A distraction from “COVID madness” was all that Erick Toussaint was looking for when he picked up a pack of Crayola chalk back in April. The lifelong artist needed something to do that would pique his kids’ interest and break up the monotony of quarantine. So they transformed the sidewalk outside their Ocean Beach home into a canvas, starting with a re-creation of the Mona Lisa.
The reaction from neighbors was almost immediate. “I realized if there was something I could do to brighten people’s days during this time, it made sense to just keep on doing it,” he says.
Toussaint has created one new piece a week ever since, spending around four hours to complete each one. While he does re-create well-known art, he feels most proud of the more personal pieces, like a tribute to a neighbor’s dog who had recently died, and original works that shed a light on the human rights issues close to his heart.
He begins with only a rough outline, and enjoys learning the ins and outs of working with the medium as he goes—for instance, that ocean breezes will erase fine lines almost immediately. To counteract that, he smudges each stroke in to get a richer color and give the art a little more longevity.
But the quick cycle of creation, admiration, and destruction is part of what Toussaint loves most about his work. “I was the kid at the museum who always wanted to touch the paintings,” he says. “This isn’t so precious. Dogs roll over the chalk while I’m working, my kids ride their scooters over it, and by the end of the week, the piece is pretty faded.”
When social interaction is kept to a minimum, a sense of community can be hard to come by. But for Toussaint and his OB neighbors, one artistic hand and a pack of chalk has helped create a space for people to gather at a distance, say hello, and stay connected through art.
Muir Avenue, Ocean Beach