You Are Beautiful

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Matthew Hoffman, the creator and “custodian” of You Are Beautiful. You’ve probably seen the little silver sticker with the words “You Are Beautiful” around Chicago or seen the large signs popping up on fences with the same message.

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ES: How would you describe the work you do?

MH: I like to call it public installation or public art.

ES: Do you consider yourself a street artist?

MH: Definitely in the early day, all the stuff was done without permission. [I’d] call some of what we do street art  but it’s also arts in community, community art/public art, where we are getting neighborhoods chamber commerce [involved]. It’s work in the public and work in the street.

ES: You’ve mentioned how you were committed to be anonymous early on in part to keep the focus on the project rather than yourself. Was there any desire to keep anonymous due to legality of it?

MH: All the installs I was doing initially, I was doing something 100% legal, making the community a little more beautiful, definitely adding to it. Many works were large words in wood screwed into the sides of boarded up buildings or two inch tape. I did a lot of different messages, not just “You are Beautiful.”

ES: Could you talk about how you got from your initial sticker to the final design with the Helvetica font?

MH: I’m definitely someone who believes in making, doing, and refining. You can easily hide and keep it in a sketchbook forever. I take things and get them out even if they are rough. My feedback and other people’s feedback refine it from there. The initial ones were absolutely horrible. It took a bunch of trials with different ideas, with different stickers [to get to the final version]. It took somewhere from 6 months to a year.

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ES: Why stickers?

MH: Stickers? Who doesn’t love stickers? There are a lot of fun, versatile, not messy. I have done wheatpastes and not enjoyed it. Stickers stick to anything. You can have a whole pack in your pocket. In 2002, when the sticker culture really exploding, all these kids started trading stickers, mailing each other stickers. It was an interesting way to interact with people on global scale; you put theirs up, they put yours up, and then send photos. It was a cool way to collaborate with other people.

ES: Much of your work focuses on words and lettering. Why are you drawn to lettering?

MH: I studied graphic design. I learned a lot of visual language, sharing your ideas, being able to tell your story. I love typography; there’s a lot you can to do with it. Words can be very simple or appear to be simple but you can read into them. It can mean a lot of things depending on how you read it inside your head.

ES: How does it feel that it has its own life – 3 million printed as of February 2017?

MH: We’re up to 3.75 million [as of June 1st]. We are doing a big show in September so there will be another printing before that, 4 million with that order. It’s super cool how the community has really surrounded the project and the message. It’s a great feeling to know so many people think the same way you do. It’s fun making a difference in the world. That’s pretty crazy.

ES: You describe yourself as the custodian of “You Are Beautiful.” Could you elaborate?

MH: Somebody has to keep the lights on and the floor clean; There’s a lot of thankless work to get everything going. The project is taking a life of its own; there is a community that can do way more than any one person can do.

ES: Where is the best place you’ve seen a sticker?

MH: I had never been Minneapolis. We went last year for a wedding. As we were walking to the art museum, there was a four lane road with a median and a sign between where we were and the art museum. I got sticker out of my pocket to put it there but when I got there and looked up, I saw there was already one. It was really funny. It’s one of my favorite placements.

ES: Could you talk a little about your woodworking?

MH: The Cliff notes version of that was I was always a tinkerer as a little kid. I made junk creations; I never knew much about art or understood it. In middle school, I took classes in woodworking (and metal) and loved woodworking. I learned how to do all sorts of things, built furniture. In my  last year in high school, I took courses of graphic arts, photography, computer programs, [and went to] school for graphic design. I feel like all those things have come together into what I do now.

ES: For two of your projects, you took people’s input and made them into wood pieces. You mentioned in a different interview that you felt like you were “helping people tell their stories.” Could you talk a little bit about that?

MH:  That was a fun  project. It’s been on the back burner. It’s fun sort of collaborating with people. If they are already coming to you, they have an idea from past works and know what they are looking to expect. It is interesting what comes out of that.

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ES: I wanted to ask about the shows for “You Are Beautiful” at Galerie F. Could you talk about that?

MH: I absolutely love collaboration. I have to let go and things happen that are unexpected, which can surprise you, good and bad. Most of time, it is really good. We are working on another show for November.

ES: There are other campaigns that have gone on like “Anything is Possible,” “Love,” etc. Could you talk about them? Do you have a favorite?

MH: I really like “Go for It.” It’s one of my favorite, how it looks, how it came together. It was a lot of fun. I’d never made anything like that. There was a lot of feeling of community while working on it. It made me feel really good [that] it was only supposed to be up for a couple months but it’s been a couple of years. People enjoyed it so much that it keeps on living.

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ES: Could you talk about your show in the fall?

MH: There will be a show in mid-September. We are working hard on it, figuring out what it is. It’s a process. We’ll be completely taking over a space, basically to play around… at a warehouse in conjunction with ART EXPO.

Thanks to Matthew Hoffman and everyone who makes “You are Beautiful” possible. Check out their website https://you-are-beautiful.com/ for more details about the upcoming shows in mid-September and November.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interview with Pencil Pad

Many of my regular readers know that I am a big fan of street art, graffiti, etc. So I’ve decided to start doing some interviews (and thought pieces) with great artists in Chicago and beyond. I’ll still post about my travels but I’m adding this new area to the Not Without My Bowler Hat Blog. I hope you enjoy.

I have the opportunity to talk to the amazing Pencil Pad, a Chicago based sticker artist, to talk about her work.

ES: What got you interested in this art?

PP: Well, a long time ago in a land far away when I was 17 my bestie’s bf was a street artist. I was completely fascinated!! He was the coolest person I had ever met and I started sneaking out my window to go hang out with him and his crew. It didn’t take long for me to put down my pompoms and pick up a spray can. Originally my tag was Sugha (hahaha I was such a nerd). Then I took a break because life happened; I thought I was too old and I started moving all over the place and lost touch with the community. Until a few years ago, my daughter who is my biggest inspiration, my most beautiful work art and one of my soul mates, asked me to order her some 228s (USPS stickers). Her friends were making stickers and she wanted to play around. They showed up and sat on the coffee table for weeks. Then one day I started doodling, and just like that Pickle was born. I will never forget the first sticker I put up; it was on Addison by the Brown line and it was Pickle holding a sign that said “Pickles for Bernie.” I was hooked all over again just like that ex-cheerleader with spray paint under her nails.

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ES: What made you select the pickle? Romaine lettuce?

PP: The lettuce is a quicker explanation so we will start with that. I love puns and salads.

Pickle is another thing altogether. In between my teens and early 30s I battled serious depression and addiction which landed me in rehab. But J.K. Rowling said, “Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.” Anyway long story short while I was in the hospital, one of my counselors said this “Once a cucumber becomes a pickle it can’t go back to being a cucumber”. So pickle represents me. Me really accepting myself and celebrating life simply how it is.

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ES: The city is a canvas for your pickles. What is your favorite placing?

PP: Thinking about this reminds me of that skit from Portlandia Season 2: “We can Pickle That”! I like to put them everywhere, but I guess my favorite is the secret places; ones [where] you have to look for, like inside the emergency phones on the CTA platforms or the bottom of exit signs.

ES: I’ve noticed some amazing collaborations with other artists out and about. What is your favorite collaboration with other artists?

PP: This is a hard question!. So like I said before I look at everyday as a celebration and it’s way more fun when you are celebrating with friends… Right? I can definitely tell you who inspires me, teaches me things, encourages me, who I respect the most and who I adore. [I] ❤ Lucky Gnome and Frillz from Chicago, Futz from Nashville, FrancisVomit from Aberdeen and Horus Rising from Arizona.

ES: What are your future plans for PencilPad and pickle?

PP: The plan is to just keep being pickle&pencil! To continue celebrating everyday, continue to make friends and travel as much a possible.

China and Cambodia: Part 9

After our wanderings through Angkor Wat, we moved on to another archaeological site in the Angkor Wat area known as Angkor Thom. There’s a series of several temples and the Elephant terrace. We spent several hours wandering around the area. It’s really impressive. I have to saw that i liked even better than Angkor Wat. But let’s get to that in a minute.

Bapoun was our first stop. This temple has an interesting history. Archaeologists were trying to restore it through a method of taking the entire temple apart and putting it back together. They kept plans of the pieces but the plans were destroyed when the Khmer Rouge came to power. OUr guidebook calls it the biggest jigsaw puzzle in the world as archaeologists are trying to piece it back together. We climbed the steep stairways to get a magnificent view of the surrounding area.

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Our next stop was Phimean Akas, another tall temple surrounded by a moat. We couldn’t wander around this one like we had Bapoun. It was kinda like a series of increasingly smaller squares stacked on top of each other. One source says that “According to legend there was a gold tower (Phimeanakas ) inside the royal palace of Angkor the Great where a serpent-spirit with nine heads lived. The spirit appeared to the Khmer king disguised as a woman and the king had to sleep with her every night in the tower before he joined his wives and concubines in another part of the palace. If the king missed even one night it was believed he would die. In this way the royal lineage of the Khmer was perpetuated.” (http://www.tourismcambodia.com/attractions/angkor/phimean-akas.htm)

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Then we got a bit lost looking for the next temples. We ended up on the Elephant Terrace with amazing carvings of elephants (my favorite). We also stumbled into the Terrace of the Leper King as well.

We eventually figured out where we were and found Preah Palilay, a temple that the jungle has taken over. It has trees and other plants growing out of the temple. There were fewer people around so it felt more peaceful to see how nature was taking over.

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Then we made it back to the biggest temple in the area: Bayon. The guidebook described this as one of the most curious buildings in the area. It’s my favorite. There’s a series of hallways and courtyards at the base where you can really just get lost in. We got turned around. There’s amazing carvings and lingas found all over. Throughout Bayon, there are these carved smiling faces, as you get higher they get bigger. Some estimates put the number over 2000 with 54 towers. Like Angkor Wat, there are active shrines within the temple complex so be respectful. You can visit if you take off your shoes and hat.

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I think Bayon matched my mind’s idea of what Angkor Wat would be like. The large faces are really astonishing. I also loved getting lost below. It honestly felt otherworldly.

One thing I will say about Angkor Thom: it is hot and humid in July. We were definitely keen to get back to the car after our wanderings and enjoyed the air conditioning and the wonder of cold water that our driver gave us. You can go to Angkor Wat area in a lot of different ways: tuk tuk, car, bus, even walking. But hiring a car for the day was a great idea.

We decided to take a lunch break to recoup and enjoy a little air conditioning. We had our first encounter with Cambodian cuisine. We ordered some curry dishes and it was heaven. The food is made from very fresh materials with simple but incredibly good sauces. It was the perfect pick me up after our wanderings in the heat.

Then it was Ta Prohm. It’s a temple complex in the jungle. It’s best known as the Tomb Raider temple but it deserves more than that. This was where the jungle has fought back. All over the area, giant trees grow out of temple buildings. It’s really astonishing. It felt a little like this is what an explorer would have found encountering for the first time (yes, I know it would have been a lot harder to walk around safely and easily if it had really been found recently. Clearly, they’ve removed stones, supported roofs and whatnot to make it safe for tourists). It was another temple where you can easily get lost at, wandering hallways and courtyards.  And like other temples, it is still in use. We met a man who lived in the temple area. I’m sorry we didn’t find out more about him.

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After Ta Prohm, we decided to head back to the hotel. THere are more sites in the area but we were content with the three major sites we had seen. At the hotel, I saw by the pool and read while we had our evening rain shower. I had a cool drink and enjoyed the cold towelettes that the hotel gave me.

Then it was time to explore Siem Reap. We walked to the touristy section of the city. Our hotel was well situated to the Night Market and Pub Street. There aren’t a lot of sidewalks so you have to be cautious about traffic but it was generally slow. The Night Market was a tourist market where vendors sell t-shirts, scarves, wooden objects, and more. It reminded me a little bit of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. You could also get a foot rub, back rub, or have small fish nibble the skin of our feet as a “fish massage.” It was fun wandering around the area.

After some shopping, we decided to find some dinner and headed towards Pub Street. On the way, we saw more vendors including folks selling fried insects (I wanted to try) and durian. One of the few regrets of this trip was not stopping to get durian. I love durian but I had never tried it in a place that actually grew it. I’ve only had it in the States. Boo urns.

We eventually found a little place off the main drag with lots of people. We once again were delighted by the freshness of the food. I ordered a fried fish that wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. But my friend’s dish was phenomenal. We did have these egg rolls as an appetizer that were out of this world. I had wintermoon soda; it was a little smoky for my taste.

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Before heading back to the hotel, we wandered through Pub Street, where there are lots of bars, restaurants, and clubs. It reminded me a little of Bourbon Street but less raunchy and less obnoxious.

That’s all for now!

Field Museum Members Night

On Friday night, I went to one of my favorite yearly events in Chicago: the Field Museum’s Members Night. I’ve only been a handful of times but every time is a marvel. I love going behind the scenes at museums. Also, its fun to see new exhibits as well.

My favorite part are the behind the scenes parts. They open the basements and third and fourth floors to the public that night. In the past, I’ve seen where they treat animal skins and fish. There’s the room of giant objects including sarcophagi and canoes. The third floor reminds me of a history building at a university or college. It has that feel with all these offices with newspaper articles, photos, and cartoons taped to the walls. Various departments are represented there: paleontology, entomology, the library, and so much more.

This time, I found myself in one of the paleontology lab where one of the researchers was talking about the bones of a new dinosaur recently found in Utah. It’s named an oviraptorosaur. These were bones that the public probably won’t otherwise see. Very neat. Then we stumbled into the bird section. I have this weird fascinating with living and dead birds, so it seems. In this large room, there were dozens of bird specimens laid out, some from the Amazon region in the fields, while others were from Australia/New Zealand. And there was also a live hawk and a peregrine on the other side of the room. What magnificent creatures. We continued on to the hallway where there were more bird specimens including several pigeons of different sizes. Respect to the pigeon! In another room, we could actually touch stuffed birds. I got to hold a blue jay, my favorite bird as a child. There were two researchers preparing carcasses of an owl and a seagull that was mesmerizing. Guts and all! This room also contained the famous carrion beetles that help strip the bones. Apparently, they can finish a bird in a day. That’s pretty awesome and a little terrifying. After this room, we took a brief sojourn into the library where I saw a Carl Akeley sculpture of a gorilla, which was really sweet.

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Dinosaur bones!

 

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Birds!

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Peregrine Falcon

In the main hall, there was a lot going on. There were several large and small puppets including an impressive T-rex and a small friendly bumble bee. Readers of this blog know that I have a tremendous love for puppets. There was also African drumming (I think).

 

 

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T-Rex Puppet

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Bee puppet

After a brief dinner, we headed to one of the new exhibitions that I was really excited about: Women of Vision. It’s an exhibition of six photographers from National Geographic. I had actually seen two of them speak in the last year. Jodi Cobb spoke at the Goodman Theater through the National Geographic Live series and Lynsey Addario just spoke at the Field last Monday. Lynsey Addario is a photojournalist who just published her memoir It’s What I do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War. She had been kidnapped twice, once in Iraq and another time in Libya.  (I just finished her book).

What an incredible exhibition. All of the women have taken incredible photos covering myriad subjects including war, nature, people’s intimate lives, and more. The photos are so full of emotion and meaning. I was talking with someone about the issue of the gaze, particularly with respect to National Geographic. It’s a good question. How does one represent a culture that is not your own? Should one do so? I’m not sure. But Lynsey Addario’s words ring out to me: she’s showing a side of the world that we don’t get to see. But it’s important to think about the power of the person taking the photo versus the subject. And as a side note, I hate that natural history museums contain indigenous/ ethnic

We ended the night with a brief walk through of the new Cyrus Tang Hall of China, which is awesome. It’s got the best use of technology and artifacts that I’ve ever seen. On the way out, we had some fun with a green screen where my husband’s green shirt  blended with the green screen. I also got to pass some more Carl Akeley sculptures. Wonderful.

What a lovely event! We’re so lucky to have this opportunity to peak behind the museum curtain.

That’s all for now!

 

Meet the Maker: The Little Bits Workshop — Chicago Northside Mini Maker Faire

Want to make a tiny room using upcycled items in your house and garden? Join Liita Forsyth from The Little Bits Workshop to learn how to make your very own tiny room! The Little Bits Workshop is a DIY makerspace in River Forest where kids of all ages can learn how to sew, knit, make […]

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Meet the Maker: Schurz Food Lab — Chicago Northside Mini Maker Faire

Two words: Space Tomatoes. That’s one of many projects that the Schurz Food Lab will be showcasing at the Chicago Northside Mini Maker Faire. The program is led by the multi-talented Jaime Guerrero, Schurz food science lab founder and administrator, who wants to change minds and hearts about urban agriculture. Guerrero explains that the mission […]

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Meet the Makers: Chicago Children’s Museum — Chicago Northside Mini Maker Faire

Want to learn how to use a power drill and make an amazing cool sculpture? Join Chicago Children’s Museum at the Chicago Northside Mini Maker Faire. The Chicago Children’s Museum is “a place where families and caregivers with infants and children are encouraged to create, explore, and discover together through play.”(1) One great place for […]

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