Photo Story Friday: London Street Art

Alice Bernard, a French immigrant works the night shift at a local Boots pharmacy and by day, paints with chalk in Trafalgar square. Born and raised in France by a farmer and midwife, she never learned English. She has learned some basic phrases for her pharmacy job, but the job only requires Alice to restock shelves, so little language is needed.

Chalk dust on her knees and hands, she leans to grab another color – blue, for the child’s eyes that she is filling in on the pavement below. Although Alice does not speak much English, her art speaks volumes all by itself. She introduces herself with images of her past, signing her name Alice Bernard in the lower right hand corner of every drawing. She draws everything that she sees, from animals to plants to little children and their toys, grown adults on their phones, the retired crowd in their midday pilates in St. James’s Park. Every sight, sound, smell is documented in chalk.

Tourists stop by to admire her illustrations. Some take photos of her work, others stand in awe as she maintains her pin-point focus on the images the come to life on the sidewalk. An empty coffee mug is placed beside her drawings along with her Instagram handle so that people can donate or follow her on social media. By the end of each day, the mug is filled with small change, however on the rare days when tourists felt especially generous, bills were placed in the ceramic vessel by the people who felt inspired to support what they viewed as a “starving artist”. 

The worst part of being a street artist in Trafalgar Square was that at the end of each day, if the London rain had not come to drench the sidewalk and carry her art away with it, Alice would be forced to wash the concrete and move on with her day. This everyday occurrence is what kept Alice grounded and her pride in check. She never became too attached to any of the art that she created, knowing that just as quickly as she could create the rain could just as quickly wash it all away – it was the risk she ran when she decided to spend her days creating street art.

During her nights at Boots, she would sketch up more ideas for the next day so that she wouldn’t have the need to look up from her chalk. She was inspired by what she saw in the pharmacy every evening, even though she could hardly understand the conversations people were having around the shop. Alice would take note of the expressions she saw on the people’s faces and their nonverbal communication and that is what her art reflected – a universal language, something that didn’t need words to be understood. 

Although Alice had only lived in London for a little over a year she had come to realize that living here was the best choice she could have made for herself. Still eager to learn the language of English, she attempted to ask as many questions as possible to her coworkers. She also spent a lot of time in parks and plazas to catch what people were saying. Remaining as a sort of outcast for a while, as fear and anxiety nipped at her ankles, she knew deep down that she was in the right place. London was going to be her home from now on and she had to make the best of the experience. For the time being, she poured her feelings into her work, and as many artists were able to do, her work connected with thousands of people as they crossed the concrete of Trafalgar Square in central London. That is why there was never a day that passed when her mug was not filled to the brim with jingling coins or crinkled paper bills.

Note: this is a completely fictional story based off of my own ideas. I never actually met this artist, or even learned her real name.

Published by alliemilot

Student, Artist, Musician, Writer

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