A sea of people pass by in all directions. Some glance over and smile, others stop to stare in fascination before lifting their cameras to capture the bronzed cowboy, which, at first glance appears to be a statue, until a sudden robotic movement reveals it is, in fact, a person.
At that moment, a group of children break into laughter.
“The whole gag in this is catching people’s disbelief for just a second or two,” says David, the 31-year-old Torontonian otherwise known as the Copper Cowboy.
A tower rigger by trade, David has been performing as a living statue on the corner of Yonge and Dundas for the past four summers.
Each fall, he heads to northern Ontario to install and maintain communications and hydro towers during the harsh winter months. But come May, he hits the same spot across from Yonge-Dundas Square along with other musicians and artists, otherwise known as buskers, who perform on the streets of Toronto for tips.
“I got started with Chalkmaster Dave,” he says of Toronto sidewalk artist, Dave Johnson, who encouraged David to start performing when he was down and out in 2006. “Dave Johnson saved my life. He was footing the bill so I could get going at this,” explains David.
“It’s kind of meditative,” he says of his summer gig — which, aside from the costume, numerous containers of copper makeup and a propensity for stillness, also requires David to purchase an annual permit from the city.
He knows he’s not going to get rich. “The money’s hit and miss,” he says.
So why does he do it? “It’s the look on people’s faces,” he explains. “It sounds corny, but it’s a totally different experience to have a lot of strangers look at you and smile. I don’t know if I’m making their day or anything, but you get a nice smile for a couple of minutes.”
To prove his point, he stares at a grave-looking man hastily passing by. When the man glances over, David, glistening from head to toe in copper, smiles at him. The man smiles back. “See, he was frowning a minute ago. I can take the toughest guys and make them smile.”