The exhibition at the Cultural Center, Paint Paste Sticker: Chicago Street Art, is a cross generation sampling of some of Chicago’s most prolific and influential street artists.
If you are familiar with the streets of Chicago, it will come as no surprise to encounter the exhibiting artists selected for the show on a daily basis. The exhibition features artists such as ZORE, ZOR, JEFF ZIMMERMAN, YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL PROJECT, UNEEK, TSEL, TRAZ, TRANE & SHAGGY, THOR, TEEL SECRET STICKER CLUB, STEF, STATIK, CHRIS SILVA, SLANG, RISK, RADAH CARTOON DA PHARO, PAWN WORKS, NICE ONE, LAKE EFFECT, KANE ONE, ISH, INTERNATIONAL MEETING OF STYLES, THE GROCER, BROOKS GOLDEN, G.P., GALERIE F, FLEX, DON’T FRET, CHICAGO URBAN ART SOCIETY, THE CHAMP, CASPER, C3PO, HEBRU BRANTLEY, BELOVED, OSCAR ARRIOLA, RUBEN AGUIRRE, NICK ADAM and 83ISM. There is something exciting about seeing all these styles and names all together in one room, especially since the event is being held at the Chicago Cultural Center and presented by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.
This is remarkable due to the well-known, long-standing and exceptionally contentious relationship between street artists and the City of Chicago. Not so long ago, the City of Chicago launched a strict graffiti removal program that marred the public perception of street art by explaining on the City of Chicago official website, “[Graffiti] scars the community, hurts property values and diminishes quality of life.” Although graffiti and street art have many negative associations, especially with Chicago’s history of gang-related tagging, there are many positive and inspired aspects of this art form and its numerous artists.
Matthew Hoffman, You Are Beautiful; Courtesy of the Chicago Cultural Center.
Chicago-based designer and artist, Matthew Hoffman, saw how street art could also send positive messages. Hoffman started slapping stickers that read "You Are Beautiful" in both visible and relatively obscure spots across the city. The designer quickly realized people were excited to come across these words within the urban cityscape, expected or not. This act has evolved into an international sticker installation, with more than half a million stickers appearing across the globe. The project titled You Are Beautiful, started with the intention to spread a positive message throughout the streets of Chicago. The saying has been appropriated into different shapes and forms but sticks to the initial mission of spreading positive affirmations to all those who come across these three words. The entrance of the exhibition has a massive replica of the original sticker.
Mario ZORE Gonzalez, Skeleton Bones, 2013, Textured gesso and latex on wood; Courtesy of the Chicago Cultural Center.
Directly across from the silver You Are Beautiful sign sits a street bus shelter that is smothered by the recognizable style of renowned Chicago graff writer, ZORE. ZORE is known for using the urban landscape as a direct influence in his work. Most of his tags are found under train tracks and bridges and typically interact with the material of the wall and environment. In addition to the bus shelter, there is a hanging wall sculpture by ZORE titled Skeleton Bones, 2013, which includes four individual woodcut works that descend down the wall. Unlike his street tags, ZORE dissects and emphasizes each individual shape within his writing. ZORE is generally known for his bold and innovative use of color, but these woodcut pieces are entirely white, allowing the work to emphasize the layers and flow of typographical graffiti writing. As referenced by the title, the work represents the shape of a spine, perhaps referencing the historical beginnings of the street art movement.
Pawn Works, Sticker Wall; Courtesy of the Chicago Cultural Center.
The exhibition is not limited to individual artists; it is replete with an overview of Chicago street art influences and participants. For example, Pawn Works, founded in 2010 in Chicago, started as a sticker project to act, as explained on the wall text, “as a vehicle to expand a global network of artists.” They provided printing of stickers for artists at no cost then distributed them across bars and music venues. Sales of the stickers went back into sponsoring their project and the artists. Currently, Pawn Works has also been leading projects in Pilsen with the Art in Public Places initiative and expanded beyond Chicago to instigate projects in other cities. For the exhibition, Pawn Works decided to cover a wall with hundreds of stickers they have printed over the past years highlighting all the artists they have worked with and relationships they continue to build. It is a fun challenge to find and identify different artists.
Exhibition View; Courtesy of the Chicago Cultural Center
Opposite the sticker wall, documentary photographs outline some significant moments in Chicago street art history. Ghetto P, as explained in the exhibition label, spent his time capturing the late 90s street art scene on his 35mm camera. He focused on young writers who were just making their way into the scene but didn’t yet have the recognition they were striving for. He focused on young writers who were just making their way into the scene but didn’t yet have the recognition for which they were striving.
James Casper Jankowiak, Drift, 2011-12, Acrylic on Canvas; Courtesy of the Chicago Cultural Center.
With the show closing on January 12th, the exhibition is definitely a must-see. It is a rare opportunity to see these artists side by side in one space, especially artists such as THOR, Casper and KANE ONE who started and continue to influence the graffiti art scene in Chicago. For the first time the city is embracing the artists and art form and acknowledging the wealth of talent and dedication that exists within the scene. Although the exhibition will be wrapping up soon, many of the exhibiting artists such as HEBRU BRANTLEY, NICE ONE, ZOR, RADAH and DON’T FRET will continuously fill walls and alleys throughout the city and across the country.
(Image on top: Miguel Kane One Aguilar, Blinded, 2013; Courtesy of the Chicago Cultural Center.)