A STREET ARTIST FAMOUS FOR FILLING THE PITS IN THE CHICAGO STREETS WITH MOSAIC ART: JIM BACHOR
It’s not enough just to say a street artist while talking about Jim Bachor. He is an artist befitting for the windy spirit of Chicago, the third largest city in America. The city, the history of which dates back to 1795, set an example with its familiarity, landscape, roads and unique architecture. It is more accurate to say for Bachor that he is an artist who is protective, sensitive and who expresses his reactions in the most effective way in urban life, besides urban people. Jim Bachor is a street artist who is famous for filling the potholes of the streets with mosaic art. While expressing his feelings he found his own unique way and he is very aware of what he is doing. We have made an interview with Jim Bachor for you via internet:
We know you very well from social media. When we researched about you, we found that you were the most famous street artist in Chicago. Original articles written about you reached out to Turkey. Can we get to know more abou you?
It is nice to hear that. I’m so honored. I was born in 1964 in Chicago. I work as a graphic designer, street and mosaic artist. I am making mosaic designs by using ancient techniques. I became famous for the mosaics I designed for the pothole in the streets of Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, San Antonio, Nashville, Los Angeles, Carrara, Italy and Jyväskylä, Finland. After visiting Pompeii in Italy, I found mosaics from an old volcano, and in 2013 I began to fill the potholes in Chicago with mosaics by giving the message of “not a pothole”. I wanted to draw attention in some way. The work that I did was going quite deeper than the street surface, rather than art. I can say that it is a little humor, a little information, a little protest and reaching to the solution by drawing attention to the problems. With conferences and exhibitions, I feed my artistic aspect a little.
You say that you make mosaic art to leave a mark in the world. Why is it so fascinating to leave a mark in the world? What does it mean to leave a mark?
I fell in love with the art of mosaic when I visited europe (Paris, London, Rome) for the first time in the late 1990s. This initial visit started a fascination for me with ancient history that continues to this day. Europe has so many ruins, something we just don’t have in the USA. My background is as a graphic designer in the advertising business. All the ruins lit my imagination on fire. Like ancient stadiums where you could still sit where spectators sat so many years ago – amazing! Anyways, during my first visit to Pompeii our tour guide pointed out a mosaic. He said “glass and marble don’t fade so this piece of art looks essentially like the artist intended almost 2000 years ago” incredible. The idea that someone could make a piece of art that could last that long just amazed me. That thought drives my work to this day. I know my 12 year old twin boys probably won’t be building a pyramid in my honor so instead I produce artwork that might exist for a long time after i’m gone. People in the future can decide whether they like it or not!.
The idea of filling the potholes in the streets with art is quite interesting. How did this idea come about? What kind of reactions did you get?
Potholes are kind of an unsolvable problem. They get “fixed” and a few months later they need to be repaired again. Back in 2013 the potholes were particularly bad in chicago, especially on our street. I applied my passion for this near indestructible art form (mosaics) to this unsolvable problem outside of my house. At first i didn’t admit to doing the first few pieces of pothole art. I was worried about getting in trouble with the police. Also, I had just won a big commission with the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) to do a mosaic in one of the city’s train stations. I was worried about getting in trouble and losing that commission. Ultimately a friend of mine didn’t listen to me and began contacting newspapers and tv news shows to tell them about what i was doing. One thing led to another and then there was a live tv show, newspaper articles, online articles etc.
In the ancient world, images of daily life are expressed in mosaic. You are using the symbols of popular culture in your mosaics. Why do you use these icons? Is this a criticism?
What i’ve tried to do is furthering the art of the mosaic in the 21st century when people think “mosaic” they think religious icons or geometric patterns or people in Togas doing things. I saw an opportunity to fill a void and bring this ancient technique into contemporary society. I like to bring some of my subtle humor into my work. Making fun of our current time with people “worshipping” coffee (at least in the US) or junk food. not really criticism – more observational – looking at ourselves and seeing how ridiculous we look sometimes. Plus i also think it’s funny to see subject matter you would never normally see rendered using an ancient technique like mosaic (like a crushed beer can or bag of snack chips). With my pothole art specifically i sometimes juxtapose universal “truths” – meaning everyone “hates” potholes and everyone pretty much “loves” flowers or ice cream. I like contrasting two extremes – taking something everyone hates and filling it with imagery of something everyone loves.
In your interviews, we understand that the authorities in charge of the streets do not like the work you do. What do you think about that the responsible authorities have this negative outlook?
Actually i haven’t had any negative interactions with street maintenance people in any city i’ve ever done work in over the past 6 years until this past summer in New York City. I gave an interview to a newspaper (The New York Post) while i was in town. The reporter asked the city’s Department of Transportation for a response to my work for the story. They did not like it – saying it was a distraction to drivers and that they would be removing them. They were serious! Most of the pothole artwork was jackhammered out of the street within a week! l’ve had many interactions with the police. Once they understand what i’m doing they are fine with it.
Can you describe the adventure of filling a street pothole with art? How do you decide which mosaic you will do and how long does it take?
First, I finish the draft in my studio. Each piece takes about 8-10 hours to complete. I keep a list of possible potholes to fill when I have time to do them, when the weather is right and I have artwork ready to go. Installations happen in 2 steps. The 1st step takes about 1.5-2 hours to do. I bring all materials on site (water, concrete, brooms, rags, etc) Once the artwork is installed I protect it with traffic cones . The 2nd step happens about 8 hours later (depending on temperatures) or the next day once the concrete has dried. I scrub the mosaics with wire brushes and it looks as good as it ever will. Then I take final photographs of it and consider it done. I also leave a “goodie bag” somewhere near by for followers/fans to find and then i announce the new work on Instagram and Facebook. Concerning subject matter – I like to work in multi-piece series based on a common theme. When possible I’ll “bend” the theme to fit with the local area I’m doing work in. Meaning if I’m doing a series on junk food I’ll try and do a piece featuring a local product that is popular with people in that particular city.
Do you have a chance to visit Turkey? The history of Turkey is a rich place in terms of mosaics. Would you like to leave a mark on Istanbul’s Street potholes among these historical mosaics?
Oh I know! I’ve been to Turkey twice. Loved it. The nicest people and a bunch of ancient ruins to explore! I’ve probably driven over 1000 miles (1600 km) in your country! Spent some time in Istanbul and then flew to Izmir and then drove to Antalya – exploring ruins along the way. I would love to do some work in Istanbul. The big problem of course would be funding! it would be an expensive campaign. All i need is a wealthy sponsor!
By: Bahar Alban / Photo: Jim Bachor
*This article was published in the March-April issue of Marmara Life.