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

 

Philadelphia and Brooklyn: Part 1

Back in October, we took a trip to Philadelphia. I have been wanting to go ever since I had learned about the Barnes Foundation. I had seen The Art of the Steal several years before and was very intrigued. It was also on my list of museums I had to go to. Plus I had never been to Philadelphia before!

We got there late Thursday night. We took the train from the airport into the center of downtown and walked to our bed and breakfast near what was called the Italian market. It was about a mile long walk past beautiful older houses in quiet streets. We were surprised how quiet it was. Our bed and breakfast was very charming. You checked yourself in. Each room was themed. Ours was the Bohemian room filled with hunting pictures and a four poster bed. Once we checked in and threw down our stuff, we went out in search of food. It was late enough that many places had just closed. We ended up getting directed to a place that served food until 1 in the morning. It was a pub with a decent food selection that was playing the Cubs Dodgers game. It was fun to watch it through a mirror so everything was reversed! Afterwards, we wandered home and found lots of beautiful mosaics around the neighborhood. It seemed like a magical place!

The next morning, our first stop was the Barnes Foundation. I try to do the thing I want to do most first. Just in case.

When I walked into the very first room of the collection, tears sprang into my eyes. It was astonishing. They recreated the rooms in his house within the museum. Paintings from masters over time were hung together. It was crazy. It was beautiful. It was everything I wanted. The first room had these Matisse murals on top, a giant Cezanne of men playing cards, and a beautiful Seurat. The Cezanne painting would be my favorite of the collection. On all the walls,  there were metal pieces arranged around the paintings. What a charming effect.

It is clear that Barnes clearly favored Renoir and Cezanne to lesser extent. I had no idea that Renoir was so prolific; Barnes seemed to have so many! I’ve really liked Renoir before but the surplus of Renoir made me become very picky about which paintings I liked and disliked! Occasionally a Monet will pop up. A friend who had been there recently said to me, “It makes you think why this Monet is here.” Apt question! There were also paintings and iron pieces from the Middle Ages and Renaissance. They have a painting done in the style of Hieronymus Bosch.

Barnes collection is simply astonishing. It’s amazing how much he collected. More importantly, it’s rather fantastic art. It’s well worth a visit if you go.

However, my feelings changed about the motives for the museum.  When I saw the documentary, I had very mixed feelings. There was no question that greed fueled the motives to move the museum despite the will of the Albert Barnes who explicitly forbad that his collection be moved from his house in the suburbs. However, I felt that moving it to the center of Philadelphia meant that it could be visited by more people more easily. It’s suburban location required transportation, etc. However, upon going to the museum, the ticket price alone made me rethink that. $25 timed entry, $35 anytime entry. Even the Art Institute is less than that. So accessibility may be far more limited than I hoped. It’s still worth going but it’s worth noting.

We realized that we were next to the Free Library so we checked into the Special Collections. We got to see Grip, Charles Dicken’s pet Raven that may have been inspiration for Edgar Allan Poe! They had letters of Poe’s along with drawings by Beatrix Potter. We have to go back to go on the tour where they pull out items!

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Our next stop was Independence Hall. However, we had not realized that it was ticketed and had gotten there long after tickets had been given away. So we decided to get some food at the City Tavern, a tavern dedicated to food of the colonial era. That was well worth it! It’s a few blocks away. All the servers are wearing period outfits. I had Benjamin Franklin’s chicken dish with a glass of chardonnay. It was pretty tasty! They also had wonderful breads, also period recipes!

After lunch, we met up with a friend who lived in Philadelphia who gave us a lovely tour of the area. We got to see Benjamin Franklin’s grave, covered in pennies, and several other revolutionaries in a nearby graveyard.  We saw some of the less popular but equally interesting revolution buildings nearby. It was a wonderful tour!

Afterwards, we headed off to the Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, just mere blocks from our B&B. I had spotted it on a Google map as I was figuring out how to get to the B&B. Simply put: this building is covered inside and outside with mosaics. It was the result of efforts by artist Isaiah Zagar who wanted to revitalize the neighborhood and protect it from proposed highway project. It’s truly a magical place! There’s so much to see inside and outside. Outside, there’s a multi-level garden area with lots of nooks and crannies. What a place to have an event! He also is responsible for all the mosaic walls we’d seen in the neighborhood!

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After a short rest at the hotel, we went to a local seafood place. We sat outside and met this lovely lady with her dog. My husband and the dog bounded throughout the meal. I had a delicious lobster while he had crab. Ah…fresh seafood. Nothing like it!

We ended the evening with a ghost tour that mostly took place in the historical district. We got to check out Washington Square, which like Lincoln Square, was built on top of a graveyard. Much more common than I had previously supposed! We also learned that there is a painting of Marie Antoinette (By Vigee de la Brun!) in the Congress building next to Independence Hall. At night, she is said to step out of the painting and wander around. Pretty awesome.

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That’s all for now!