Conversation with Jim Bachor

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of speaking to Jim Bachor, a mosaic artist via phone. His work includes setting mosaics into potholes around Chicago and the rest of the world.

ES: How would you describe the work you do?

JB: I’m really thinking about how to leave your mark. It’s almost impossible. You might with kids or the pyramids. [When I] discovered mosaics on a trip in the 1990s in Europe, I was blown away. This is an artform that lasts so long. What a fascinating concept. You could lock concepts and thoughts all your own in this medium and it will look the same and exist 2000 years later. The durability is big. The pieces are heavy too, not [something] that could be thrown around or thrown in the trash. There is literally a weight to them. Big hunk of durability.  I noticed that art form tends to repeat itself; to me a lot of it looks the same. What I bring to the party is taking the ancient art form and doing contemporary subject matter.

ES: Do you consider yourself a street artist?

JB: I guess I am. Partly, not completely. A portion of what I do is street art but not all. It’s one of my hats. I consider myself an artist. [When you emailed me,] I thought that I’m not hip or young. I smiled to be considered a street artist.

ES: In terms of your subject matter, you juxtapose the timelessness of the mosaics with ephemera like snack bags. How did you decide on that theme?

JB: They are snapshots of today. Still lifes. Like fresh packaged meats. The meat is not going to look the same in a few days. It’s capturing a moment in time in this wrapped meat from the grocery store.  In addition, in 100 years, it’ll show folks how we used to package meat in this way.

ES: Could you talk about your series“Fanciest Pothole” and one of its pieces, “Burberry”?

JB: I spent 25 years in advertising as a designer. From that, [there’s a lot of] the branding experience. I like to juxtapose things: everyone hates potholes, so I had the ice cream series and a flowers series. In a similar vein, potholes are nasty, low class. I juxtaposed it with high end brands with identifiable patterns like Gucci, Burberry, Louis Vuitton. It’s the last place you expect overpriced brands to appear. [It’s] a window to my dry wit.

ES: Could you talk about your pothole series that contain words or numbers?

JB: The campaign started off with a branded identity. A classic Chicago Pothole was featured. [The word] “Pothole” in black and white with the Chicago flag graphic. It was proud Chicago in your face. The next series was Serial numbers because the city catalogues the potholes in the city; each pothole has its own serial number. Another series had the phone numbers of nearby car repair shops near the pothole.

“This is Not a Pothole” was a one off. It was an idea I had; it was funny. The location was choice [downtown right off Michigan avenue]. It’s one of the most popular installations by far.

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Photo: Elisa Shoenberger

ES: I noticed humor as a part of your work. Why?

JB: Every so often, I do try to impart a humorous view on what is going on. But I try to make it not beat you upside the head, something more subtle and unexpected. For the cereal box series, I did research on ridiculous brands that existed and incorporated them into ancient still lifes, food stuffs rendered into background of frescoes. It’s a little bit of my humor and fascination with ancient history. It’s capturing a little bit of my personality in mortar that might impart to someone down the road when you are gone. After the people who knew you die off, your legacy is pretty negligible. [These potholes are] a way of instilling a few more clues of what made me.

ES: Has the process changed since you started in 2013?

JB: It’s more efficient, but there is only so much you can speed it up. [You are at the] mercy of weather and concrete. I learned a lot early on: if it is colder out, it takes longer for the concrete to set. There’s a higher chance that a car will roll over it. Safety has gotten better; I have traffic cones and a vest.

The art shouldn’t fail. If it does, it’s because the asphalt around the art starts to break. If the asphalt is stable, it will last indefinitely.

The biggest hassle is finding the correct potholes. Ideal road potholes are those on a stable street, not in the center of traffic, places where people can see them. I try to expand the area that has pieces of artwork but it takes longer if it is further away from where I am. It takes more time to get there, look around [for an ideal spot]. I”m a one man show —time is always an issue.

ES: Could you talk about your commision “thrive” at the Thorndale Red Line station?

JB: It’s a balance between doing something consistent with what I do and giving the client, the CTA, something they be proud of. I gathered a lot of information about the area; the CTA gave me notes from community meetings about what people wanted to see in the art work. I did a little bit of research; that area used to be covered in swales of sand and wild rice used to grow in it. I used that impetus for these plant like veins growing from blue bands that represent Lake Michigan. Those vines grow into “iconic fruit” that represent what is going on in the neighborhood like restaurants, music, schools, pink hotels, architecture, etc.  You see something different each time when you look at it. You notice the little baseballs that are hidden like berries. There is stuff to be discovered.

ES: What do you want people to get from your potholes?

JB: An unexpected grin. [I want to] impart some of my personality. A little PR. I want them to track down and find out who is doing it. You see there are pieces all over the places.  If you like the potholes, you’ll like my other work.

ES: Is there anything you want to talk about that we didn’t talk about above?

JB:  I love doing potholes, it’s simple and goes quickly. It used to be a small percentage of what I do. The rest was fine art. Now it is swapped – 90% of my time.  The potholes are nice; it gets attention drawn to my fine art. I just don’t have a lot to sell right now. I haven’t had the time to do new stuff. To do more commissioned stuff, it takes time. I’m a stay at home day with two ten year old boys. I have a short work day – 6 hours to get what I need to get done before I need to worry about dinner.

He explained that there are some exciting prospects in the rest of 2017. So stay tuned!

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Photo: Jim Bachor

 

Interview with WRDSMITH

I had the chance to talk with WRDSMITH, an LA based street artist, about his work via email. He was in Chicago last summer and put up pieces throughout the city. Much of his work involves a stenciled typewriter with words coming out of it.

ES: How would you describe the work you do?

W: I aspire to inspire others with positive and romantic WRDs painted and pasted on walls all over the world.

ES: I read about how you decided to leave Chicago to go to LA to write. How did you get started as a street artist?

W: In 2013 I was spending an abundance of time sitting in front of the computer writing. While I love to write, I realized I needed an active hobby that would take me away from the computer for stretches of time. However, I knew I’d ultimately come to resent most hobbies if they ended up distracting me from writing too much. So it was conundrum before I got the crazy notion to do word-based street art — an action that would still have me flexing the creative writing muscle, but also making me active.

ES: How did you decide on the idea of the typewriter?

W: When I decided to explore word-based street art, I immediately saw the image of of a typewriter with the page/words coming out of it. To me, it was such a simple idea that I had to research if anyone had done it before. When I discovered that no one had done it, I knew I had to run with the idea and make it a reality as soon as possible. And I did just that.

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Photo from the artist

ES: You mention that you get your inspiration from overheard conversations. What was the best thing you’ve overheard that worked its way into a piece of yours?

W: Not overheard conversations — just conversation I have with others. All the words in my work resonate with me or with something in my life. They are all personal in that way and I like that. It fuels the passion for WRDSMTHing. The fact that these WRDs are resonating with so many people thrills me because I am simply expressing myself and exploring things in my own life/world with my art.

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Photo by Elisa Shoenberger

ES: You talk about the location sometimes inspiring the piece. Could you give an example of that?

W: Sometime I’m walking or driving and I see a great wall or how a wall looks at a certain time of the day, which makes me think of some creative words that pay off that scene/location/moment. Then I work to polish those words and install them. One example is when I saw a plastic surgery company on a busy street and how the sunrise reflected in the mirrored windows. I wrote: “I really, really, really like you just the way you are” and installed it the following morning. Also [I] took the pic just as the sun was rising.  

ES: What do you want people to know about your work?

W: I want them to know I am a writer first and foremost. And 98% of the words you see in my work are written by me. Occasionally I will utilize a lyric or quote to tip my hat at words that inspire me, but I always give credit where credit is due.

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Photo from artist

ES: What is your favorite piece or place you’ve put up a piece?

W: I love putting art up in NYC, Paris, and London. But I also love filling Los Angeles with WRDs. Favorite piece [is] probably a tie between “Aspire to inspire others and the universe will take note” and “I love the way you blush when I tell you how you shine.”

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Photo by Elisa Shoenberger

ES: What do you want people to know that I haven’t covered in the other questions?​

W: I want them to know I am having fun and am just getting started.

Thanks to WRDSMITH for taking the time to talk to me about his work!

 

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.

10th Annual Jane Addams Day!

This past Saturday was the 10th annual Jane Addams Day in Illinois. It was my fourth helping the American Association of University Women Chicago, Inc. celebrate this excellent day. We partner with our Illinois chapter and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association to host an amazing event.

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We started with speaker, Louise Knight, historian and author, who talked about the alliance with Jane Addams and Theodore Roosevelt. He needed her progressive support while she needed his audience in order to help the cause of suffrage. It wasn’t an easy alliance; Theodore Roosevelt was not as fully committed to women’s universal suffrage right then and now. He advocated for the approach of having women decide themselves, which was never going to realistically happen. One thing I learned was that the biggest group against women’s suffrage was the brewers and those involved in the alcohol trade because they feared (rightly) about their influence on anti-alcohol laws. So much of the opposition was funded by them. However, when the 18th Amendment ushering in Prohibition was passed, they gave up. Months later, the 19th amendment, giving women the right to vote, was passed. I had no idea about the connection! For more information on Louise Knight and her work on Jane Addams, check out her website: http://www.louisewknight.com/the-author.html

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Our second speaker was Annie Storr, visiting professor from Brandeis. She talked about Ellen Gates Starr and her work in elections. Professor Storr talked about how Ellen Gates Starr ran for alderman and later (i think) trustee for the University of Illinois. She lost both of them by a large margin. However, the next woman to run for trustee won. It was a nice reminder that sometimes you may not get the result you want but it’s an important step in the right direction.

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Our final presenter was singer and songwriter Kristin Lems, who was our featured guest in 2015. She sang two of her songs in her musical about Jane Addams and talked about her own family history intertwined with Hull House. She finished with two feminist songs including “We will Never Give up.” She sang this song while working to get the ERA amendment passed. I think it’s an important message for us all. For more on Kristin Lems and her amazing music: http://www.kristinlems.com/

What a wonderful Jane Addams day!

Tomorrow is Chicago Northside Mini Maker Faire 2016

Tomorrow, May 7th, is the day for the 5th annual Chicago Northside Mini Maker Faire!

I can’t wait. Join us from 10am to 4pm for robots, food creation, crafts, 3D printers, and so much more.

Some additional blogs I wrote about some of the makers and sponsors:

Bit Space: http://wp.me/p2b6mY-AB

DuSable High School Wood Workshop: http://tinyurl.com/h5qwwdx

I can’t wait to share all the fun things at the faire with you all.

 

Chicago Northside Mini Maker Faire 2016 Part 2

Just a few days until the 5th annual Chicago Northside Mini Maker Faire on May 7th. Two more posts about makers that I did:

Meet the Maker: Build Your Own Chicago: https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/2002794/posts/1013886971

Meet the Maker: Digital Media http://wp.me/p2b6mY-zR

That’s all for now!

Presenting: Three Artists; Three Projects; One Chicago

 

It’s been a busy few weeks. I haven’t been posting quite as regularly due to some projects that I’ve been working on. I was accepted into Vocalo’s Six Week Storytelling Workshop in January and have spent the last 7 weeks producing an 8 minute piece.  The class was sponsored by Chicago Community Trust and the theme of the class was philanthropy but it was about giving back to the community.It’s based on interviews from the oral history project that I’ve talked about previously. I focused on three women, Nora Moore Lloyd, Carron Little, and Meida Teresa McNeal, who are all artists in Chicago who work with community in different ways. I conducted a second interview with them all to get the right tape (and right quality of tape).

I learned a great deal about getting good tape, voicing, editing a piece, and so much more. I’m very fortunate to have been part of this workshop.

So now, I am sharing with you all my piece: https://soundcloud.com/vocalo/three-artists-three-projects-one-chicago-by-elisa-shoenberger

I hope you all enjoy!