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  • Martijn

Chicago Street Art

Updated: Oct 28, 2020



We have been back in Buenos Aires for almost 4 weeks but Chicago’s Street Art is still present in our minds and in the photo albums on our telephones…


The first question is of course: what is Street Art? Is it only the illegal graffiti that artists create at night because if they get caught they could be arrested? Or does it include the murals that the city or private institutions commission? And what about Halloween decorations in front of people’s homes?


Alex and I took a Street Art tour given by a French woman who has studied the phenomenon and we learned many things (which was not difficult since we knew almost nothing). For instance, that it all began with graffiti that gangs would paint to mark their territory, that most of the Art is in alleys because the artists are harder to spot (they really can go to jail), that the city of Chicago covers most Street Art with brown paint as soon as they find it in order to undo the “offense” to public property. However, as soon as the Art is commissioned by the city to decorate a public space or a restaurant or other business to decorate their building and look cool, it is of course accepted.


This wall is by a Chicago artist who got famous on the West Coast. When the city covered his work with brown paint, it created an outrage because he was a "son of the city", so they invited him to paint the wall again. (on the bottom of the picture is a "Divvy bike" station, Chicago's version of the Parisian "Velib").

Look at the reflection of the letters on the car!


This one is comisionned (or in honor of) Conagra, a food company

This is by a Mexican artist

The below example is by a famous UK artist who always makes eyes. He made this one during a trip and it stayed. Later, other artists wrote on top of it to get instant awareness because they knew people would look at the famous eye. Smart advertising!


For some artists, painting city walls is deliberate advertising for the smaller paintings or drawings they do sell. Sometimes, Street artists get together at night for what they call a « Battle », divide a surface and hold a contest as to whose work is the best.


This wall is painted by at least 3 different artists, which one do you prefer?


Most artists sign their work - the work below is by E. Lee for example who always uses the theme of Superheroes in difficult situations.


Wonderwoman is in a tight spot...


Spiderman is tired and threw his suit away....


Some expressions are anonymous or more like projects, for example the artist who has decided to place “You are beautiful” stickers all over the world to make people happy- Maybe you have seen one of these already? In any case, if you do, it’s him!


Another one places little pink faces in the most unusual spots. The tour certainly made us look more carefully around us and we started seeing all kinds of things:


A more recent form of Street Art emerged during the riots in Chicago: messages were painted on the boards that businesses had put in front of their windows to protect them. After the riots, there was an auction in which the boards were sold and the proceeds went to Black Lives Matter organizations. Many restaurants decorated their spaces with them.




Below a strong scene captured by Alex


Allegedly, Chicago has about 200 neighborhoods! and all these works were concentrated in the only 3 of them: Wicker park (originally a German immigrant neighborhood), Bucktown (which used to be more Polish) and Logan Square . The guide told an interesting story about Wicker park: the German immigrants used to build their houses with bricks, unlike most people who used wood. After the great Chicago fire in 1871, the neighborhood became quite wealthy because the demand for bricks skyrocketed and that is where the brick producers were (next to the breweries of course). The Germans would be surprised if they saw the place today: Wicker park is now known for its hipster culture, art community, nightlife and food scene....


To the South, downtown on Michigan avenue, also called the Magnificent Mile, the artwork was very different: it was the year of the duck. Chicago already had a few cows, but now it was the turn of fiberglass ducks to keep the cows company.




And last but not least, with Halloween about a month away, almost every house had already started preparing for the big day. In 2007, when we had just arrived in the city, we were amazed by the decoration frenzy: first Halloween full of skulls and zombies, then Thanksgiving with pumpkins and dried corn and finally Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa (or "Christmahanakwanzika": according to the Urban dictionary, with this long word no one feels left out and and you don't have to worry about what you say every time you meet someone. Definitely better than saying 'Happy Holidays') with hundreds of little lights everywhere. We used to drive around the neighborhood to look at the displays in all the front yards.


This years Halloween decorations were extravagant again and had an “air du temps”.




Also "air du temps" are face masks of course, and the ones below are almost as unique as Street art! Are you familiar with the color pink?




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