Remember how the augmented reality game Pokémon Go had people wandering the streets in search of little critters? Now, New West residents have something even more fun than that going on for them.
Small, adorable creatures have been showing up as chalk artworks on the sidewalks — be it a tiny green lizard carrying a jar of hearts at Hyack Square, a mini blue dinosaur getting ready for flight on Seventh Avenue at Sixth Street, or a lemon yellow dinosaur striking a hammer on Agnes Street.
These chalk artworks are by artist Elizabeth Cartagena, who was commissioned to juice up the streets of New Westminster as part of Downtown New West Business Improvement Association's Public Space Activation Program. Between May and July, the artist has created around 10 works on sidewalks, parks and streets of the city.
Unfortunately, they all have a temporary life; they are often washed out by the rains within a few days of being created. There is little hint of any artwork ever having rested on the New West streets.
But, the impermanence that this medium allows is what excites Cartagena about it, she told The Record over a phone interview.
“I like that it's there one minute, and gone the next,” she said.
Sometimes passersby warn her about the impending rain even as she is midway through her art. But despite the absolute knowledge that her painting would have a moth’s life, Cartagena likes to complete it anyway. For the artist, it’s not about how long it’s going to stay, it’s about the joy of creating it.
She either uses chalk directly on the pavement, or with water. Sometimes, she uses a smudging tool, or an additional layer of tempera paint to allow for an ombré effect.
One time, the rain washed away her art even before it was finished; and another time, the sun bleached a painting from orange to yellow to a pale white over a week.
And that’s OK.
What happens to her art once it's done matters little. For Cartagena, the satisfaction comes from being able to put a smile on someone’s face through her art, or to have people come to her and say that her art made their day — “it’s the feeling that I have touched somebody today [through art]”.
Cartagena, a self-taught artist, who has been creating art her “whole life” using a variety of mediums including pen and pencil, colour pencils, acrylic paint, oil paint, chalk and oil pastels, plaster of paris, paper mache, and more, got serious about chalk art during the pandemic.
She had found a box of colourful chalks lying at her home around Halloween 2020, and had decided to paint a dragon, and a full moon with an invisible witch using the chalk bits.
Even as she was about to walk away from her work, she saw a couple of passersby stop and strike a conversation about it. This was a particularly pleasant experience for Cartagena, who, like anyone else during the pandemic, was deprived of face-to-face public interactions.
Ever since that day, she painted often across the streets in her neighbourhood, and beyond. Soon, she got commissions from Massey Theatre, Vancouver Dental, Vancouver Dyke March and Festival Society, City of Pitt Meadows, and City of New Westminster to create more work.
Today, her chalk art count stands at over 100.
While some of the works require ideation through sketches, some are created in a spark of inspiration — like the painting of a charming lizard carrying a balloon and a chair, seen in Tipperary Park.
Cartagena was simply inspired by what she saw around her: people walking with their chairs and balloons, at the recent Hyack Festival.
But how many people would have spotted and made the connection? The uncertainty around who would have stopped to see her short-lived painting on that day at that time, fascinates her.
“Who knows what time they're walking down that path? Or the time they're gonna come by? Or whether they're going to see that [the art] or not?” She'd never know, and that's okay.
Those who missed seeing Cartagena’s chalk art on New Westminster streets can check it out on her Instagram page where they rest immune from the rain and the sun. The artist is open to taking up commissioned work.