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Chalk marks and a rainstorm

One of the personalities on the streets of Victoria, who lends an air of refinement to the tourist shops of Government St., is chalk artist Ian Morris.

As I pedal up Government I will look over and find Morris on most dry days, dressed all in black with a black porkpie on his head,865312-978105-thumbnail.jpg
Ian Morris astounds the tourists
hunched over on his knees on the bricks outside the storefronts. He wears an orange button pinned on his shirt with his City of Victoria busker permit number. His hands are black with the chalk dust and street dirt. His head is down, concentrating on his work as passerby stop, snap a picture or watch with interest.

He says very little. Sometime he doesn’t even lift his head, intent on his work. Some passersby throw money in his basket, others remark and pass by without a contribution, even if they take a shot as proof of the fabulous sights they saw in their travels on the West Coast.

Pedicabbers like Tom B. routinely stop and throw a toonie in his basket. “Thanks brother,” says Tom. That’s because Morris takes what we all are doing – trying to entertain the tourist while earning a living – and gives it a touch of class. Elevates it.

Morris’s work is extraordinary.

These are not simple chalk sketches. His renderings are full scale reproductions of major artworks. He specializes in Renaissance art, particularly Ducth and Flemish masters such as Rembrandt, Rogier van der Weyden, Lucas van Leyden. Sometimes he does his own original creations – one fabulous colourful lady of his graced the street for two dry weeks earlier this summer. But he doesn’t like tourists snapping pictures of his originals, stealing his images - he tends to save those for oil canvases at home. 

Old masters in chalk and brick by Morris
So he reproduces great works of art on the red bricks of Government St. He must start at the top of the painting and work his way down, lest his knees and hands erase the fragile strokes. Somehow he captures the light and texture of oil using only chalk or pastel on brick. By delicately rubbing the colours he can recreate a luminous patina. His skin tones are frankly astonishing. He will write across the top the name of the painting and its original painter, but he doesn't sign his name.

"I am not into the ego thing," he says.

Nor is he allowed by the city to have any outward solicitation, not even a sign that says; "If you enjoy this work, please contribute." Instead he has his little plastic basket in front of a happy face he has sketched on the sidewalk and the words: "Thank you."

He is considering adding another message. "If you wish to take pictures please ask permission first." He is irritated by those who stop, snap and remark without a word to him. He doesn't care so much about pictures snapped without a contribution to his basket. (But he does find it odd that his work might be worthy of a photo but not a recognition of the artist who has taken sometimes two or three days to create it.)  But  photos without asking him makes him feel akin to some tribes' belief that a photo steals one's soul.  

"Some people always ask, "Excuse me Sir, do you mind?" Particularly people from the Southern US. They are so polite. I really appreciate that," he says.

Others asks questions about how he does it, whether he preserves the work with a fixative (he doesn't), whether he takes pictures of the works himself to record for posterity (he doesn't.) or whether he uses the lines of the bricks to aid the proportioning of reproduction (he doesn't.)   But he prefers not to talk much about his work or himself. He would rather just concentrate on drawing.

Besides, who knows how long he has. As he works on a Rogier van der Weyden portrait of a woman he says: "The forecast is for three days of rain. This might all be gone by tomorrow."

Sure enough, that night the rains start. And the hours of his devotion run in colours down the gutter.

Posted on Friday, August 17, 2007 at 09:01PM by Registered CommenterAnne | CommentsPost a Comment

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