THE FASCINATING STORY BEHIND THE UPPER WEST SIDE’S CHALK ARTIST ‘HONSCHAR’

Horschar3

By Mary Willis

Hans Honschar, aka “Ace,” is crouched over the pavement in front of Zen Medica on West 72nd street putting the finishing touches on a Dalai Lama quotation etched in perfect calligraphic print in a rainbow of colored chalk.

            Today more

            than ever before

            life must be charac/

            terized by a sense/

            of universal respon/

            sibility, not only

            nation to nation/

            and human to human

            but also human to

            other forms of life.

His signature chalking can be seen all over the Upper West Side–snippets of poetry, quotations, aphorisms and the names of passersby who pay him to see their names printed on the pavement of the city. The last time New Yorkers took the time to look down when they hurried to work or strolled in the park was before the Pooper Scooper Law was enacted in 1978.

Walking up Broadway at so fast a clip it’s a challenge to keep up, Ace heads uptown to Westsider Books at 2246 Broadway where he chalks every Friday for $25. On a good week when the weather is warm, he can make $200, but in the winter, he has to widen his canvas to include lettering sandwich boards for restaurants.

Horschar4Setting down his bucket of chalk, he splashes the pavement with water — his secret to creating letters that “pop.” “I have the best handwriting in the Tri-State area,” he boasts with good reason. A stocky 41-year-old, with a shock of wavy brown hair and deep-set brown eyes, his hands may be rough and chapped, but his writing is fluid and smooth, each letter crafted in alef font and carefully framed so as not to block the entire sidewalk.

He stops to greet a very pregnant woman sailing by. “Congratulations!” he jumps up and claps his hands. “You look beautiful!” A moment later, he approaches a man in a wheelchair and tells him a joke.  He’s known to toot the whistle he wears around his neck for no apparent reason or to let out a spontaneous hoot of joy when the spirit moves him. And though he’s not Jewish, he wishes a young Orthodox couple “Shabbat Shalom.”

Over a recent lunch where he asked politely if he could order a steak, mashed potatoes, corn, salad and iced-tea, he talked about his life. “I was born in Halifax, but grew up in Florida,” he said tucking into his meal. “But every time I ate a bagel and saw New York, New York printed on the label, I knew that’s where I wanted to be.”

Raised in a strict Christian home with no secular entertainment, the family prayed three times a day and went to a Pentecostal Church “where they spoke in tongues and did a laying on of hands.” His mother died when he was thirteen and he had to look after his toddler siblings while his father worked. Four months shy of his eighteenth birthday, Ace left Florida and returned to Nova Scotia. “To the place where I was born. The place where my story began.”

After high school, he traveled all over Canada, living in Montreal (“Leonard Cohen was a big draw”), Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa where he fell in love and had his heart broken. “That’s when I started writing poetry,” he launches into a recitation of his poem Euphoria–“I am coming back to you soon/(if you will have me) so let us leave it to fate/to arrange the coincidence/of our togetherness…” one of seventy-seven poems he wrote under the title “A Symphony of Sparrows,” never published but registered with the National Library of Canada.

“I needed that love to kick start me,” he said waiting for the waiter to wrap up his unfinished meal to share with friends in Strawberry Fields, the place where his love affair with the Upper West Side began. “Even if I could afford a room in the Bronx or Queens, I wouldn’t want to live there. You grow where you’re planted and for me that’s Manhattan.”

“Once I got to New York, I felt like I’d come home,” he continues. “In Florida when I wrote follow your bliss in front of the public library, nobody got it, but I prefer quoting Joseph Campbell or writing a Pablo Neruda poem than Jesus Loves You in the parking lot of Wal-Mart.”

horscharThe next Sunday, on a balmy spring day, we meet in Washington Square Park, his bucket of chalk dangling from the handlebars of an old bike stuck in third gear, a knapsack on his back. He wears knee pads, a bright orange construction vest and a Free Tibet cap in red, yellow and blue. Collin Higgins, a young pianist whom he befriended when he first came to the city, is playing Rhapsody in Blue on a grand piano to a gathering crowd.

Ace approaches two pretty girls and asks if he can write their names in a heart. Or if they prefer a star or a flower. Within seconds, he knows their names, date of birth and where they’re from. “What’s your favorite color,” he asks. “Purple,” one answers. “The color of royalty,” he compliments her choice with a courtly flourish. “For five dollars I’ll take your picture,” he says when he’s finished. “And for ten you can take mine.”

In two hours he’s made $63. Like many men before him, he came to New York to write the great American novel and doesn’t complain about his hardscrabble, solitary life. “I’m still paying my dues,” he says matter-of-factly then rattles off a quote from Ibsen. “The strongest men are the most alone. I discovered Charles Bukowski when I was fifteen and figured if he could write poems, stories and novels, so could I.”

Back on the Upper West Side where his colorful chalkings decorate the pavement like spring flowers, a young woman dressed in torn tights, Doc Marten’s and tattoos up her arm notices that she’s walking on a cluster of names edged with butterfly wings in front of the Westside Market on Broadway and 77th. She jumps like she’s stepped on a snake.

“I hate to walk on art,” she says apologetically. “I don’t know who does these things, but it totally beautifies the neighborhood.”

honschar mothers

The chalk art of Hans "Ace" Honschar. #nyc #upperwestside #uws #Manhattan #art #graffiti #WestSideRag

A photo posted by hfreeman17 (@hfreeman17) on

ART, COLUMNS | 39 comments | permalink
    1. harriet says:

      Thanks..WSR. I’ve thought about trying to find this artist and write about him, but u beat me to it. Seeing his work lights up my day.

      • 93rd St. says:

        Is there a way to reach out to “Ace”? I have a project that I’d like to see if he could create for me. THANKS!

    2. N says:

      As pretty as it is I think it encourages Graffiti.
      Sorry!

      • Mark says:

        Living in New York encourages graffiti

      • stuart says:

        Dear “N” – if this is graffiti (which it is not), the police should arrest all children who make markings on the sidewalk to play hopscotch. Even if it’s done under scaffolding, it’s temporary and will be gone before anyone here can change your opinion. Please don’t bother to contact your local precinct or elected official to make a complaint on this to prevent a ton of laughter being directed in your direction. Happy holiday to you.

    3. janice says:

      It always makes me happy to see your work. Thanks for beautifying the neighborhood!

      • DMH says:

        Yes! I snap shots of the chalkings on my phone so often when I’m walking by. So many great quotations and thoughts.

    4. John says:

      GREAT story! Thanks.

    5. Jeremy says:

      Awesome story – thanks so much for exploring this – I bet a lot of us had noticed more of these lately. They make me happy also.

      And props to Hans for his attitude about this whole thing. It’s quite a contrast to that Hani dude, who’s kind of a jerk about his sidewalk art.

    6. Jill says:

      A perfect New York story- loved it.

    7. Lucette says:

      i am so happy when I chance upon this street art! Thank you!!!

    8. zperez says:

      All of a sudden one day the streets in the 80’s had these beautiful writings and the child in me thought it was a fairy come to life to bring some joy in these sad times we are living in. Every day I looked for the gift and everyday you made my day brighter. Thank you “ACE” and may the spirits continue to bless you. Let us know how we can support your talent.

    9. polly mccall says:

      wonderful story by Mary Willis

    10. Steve says:

      I like that this guy does this. I just wonder why he is not bothered by the police and why they are OK with it. I’m glad they are but it’s so rare for this kind of spontaneity to be allowed these days.

    11. Richard says:

      I remember he wrote down a great quote by Philip Seymour Hoffman the day after he died. Can’t remember the exact quote, but it was so appropriate at the time.
      Love his work, very thought provoking. Unlike graffiti, it’s gone in a day or so – no harm, no foul in my book.

    12. Brian says:

      I am a bit baffled by some of the comments regarding why the police allow this and comparing this to graffiti.

      This is CHALK! For those who may not have kids or know what colored chalk is, it is powder that comes off in the rain. It’s about as permanent as pollen falling from a tree.

      • Steen says:

        Thank you, Brian. Chalk does not equal graffiti. Sometimes I wish people had a ‘pause’ button before they posted. Too often, unkind or downright nasty comments are made about the most innocuous or lovely items, just because people blurt the first thought that comes out of their thoughts. Apparently on the internet, many of us still act like we are three.

      • YoungSally says:

        Agreed. Has no one on this board watched Mary Poppins? Bert didn’t do graffiti. And (as far as I know) you can’t jump into graffiti.

    13. b47 says:

      ACE makes the west side a better PLACE. Lots of fun seeing your work. Thanks.

    14. pickle says:

      graffiti? seriously? its washable and doesn’t deface property, how is that graffiti? c’mon!

    15. Elly Sidel says:

      I’m so glad that Mary Willis found this guy and wrote about him! Hans captures what still is the spirit of the city by his actions, and Mary captures it in her story. Wish I was there!

    16. Christine E says:

      Thank you for covering this. I had the chance to speak with him once, and he was enlightening and preciously optimistic. We need more spreaders of joy in the world.

      One minor correction, is it Honschar not Horschar (at least as he signs his art.

    17. Sophie says:

      Since clearly no one is enforcing the Pooper Scooper Law on the UWS, can we ask the artist to draw warning chalk outlines around the poop?

    18. Beth G. says:

      I enjoy seeing the quotations and art. I just wish he’d keep his John 3:16s to himself.

    19. IW says:

      Lovely story, nifty guy, and (on top of everything else) a salute to superb penmanship! Thanks.

    20. yoyomama says:

      I saw this guy one day at Lenny’s and thought he was homeless. Is he homeless?

      And if not, how does he afford to live in Manhattan? Does chalk art cover the rent? If so, I’m both amazed and impressed.

      Lastly – I think what some of the less enthusiastic commenters are getting at is that much of what he writes is store advertising. Does the city have rules on where you can advertise? And if so, is the surface of the sidewalk (beyond X number of feet from the entry) permitted? It would be worth researching, for sure. Not to get anyone in trouble. But just as a matter of fact.

    21. Tony says:

      I’d like to hire him for a few projects.
      How do I get in touch with Honschar, aka “Ace,”?
      Thanks!

    22. scott says:

      You have got to be kidding me. On more than one occasion I have observed the vulgarity that comes from this man’s mouth in front of children, especially when someone accidentally walks across his sidewalk “art” while he is working on it. Great penmanship, yes, Great neighbor, no.

      • spacemonkey says:

        Thank you! Every time I come out of the Westside Market the sidewalk is packed full of people moving at a snails pace, and this guy is cursing at children on their way home from school for walking on his ‘art.’ And it’s NOT store advertising…just names and dates and fairy land quotes. Real charming!

    23. His art is life-giving. (P.S. “Graffiti” comes from the Italian, “graffio,” “a scratch.” I agree with the person who commented that living in New York City encourages graffiti–people to “scratch” out their thoughts around town.

    24. Liz says:

      It’s not graffiti. Graffiti is done for the purpose of self promotion. It is pompous and crass. It is also a way to disfigure, mar and destroy something of value.

      These drawings, unlike graffiti that is done with spray paint, are light, airy and of the moment. How long will chalk last compared with permanent spray paint.

      These are clever sayings that make your day a little brighter. Lighten up!!

    25. Suzanne Davis says:

      This is a charming story about one of the people that give NYC its special character. I hope to encounter Ace one day. Beautifully written by Mary Willis. Thanks for publishing it – and for all of your neighborhood updates. I love your blog.

    26. Hans…contemplates his “canvas”…much as one would see all outdoor artists before their first mark. He recently graced our sidewalk with a creation… and by the reaction of those that paused to read it, I would say that he is indeed, one of those special New York City treats. This article was most helpful in getting to learn more “from where his inspiration originates”…nice work WSR!

    27. John says:

      Enough already. It has gotten out of hand. Too many ads. It may not be graffiti but it is visual garbage.

    28. C says:

      My first time seeing this artists was a message read “Christine stay humble”. The drawing was an impact bc it is something my mom used to write & draw the exact messages to me before I went to school/work.
      Seeing that, validated my moms message as a reminder. I’m going thru a difficult time in my life & that empowered me. Pass this message on to the artist. MILLION THANKS & BLESSING of your work! !! Love life! C

      • LNP515 says:

        Wow. Finally decided to see what I could find on this guy –amazing to me that these comments are almost unanimously adulating. I sat next to this man at a coffee place once and had to move because he was so loud, rude and obnoxious — no other word for it — I was kind of afraid of him. But that was a one-time thing. Worse is that his work is just as in-your-face, and it’s eating up the sidewalks — more than any street vendor (I am a fan of street vendors) he claims the sidewalks for himself and his commerce. I find his work ugly and pandering — and while not permanent it seems to stick around awfully long. Ruins my walk down Broadway every single day. (I admit it . . . I try to shuffle on it to smudge it — but don’t worry, adulators — it’s to no avail).

        But you know — he would be just the thing for the UES.