Chalkmaster fade-out

Legendary sidewalk artist poised to leave city a little greyer

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It’s the busiest intersection in Toronto, but people stop at Yonge and Dundas. They’re congregating, blocking a busy sidewalk to take in the craft of a master madonnaro, a tough guy with coal miner’s hands.

He’s chalking in part of an image from the Sistine Chapel, the Libyan Sibyl, in black and white on concrete. He’s leaning, one hand holding a cigarette, the other scratching quickly, filling out an arch with blackboard chalk. When his chalk cracks, he flicks it into the street.

He goes through chalk like an addict and cigarettes like an artist.

He’s Chalkmaster Dave. After more than a decade making a living, literally, off the street, he’s leaving.

He started so he could afford plane tickets to see a girlfriend who moved to Sweden. She broke up with him after a month. Eleven years later, he’s still chalking.

Nearly every day when it’s not raining, even in the winter, he puts out his buckets for change and draws superheroes or figures from Michelangelo.

Victor Fraser, another Toronto street artist, says Dave is his own man. “He doesn’t want to ask [his friends] for help, but he’ll go out and ask the whole city of Toronto on his hands and knees for help.”

Dave needs their help to see his daughter in Halifax. Whenever he has any real sort of money, he gets on a train to Nova Scotia.

Back and forth he goes, pulled between Toronto and Halifax, spending every dime he has on travel and hating himself for it.

“I mean, I’m 36. I should have savings,” he says.

He keeps coming back because he loves Toronto crowds, whose tips keep him going.

To smooth his drawings, he has to wipe them with his hands. He’s done this for so long that he has to worry about nerve damage.

Dave admits he can’t be a chalkmaster forever. He simply can’t afford to. He’s going to try a different line – drawing live on his blog, where people can donate online. Maybe he’ll start a comic book. He might chalk occasionally, but people won’t be seeing Dave or his drawings daily any more.

On the street, a sidewalk drawing has a known lifespan.

After Dave leaves , passersby still stop to take in his work. If rain or snow doesn’t wash it away first, footprints gradually blur the picture. Eventually, no one looks down. Then protestors or buskers claim the area.

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