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Pooper in Timeout Chicago

Kind of weird to blog my own press on here, but I guess somebody's got to do it.
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http://www.timeout.com/chicago/articles/art-design/41311/concrete-canvas
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Time Out Chicago / Issue 178 : Jul 24–30, 2008
Public art
Concrete canvas

Risking fines and jail time, street artists install pieces that (temporarily) enhance bleak cityscapes.

By Gretchen Kalwinski


FOREST FOR THE TREES Eskimos and assorted creatures gallivant in this piece titled "A Forest Happening" at Co-Prosperity Sphere at 32nd St and Morgan St.
Photo: Pooper

If you traverse Chicago’s North and Northwest Sides with an eagle eye, you’ll soon start seeing art where it doesn’t belong. On mailboxes, parking signs, abandoned buildings and windows, art ranging from a painting in the shape of a kiwi to a sticker proclaiming YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL to a paste-up of a swooping bird brightens the urban landscape.

The artists installing this “guerilla” art (mostly in the warmer months and the dark of night) call themselves street artists and often hide their identities from cops by using nicknames. Most have jobs as designers, art directors or production artists and don’t consider their art vandalism because it’s usually not on private property; they favor surfaces they believe belong to all of us—signs, newspaper boxes, lampposts and construction sites. But don’t confuse their work with gang graffiti or tagging: It’s illegal, but there’s an altruistic mission to their madness.

Beyond coming from different demographics (most gang taggers are teenagers; the artists we talked to are between 28 and 38), street artists aren’t claiming territory—they’re just trying to beautify the city. One anonymous source bristles at the idea of being mistaken for a gangbanger.

“I’ve never met a street artist in a gang,” he says. “Just because you put up art in the streets doesn’t mean you’re a gang member.”

These artists aren’t busting out gang tags, but that doesn’t protect them from the law; they risk arrest if the police catch them in the act, and Graffiti Blasters or thieves often remove their work. So why risk it?


MEMORIAL DAY Artwork at a West Loop intersection honors SOLVE, a beloved street artist who was recently killed.
Photo: Bonus Saves

For some, it’s activism. “It’s a social/political act first and foremost,” says Chris Silva , who was part of “Tragic Beauty,” a 2005 AV-aerie street-art show (in which art made from scraps of furniture and signs was installed, then reassembled around town postshow). “I have used my street work to promote the concept of love. Even if that message is cryptic in a particular piece, there is love in sharing my work with the public.”

Matt Smith isn’t feeling the love. As spokesman for the Department of Streets and Sanitation (which runs Graffiti Blasters), he’s proud to say the city’s removed 66,568 graffiti tags from January 1 through the end of May 2008. He includes street art in this category. “Vandalism is vandalism…. If you leave your permanent mark of expression on the public way, you are committing a crime,” he says. “If you create art someone can look at, [a viewer] might want to put it in their house. But if you put it on their house, we will remove it.”

Some artists say it’s not so cut-and-dried. “A lot of [my art] is put up with screws, tied to fences or leaned against walls,” says “Sighn,” who specializes in paintings and text-based wood-cut installations in Wicker Park/Bucktown. “If removed, it leaves almost no damage.”

Others don’t think getting busted would be a big deal. “I read through the Chicago municipal code about vandalism,” says “the Grocer,” a producecentric artist who creates stickers and acrylic paintings that he affixes to surfaces with matte medium. “[According to the code,] my work is technically ‘postering,’ not ‘graffiti,’ because I’m not painting something on a wall. There’s a fine, but [it’s] nothing like what graffiti [incurs]—only, like, max $200 an incident.”

The beef these and other covert creators have with laws against their art is that advertisers can plaster the city with messages, but artists can’t employ that medium. “I do [street art] because I don’t want to be another person who allows our world to be filled with what advertisers dictate,” explains a female street artist who goes by “Pooper”.

“We’ve done a lot of wheat-pasting [gluing art on paper onto another surface] on top of other ‘fly posters’ [posters installed illegally by advertisers],” an anonymous artist says. “Going over those doesn’t seem like a bad thing.”