Chalk Talks: An Interview with Bucknell’s Mysterious Chalk Guy

Rachel Healy, Campus Life Editor

In early September, quotes written in chalk appeared around campus. Initially thought to be the efforts of a student organization, it has become clear that the artistry is actually the work of an individual. Referred to in online forums as either “Chalk Guy” or “Chalk Artist,” this individual has remained anonymous.

Chalk Guy agreed to the interview on the condition that his name and identity not be disclosed. This interview aims only to discuss the process of the chalking, the inspiration for the quotes, and what impact he hopes to have.

What made you think about starting the chalking?

“At the beginning of last year, a mandala of chalk appeared beneath the Smith Hall arches. It stayed there for over a whole year. When I came back for this school year I could still see traces of it on the ground. It was that mandala, and that once, over this past summer, my friend and I found chalk children had left on a basketball court. We lost track of time doodling on the ground.”

Why do it?

“I feel like there’s an aggravating amount of frustrating news stories and upsetting headlines daily and it’s hard not to be discouraged. We’re a generation stunted by trauma, and we’re accustomed to the proliferation of terror—beheadings, shootings, police brutality, etc. etc. It’s a lot to process. So I want all my messages to be affirmative, even if they can only offer a moment of fresh air.”

Can you describe the thought process behind the quotations?

“I like films and television and I like to read. Most of the quotes come from stories I’m reading, or a movie I’ve recently seen. I’m on the lookout for short lines and snippets that are recognizable but make sense out of context. I think knowing the context of quotes and where they are coming from can make them more meaningful.”

Do you have a personal code? A set of rules you follow when selecting quotations?

“I try to avoid religion and politics just because of their divisive natures. And no expletives, ever. It’s difficult to rationalize displaying expletives in a public context when the mission is to brighten days.”

So are you really the only one doing the chalking?

“Yes I am. I have asked a couple of friends to help me on two different occasions. (Thanks y’all!) But yeah, it’s usually just me. It’s therapeutic. I listen to music while I chalk and in a sense it’s like my own time of free play.”

When do you usually chalk?

“I work at night. It’d be a little weird if I did it in the middle of the day. This also means most people don’t see the process of it. They wake up and it’s there. It’s like, you want the gift, but you don’t have to know how it’s made to enjoy it.”

Your identity is a big thing, there are a handful of people who know who you are. Why stay faceless?

“I don’t think who I am should matter. But if anyone cares, I’m a male senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. I want to elicit attention, but not to myself. I wanted to break apart loneliness, or feeling you don’t matter, or that you’re worthless. I’ve been here for three and half years and it’s hard to remain emotionally vigilant through a whole semester. It’s hard to remember why we’re here, why what we’re studying matters. Despite that, I still find I smile, I laugh, and I have my heart touched. These words hold their own against the world and I don’t want or need credit. The author is dead. These are messages from other humans, no more and no less than any one of us. And as long as people see the words and smile on, then that’s enough for me.”

I’ve seen pictures of you doing the chalk on Yik Yak. What do you think about that?

“Don’t take pictures of me–it’s weird. Take pictures of the work, the actual chalk, absolutely. Take as many pictures as you want, send them to your friends at other schools and send them to your parents. But it feels like I’m being made an exhibit when I see a picture of my back online. Like I’m some sort of zoo animal. I’d much rather people say hi, wave, or even introduce themselves. My body and identity don’t need to be involved at all for the community to enjoy these messages.”

Why chalk? Aside from being able to place it wherever you want, but why not posters up around campus?

“Well, a cool thing about chalk is that it’s elemental: it is washed away. But it’s also cheap, easy to use, and versatile.”

Any final thoughts?

“I’m just an average dude who went out and bought a box of chalk. I hope professors and staff are getting as much out of the chalk as the students are. I want to thank my friends who have helped me organize and plan, as well as the people who know who I am and continue to keep my secret.”

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