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 Megzany

I had the wonderful chance to talk last week with Megzany, a street artist based in LA. She was in Chicago last summer and made some incredible pieces in West Town and Pilsen. I even found some of her work on my recent trip to London! It was a pleasure talking with her via phone about her work.

ES: How did you decide to start doing street art?

M: I’ve always had an affinity to street art but I never thought I would take my art to the streets. It is an accomplishment to consider myself a street artist. I started in February 2016. I went to a gallery show, met a street artist and basically he said, “You want to be a street artist. You have an artistic hand. What are you waiting for? Just do it.” Two different artists told me that I was crazy for not pursuing my dreams– I thank them very much for the encouragement.

ES: How would you describe your work?

M: I consider my work as light-hearted and super inspirational. Most of my pieces have messages driven from places I’ve been and things I’ve felt. Something inside me makes me put these messages out there in the streets– I figure [that] people are going through the same things and need to see them.

The piece “Courage has no gender” came from when I worked in the corporate world. I felt that I had gone through a lot of dead ends or doors closing in my face. I was in the corporate space and not male. I wrote one day, “Courage has no gender” to myself. I am courageous. I shouldn’t feel that I couldn’t achieve something because of my gender.

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West Town, Chicago

ES: Do you have an artistic philosophy?

M: I stand for equality, it is so important. I want everyone to have the same jumping off point.

ES: Could you tell me the genesis of the mermaid in a vending machine?

M: The vending machine series started with a girl in the machine. The girl is me. I think that women should be able to express their sexuality without feeling like they are just there to be ogled at.  

The mermaid resonates with many women. Imagining the world is yours; you can do anything. I merged the two of those – the mermaid (basically as the everywoman) [with the vending machine]. The world is not her stage to be purchased; the world is hers to take.

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West Town, Chicago

ES: Could you talk about the drone and swinging girl?

M: A lot of my work is based around flight– I have a crazy obsession with it. When I saw that drone, it made so much sense. That’s our future; whether it [is] a day care of the future with the camera and watching your kid have fun. Maybe that’s excessive but why not take it to the extreme. Whatever technology brings us will be fun.

ES: Do you let the space drive the piece or the other way around?

M: It’s circumstantial. It’s a segmented question. When I have art that I’m going to do renegade, I search for walls in areas that I feel people would get the most enjoyment out of that piece. It’s the art first then the wall– that’s how I do renegade pieces.

Commission walls [are when] someone says, here’s a wall, and we want art on it. I let my imagination run wild, pairing images with words. Sometimes if I seek inspiration I pull from a book I wrote a few years ago while I was going through a hard time. It’s place I compiled everything I’ve learned, all my values in a 12,000-word book —my own personal handguide— for my reference. Basically, it’s the wall first then the art (unless someone wants a specific piece of mine then that’s obviously different).

ES:  I see a lot of photos on your feed of people reacting to your work. Could you talk about that feeling of people interpreting and responding to your work?

M: It’s really a blast. It’s something that takes me by surprise when I come across a photo of someone interacting with my work. It’s incredible. I put art up [in the hopes] of people finding and enjoying it but never expect that people will interact with it. When it does happen, it’s a pleasant surprise.

My favorite moment is when this little girl put up a dollar to the vending machine. It cracks me up, definitely symbolic of a girl tapping into her imagination. The art has come full circle.

ES: Could you talk about doing a piece on the streets versus a commission piece?

M: I’m an adrenaline junkie. There’s such an up and down, high and low, on street pieces because it’s such a gamble whether it will be there in an hour, two days, three days, etc. Some pieces have been riding for months or still do.

The streets are perfect for testing your art. I don’t normally test beforehand and I like to continue evolving any single piece.

Commission walls are a major difference. I enjoy them. They are a lot closer to my heart. I want them to live and breathe. There’s an expectation that it will last longer so I spend more time perfecting things. I go through an emotional state when I’m done. My friend put it in a very interesting way, “When I put that piece up, it’s no longer mine.” I’m learning to cope with that. I’m closer to those pieces that are commissioned. I’m giving a gift to some.

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West End, London

E: Anything you want people to know that I haven’t covered in other questions?

M: I’m here to stay in the streets. I love interacting with people– I hope people come and say “hi” if they ever see me out and about.

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.

Philadelphia and Brooklyn: Part 2

Then it was the crazy part of the trip: our day trip to Brooklyn. In 2015, I had the pleasure of going to the site immersive production Sleep No More in Manhattan. It was one of the best theater events I’ve ever been to. To summarize it briefly: it’s like a haunted house where there is a play going on. You wander where you will. I learned earlier this year that there was a similar thing in Brooklyn called Then She Fell, based on the life of Lewis Carroll and his creation Alice in Wonderland. I was hooked. However, every time we went to NYC, the play was sold out. So we made the decision that we’ll go to Philadelphia but take a day trip to Brooklyn to see the play.

We decided to make a day of it. We drove to Brooklyn and got in around 1pm. The trip itself was pretty painless. Lots of NJ Turnpike. One of the rest stops had a candy store where you could buy candy by the ounce. It was amazing. I wish this was everywhere! We drove through a lot of Brooklyn, which was fascinating. As someone who has spent most of their time in NY in NYC or Long Island, Brooklyn was larger than I expected!

One of the things I wanted to do was take a graffiti art tour of Bushwick. So we drove there directly. What a beautiful place! There are beautiful pieces everywhere, the most I’d ever seen in one spot. We had a quick lunch of coal fire pizza in the area, which was tasty.

The tour itself was extremely disappointing. Our tour guide barely took us around the block. He would mention a piece from afar but didn’t actually take us to see the piece. It also was exacerbated by the fact that it was cold and windy day so standing still for 40 minutes was really bad. I had expected a lot more from this tour company; we had taken a tour of the Bowery and East Village in September that was great. This was honestly one of the worst tours I’d been on. We ended up wandering around the neighborhood some more and saw really astonishing works.

Our next stop was the Brooklyn Art Museum, which was really awesome. I didn’t know this until we were looking at a map that Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party. I had never thought I’d see it person. What a treat! Each table setting is dedicated to an amazing woman. The level of detail was pretty astonishing. This was really the icing on the cake!

The museum had a fairly neat collection that included Egyptian artifacts, period rooms, and even Tiffany stained glass. One of the best things was a room of their overstock items. What a neat room! They also had these twin paintings of the people responsible for the construction of the Brooklyn bridge including Emily Roebling who had to finish the job when Washington A. Roebling got seriously laid up in bed.

 

After our sojourn at the Brooklyn Art museum, we drove to the area near the play for dinner. We found a Korean place that had pretty tasty food. I really enjoyed the seafood pancake  and this rice ball filled with tuna.

Then it was Then She Fell. It was worth it. Beautiful and heartbreaking. The play can only support 15 people at a time. It’s really a marvel of planning. You don’t get to wander around in the same was as Sleep No More but it works well. It was worth the day trip. I can’t say which is better because while they are more similar than any other play I’ve been to, they are very different. I don’t want to say too much because so much of Then She Fell is about the surprise and the journey.

Notably on the ride home, we heard the Cubs win against the Dodgers to go to the World Series. What a wondrous and magical day!

NYC Fall 2016: Part 2

What a lovely day. We started out walking the full length of the High Line, a repurposed elevated train line turned into walking path/park. We had originally intended to go to the Whitney but it was a wondrously beautiful day. I really love the High Line. I love the repurposing of industrial space into a place of nature and art. I love how it curves between and even through buildings. You never know what you are going to find on the way. We found people selling campaign buttons (Hillary yes, no to Trump). One time, someone was writing poetry on demand with a typewriter; another time a lady was walking her grey parrot.

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The art was amazing. There were various pieces of sculpture including this piece with a tree growing out of a car.

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 I also found some beautiful pieces of street art while on the highline. This one was the roof of a building that you can only see from the Highline. We ended up walking the entire length of it, passing the giant trainyard.

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For lunch, we needed a quick place and found this large but empty Italian place. We got some great NY greasy pizza.

It was time for a graffiti tour! We signed up for a tour of the Bowery and the Village with Graff Tours. We met at an intersection and our guide found us. The tour was great. Our tour guide showed us some amazing pieces around the neighborhood and told us about the artists involved. At first I was annoyed since we were walking by so many pieces that she wasn’t talking about, and then I realized that there was so much art, she could have spent hours going over it all. She took us the best pieces; ones that we wouldn’t have known about! I finally got to see a mural by JR who is a photographer who takes these incredible photos of people and puts them up in large form on buildings. This one (left) is of a NYC ballerina. I had seen a TED talk about his work in the favelas of Brazil. Next to it was this astonishing mural by Os Gemios (right). It’s so vibrant. Sadly, a building will be put up next to it and it may obscure the view of it.

We ended up at this impressively large stencil mural by Logan Hicks of a city street. He invited everyone he knew to go to a street, took a photo, and then made it into stencil mural. What a beautiful tribute to the city!

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Then it was time for more mischief! My husband and father went to see the battleship USS Intrepid the day before. They learned that Star Trek the experience was going on. My husband was kind enough to go back with me to see it. Holy cow, it was so cool! The whole premise was that you were trying to join Star Fleet. You take a series of tests and quizzes and you have a watch sensor that tracks your progress. At the end, they tell you where you may be best suited. You had to scan a klingon in sick bay to figure out what might be wrong. There was navigating of ships through dangers. Phaser game. There were seven kiosks quizzes that you had to take to get a good score. And yes, there were props of uniforms, objects like tricorders and universal translators. It was great.

But the best part was taking the Kobayashi Maru test while on the deck of the enterprise. I took it and failed… At the very end, I was sorted into the Science with a secondary in Command. Whoohoo!

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We had just enough time to go on the battleship and check out the planes on top.

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Next, it was time to meet a college friend for some drinks near Union Square. It was a nice little cocktail bar off 2nd. Tasty drinks and great company.

Dinner was with good friends and my parents at a Spanish place in the Village. We like it because we can get lobster there, a good staple of any trip to NYC. After dinner, we wandered through Washington Square Park, which was hopping. There was a production of Midsummer going on, which was rather neat to see a few minutes of. There was a pianist playing beautiful music into the September night.

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The following morning was our last day in NYC. We had a lovely brunch with friends in the cafe at Union Square. I had some delicious avocado toast. The weather was perfect, which was nice considering the fears about approaching hurricane. We walked around the area, taking in Madison Square Park nearby. What a wonderful trip!

That’s all for now!

NYC Fall 2016: Part 1

Now, I’m going to spend some time talking about our amazing adventures in NYC earlier this Fall. Museums! Food! Star Trek!

We arrived in Friday evening. We stayed in a lovely boutique hotel near Union Square. That meant we had about an hour to get to the Strand before it closed for the evening! There are a lot of great bookstores in NY and the Strand is one of them. I always find some really interesting books there. Last year, I found a book about the history of cooking utensils. This time, I found an unofficial Banksy biography. And their sock selection is amazing. Poe socks, enough said.

Afterwards, we found this restaurant that is best described as small plates Spanish. Not tapas, mind you. I ordered a dish that was effectively scrambled eggs with sea urchin. My husband got a lovely dish of guinea fowl. I had sea urchin for the first time a few months ago. I go back and forth on it. I’ve had one really amazing dish of sea urchin in Chicago. This dish was pretty good but not the best. My husband’s dish was rather tasty.

On our first full day of our trip, my first stop was the Metropolitan Museum. I was very keen to see Manus Ex Machina. I had thought that I was going to miss this exhibition but it was extended. It was amazing. This exhibition looks at how fashion balances machine made with man-made. The first thing you see when you walk in is a wedding gown from 2008(?). It has this amazing white train covered in gold beads. At first, you think it belongs in the baroque period but the explanation notes that the pattern was actually designed by a computer. The exhibition is categorized by different materials like leather,feathers, flowers, metal, etc. In the flower section, they have a remote control dress with wheels. It has these seedlings on it. You have to climb into it to put it on. At an appointed time, you can send the seedlings into the air. Crazy times!

The exhibition was mesmerizing. There were a lot of 3D printed dresses, which is rather awesome. Some seem like they belong in some future era; some don’t look 3D printed. However, my favorite dresses were by Issey Miyake. You can see her genius with shapes in these photos.

This fish scale dress took 1500 hours to make.

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I also loved all the laser cut dresses. This one is covered in seahorses!

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I spent about an hour and a half wandering around this exhibit. Afterwards, I took a little journey through the rest of the museum. Right outside the exhibition space, there was a little exhibit on ceramics from China including vases depicting West Lake, where I was in July! Also, this soup tureen is amazing. I went to say hi to the temple of Dendur, one of my favorite rooms there. I also ventured into the American wing to see my Tiffany glass windows. I had a sandwich at the cafe there. Sadly, I would not recommend it.

I also made a stop on the roof to see the Psycho House, or “Transitional Object (PsychoBarn),” by Cornelia Parker. The front half looks like a creepy house while the backside reveals that it is fake. I loved the contrast with the skyline!

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My next stop was meeting my family at the musical On Your Feet! On Broadway. It’s a bio-musical about Gloria Estefan. I was skeptical at first but I ended up enjoying it. The music is fun; dancing is great. It was a fun time.

We then rushed off to see a museum that I had never been to: Mmuseumm. It’s in a freight elevator in an alleyway. Three people at most can be in the museum at a time. It’s been open in 2012 and attempts to elevate the mundane. Several exhibits were on display including ISIS currency, screenshots of the last text messages they sent a loved one, frosted cookies commemorating events in a year, objects found as people were crossing into America, Iranian fast food knockoffs. We only had about 20 minutes before they closed but it was the right amount of time. It was very charming and a philosophy I adhere to.

We walked home to the hotel from there, taking in the amazing street art in NYC. Dinner was wonderful Italian food with a renderings of a map of Naples in German. An unusual combination!

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What a great first day in NYC!