southern Methodist University’s Meadows Museum, compares the form with sand art or ice sculpture - or even the Fallas festival in Valencia, Spain, which concludes with the burning of elaborate giant puppets. In each, the artists’ creations are meant to eventually be destroyed.

“There’s a tradition in art of that,” Smith said. “Maybe that’s what makes chalkboard art so special. The whole idea of creating something that’s time-consuming but temporary is kind of fun.”


Information from: The Dallas Morning News, https://www.dallasnews.com

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