It’s a November Sunday morning at Lark on the Park, a restaurant bordering Klyde Warren Park in the Dallas Arts District. A third of the tables in the dining room are pushed aside and there’s scaffolding along the walls, which are lined with huge, blank, classroom-sized blackboards. In the next thirty-six hours they’ll be filled with arresting, whimsical, delicate and sometimes didactic chalk drawings.
This is the Sunday for the Changing of the Art. Seven artists will sketch statements in chalk while diners watch.
“We’ve had twelve installations now,” says curator Raynor Beardon. “And every time is a chance to meet new artists and have them come in and feature their talents. The energy in the room is contagious.”
When Lark opened four years ago, co-owner Shannon Wynne decided a bistro in the Arts District should feature, well, the arts. Rather than fine art, he chose illustrations, since illustrators’ ranks are rapidly being thinned by the advent of computer graphics. “I wanted to give a nod of the hat to people who could actually draw,” he says. “An illustrator can be anyone from a map maker to a jewelry designer to a street artist, to anybody that illustrates for a living.”
The chalkboards change every four months, with Ms. Beardon beginning the selection process and Wynne making the final choices. “The whole point,” he says, “is that it goes away. We erase the chalk pieces and they’re never really ever seen again.” Artists receive $1000 in food and drink at the restaurant for their efforts. All of the past and current one hundred nineteen drawings can be seen at www.Larkblackboard.com.
The most prolific contributor is Caleb Jacks, a junior high art teacher, who’s done six pieces so far. His latest effort is “Esteban Gallo,” which depicts a man riding a gargantuan rooster. “Illustration is my passion,” he says. “I’m always putting something in my sketchbook. I just dive right in.”
Brian Reinhart, an industrial engineer by training, is on his third effort. Last time around he drew a kitten with the shadow of a lion that was a crowd pleaser, according to Raynor Beardon. This time Reinhart crafts a tribute to Dirk Nowitski’s 20th season as a Dallas Maverick. “I thought I’d do a public figure that everybody knows,” he told me. “If I screw it up, everybody will know I screwed it up.”
The idea of displaying work that hundreds of people will see every day is partly what brings the artists here.
“I had an idea that I wanted to be above the bar,” said Hannah Brown. “It’s kind of a challenge because of the scale.” Her ‘canvas,’ on which she’ll draw the arm of a bejeweled woman holding a wine glass, is approximately four feet high and twenty feet long.
The kind of nature scenes Zarina Karapetyan likes to draw lend themselves to a large format. She’s working on a rendition of a mountain, which uses the darkness of the blackboard to define negative space. She is a classically trained artist on her second effort at Lark.
Another classically trained artist, Dace (‘Datsa’) Kidd is at work on the next slate over. A Latvian by birth, she earned a degree at the Art Academy in Riga, Latvia. Now living in Tyler, she heard about the Lark program and applied online at the Lark blackboard website. Her work: two ghost-like women, mirror images of each other, facing each other across a restaurant table.
As the images take shape, patrons fill the tables for ‘brunch and a show’ in the restaurant below. Some families consult the restaurant for the date when the new works will go up and make reservations to watch.
For the most part, the artists are not nervous working in front of a crowd. “The only nervous part of me is when I start a painting or drawing,” Joan Chamberlain told me. “You really don’t know how it’s going to turn out, no matter how you have it in your head.” Chamberlain spent thirty-five years as a dentist, doing freelance artwork on the side. These days, as a full-time artist, she has received commissions as a result of her work at Lark.
“It is a little bit of a challenge to create form, shape, things like that that are interesting enough just with white chalk.” She’ll spend twelve hours on today’s work.
“It would be wonderful to be like a performer and get applause when you’re done,” she says.
The applause in the room isn’t audible, but you can certainly hear it in the restaurant every day.