Hans Honschar burst from the basement of an Upper West Side hardware store where his art materials were stored, his rainbow bandolier of paint markers slung across his body and the stars of the American flag tied across his forehead.
“I was ashamed at first to tell people I’m a street artist,” said Honschar. “But it’s the only way I can create, and I came to New York City to be the best.”
In a fluorescent safety vest with “NYC Department of Inspiration” written on the back, Honschar balanced an orange bucket full of bright chalk worn to nubs in one hand and a larger white bucket with splashing water in the other.
“More important than color and style is adding just enough water. The words have to pop up from the sidewalk,” said Honschar as he prepared the sidewalk. “And make people stop and read and hopefully put something in the tip jar.”
Honschar, 45, moved to New York City from Tampa Bay six years ago with only a Bible and a big book of quotes and a mission to make it in the art world of New York.
Honschar is an example of one of the nearly 60,000 artists who create art in New York City, according to . Although one-tenth of artists live below the poverty line, the number of artists has increased by almost 20 percent since 2000.
Archie Rand, an art professor at Brooklyn College and Columbia University for over 40 years, said the old adage about making it in New York is still true.
“New York City still has a glimmer that attracts artists with ambition to test their mettle against it,” said Rand. “I don’t know how they survive.”
Honschar said he barely survives. He is homeless. He pays for food and art supplies by creating colorful ads for shopkeepers on the sidewalk in front of their stores. Locals have paid him to create birth and engagements announcements in front of their homes. His favorite jobs were writing quotes by Harriet Tubman or Barbara Streisand.
Honschar said his clients love his handwriting, a fusion of his mother’s ’83 Smith Corona typeface and his father’s draftsman print.
“When he is working on the sidewalk outside the shop, I love watching people stop and do a double take and look down,” said Jill Keenan, owner of Tani, a shoe store on West 72nd Street. “His work creates excitement inside and outside the store.”
Donna Schofield, toy shop owner and client, said his bright bold colors make her smile.
“It’s so cheerful,” said Schofield. “I don’t want people to walk on the Hanukkah (message he chalked for me on the sidewalk.”
Honschar got into graffiti when a friend, also an artist, handed him a piece of chalk, and told him the world was the biggest canvas. Honschar said this filled his insatiable need to create without money. Using washable materials, He didn’t think he was doing anything illegal.
Honschar said he was arrested for vandalism when he painted “slow down for bikes” on a discarded construction sign in the bike lane near Canal Street. The NYPD had to cut his bandolier of markers from his body because he wouldn’t give them up.
“Police officers take the best photos of my work for evidence against me,” said Honschar as he crouched over the sidewalk, his fingers gripped the chalk forming 1 Corinthians 13:13 in royal purple.
As Honschar awaitsed trial set for January, he has not given up the hope of taking his art off the street and back on canvas. He said a canvas has more possibilities than a street.
“I actually found canvas on the sidewalk yesterday,” Honschar said with a smile. “I was so happy I didn’t know what to paint.”