Chalk Doors

Chalk Doors

Words Kirk Truman

Photography Jonas Laclasse

“They do not work on their own, they work because of imagination. The concrete is for your imagination. Lots of people ask me ‘what is behind the door, where is the key?’ and I tell them, the answer is the mind.”

What do you see? Where do doors take us? The door is an invention, a simple interval between one room and another. Early August, summer 2013, a series of chalk doors began to appear in the West-End neighbourhoods of Euston, Fitzrovia and Soho. As I look out of the window to the corner of Fitzroy and Maple Street there is a door etched in white chalk on the side of a building, untouched for over 6 months. People still stop and make queries, take photographs and allow their imagination to draw its own perceptions: ‘Whodunit?’, ‘why draw a door?’ and ‘where does it lead?’ There is a door at the corner of Warren Street and Grafton Mews, Fitzroy Street, Charlotte Street and along Rathbone Place. I heard rumours of a graffiti artist from one of the local universities, the wobbly theories of a madman – none of which proved to hold any truth. They sounded oh so Victorian, so Jack the Ripper. Investigating the mystery of what I have simply come to refer as ‘chalk doors’, I had high hopes of discovering an odd type. Instead, behind every door I found the wonderful Jonas Laclasse.

Raised in Orleans, Santa Catarina, Brazil, Jonas now lives in Bordeaux, France. With a background in photography and design, he made the decision to commit to his own personal projects and drop commercial work in design just over a year ago. Today he is an artist and photographer. Although, as he would put it: “I would call myself an artist, though I don’t like the term, I think it sounds quite pretentious. Photographer is what I say to people if I want to be quick.” He experimented with numerous projects, all of which were personal to him, though none were given foot to until The Doors came about in 2012. “It was always a bit of trial here and there. This is the first project that was making sense in my mind. It was putting all my different skills together; I get a certain amount of satisfaction from the project.” In Bordeaux, Jonas began to draw the doors throughout the city. “First there was one door and then two doors, then four, then six and so on.”

Jonas originally drew the doors and watched people interact with them from afar. After working on the project in Bordeaux for some time, he decided to take the next step and began photographing people’s interactions with the doors: “One day there was a guy who passed by. He was very strong, he had three big dogs, and he was a very charismatic guy. I thought to myself that I have to get him in the photograph. I went to speak with him, at the beginning it was only for documenting The Doors. When I got back to the studio and looked at the shot I thought ‘this is something’. I knew I was onto something.” That year he experimented with the idea in Bordeaux and drew more of the doors in a town near Paris. The feedback he received from onlookers was inspiration for Jonas to continue the project – the interpretation of his viewers matched and exceeded his expectations: “It is quite a simple idea; the door is not a door, it is concrete, it is a possibility in people’s lives to remind them of the power of imagination. Most doors are closed; this is just a drawing on the wall. They are becoming stronger when people have to think about them. They do not work on their own, they work because of imagination; the concrete is your imagination. Lots of people ask me, ‘what is behind the door, where is the key to the door?’ and I tell them, ‘the answer is the mind’. It could be that the door is going to many places depending on who is looking at it.”

The idea soon came to him, during the winter, of taking The Doors project with him on a trip around Europe. After leaving France, Jonas travelled to major cities; London; Berlin; Budapest; Warsaw; Bucharest; and Lisbon. There is almost a door in every major European city. Today there are, astonishingly, over 200 in Bordeaux, with an estimated 150 across the continent. He also has plans this year to take The Doors to other cities such as Madrid, Roma Athena, Brussels, Riga and even the United States. Jonas began to walk through the local neighbourhood early August last year, beginning in Euston and then proceeding to Fitzrovia. As he walked along Warren Street, he discovered the cobbles of Grafton Mews where he began to run his chalk over a wall: “When I started to draw the door… somebody from the building I was drawing on came to speak to me, he was angry. When I explained what I was doing he calmed down and let me finish. He liked the idea; he let me photograph him next to the door.” (When drawing his doors he will begin to approach passers-by to pose in front, allowing him to photograph them. After taking the image of the subject he will take a point-of-view shot facing away from the door, capturing the environment). Following this, Jonas proceeded back along Warren Street and along Whitfield Street where he found himself in Whitfield Place.

Another trademark of his is to draw what he refers to as a ‘special door’ at the request of a passer-by; at Whitfield place Jonas drew one of these doors, as he explained to me: “I drew the ‘jail one’ for a guy I met at the park, it was a special type of door that I will draw for somebody I meet at the time.”

After extensive research, I discovered Jonas Laclasse, the man behind The Doors, through his photography and documentation of his project online. It felt ground-breaking to have solved something that I have so often heard people enquire about. The Doors will take the viewer anywhere. From the concrete, to the bottom of one’s mind and back again, what do you see? Chalk doors.

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