Chicago Street Art

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When I lived in Chicago my neighborhood was wallpapered in street art—and I loved it.  I loved that I started to recognize the style of certain artists and could identify their work, even if I didn’t know their names.  While I was disappointed to see some of my favorite pieces disappear, I understood and appreciated the transient nature of this medium.  Sometimes other artists covered over pieces, sometimes the city removed pieces, or property owners painted over these works, or time and weather just took over.  I loved the nooks and crannies artists carved out for their pieces—sometimes sneaking in at night to do large scale pieces in highly trafficked areas, sometimes finding a lonely corner of a building or a park bench as the perfect spot.  As a suburban dweller now, I keep up with some current street art on blogs and social media and that’s where I found the work of SWIV.

I picked a few images because, while any one of these can stand on their own, what I love about street art is the continuity of style of each artist almost as a means of establishing a brand.  While the pieces are beautiful, interesting and thought provoking, what hits me most is that they are recognizable as a theme or a series.  And while I could go on about how I love these pieces formally, I think it’s so interesting that, apart from whatever message SWIV is bringing to the public, he/she does so with this brand and repetition in mind.  The common link between the pieces I encountered was the face of a man wearing glasses with a mask over with mouth.  In some pieces, he’s morphed into a whole man, dancing with a beheaded mannequin, both dressed fancy.  In others, his glasses have a spiral form on each lens and his eyes are “x”ed out (I’m not sure if the photographer was being clever when he/she took the photo, but I like that  McDonald’s is the focus of the clearly toxic stare).  And in other pieces, SWIV has collaged his/her signature image smartly over another street artist’s work.

I wish I could say I walked the streets and found these cool pieces, but I relied on the blogs and it got me thinking about how important it really is to have blogs/virtual records of these pieces.  I think of blogs and photographs on social media that catalogue street art almost as a virtual museum, since most of these pieces won’t, and by design, can’t stand the test of time.  Though it is rare that I get to the city anymore, I was thinking that I would like to see some of these pieces (if they still exist) and I wondered why the photographer doesn’t include addresses or intersections.  Very quickly I realized  by revealing the location the photographer would be offering a road map for those who view street art as vandalism and these pieces would disappear even faster than usual.  And then I thought about what I used to love most about these pieces, that they kind of snuck up on you—they found you, you didn’t find them.  An errand in the neighborhood turned into an art experience just by chance—and that is the true beauty for me.  Having a road map to the pieces may be convenient, but would ultimately take away the surprise/ambush aspect that, I think, becomes part of the piece.

  • Is street art an expression of true art or a subversive criminal activity?  Why?
  • If you were a street artist, would you create art to beautify, inspire discussion, provoke controversy? Why?
  • Why do you think there is less street art in the suburbs?
  • Have you experienced any street art you really liked?
  • What do you think these pieces mean?

Here’s a link to a cool article on street art.

If you are on facebook, please “like” Chicago Street Art.

Amy Brandolino Kakkuri


16 thoughts on “Chicago Street Art

  1. I am a paddler and often see “street art” on a different kind of street–the river! I always appreciate artists who go through the trouble of wading in or dangling over the river to make a statement.

  2. I believe that street art is art but it could be crime if its illegal to vandalize a piece of property. Although it could be illegal, this may be what makes its so exciting for the viewers. This excitement may also be part of what the artist enjoys as they are constructing their works. Because there are are less people in the suburbs, street artists target larger cities. They want their work to get the most exposure that it can, to create their reputation and be easily identified as they spread out. So this is why they target the cities for their canvas to get a larger audience and more of a reaction.

  3. I am very open minded to street art or what others refer to them as graffiti or vandalism as you said in your post. I find it absolutely fascinating. I have come across it once or twice in the streets of Chicago and what most people don’t see is that it’s art not “graffiti” (harsh word)There are many names for it but two types one of them is called “tagged” meaning it a person or a group of people claiming a property as theirs to use to paint it. obviously its not your typical art that you can hold in a frame or have in a oh-so-fancy gallery. These “postings” the artist is doing has a meaning behind it. All this i learned from a ABC family show that i absolutely fell in love with the name is Switched at birth the Character Bay is much like a rebel but is determined to show her pieces of street art in the wealthy Kansas City suburb
    Your first question to whether or not is art consider as true art or a crime i believe my answer lies in this video off my favorite episode of the show.
    For the second question i would start on controversy to grab people’s attention and focus on a main epidemic. for example a bunch of my friends and i were worried about how teen pregnancy was such an issue and nobody seemed to care. so one day we had the idea of photo-shop a guy who looks like he was pregnant. Although the idea got out before we did it still caught people’s attention and now we see that there is help for parents to talk with their kids about sex. for the third and fourth question all together I believed that suburbs are too common although it is possible to get your work out their, the audience won’t truly be interested like that of city folks. where its more common and valued.
    And for the last question I think it can mean whatever it means. There are no right or wrong answer but I believe its there for entertainment. (Just my opinion.)

  4. I think that the reason street art is not as present in the suburbs as in the city is because artists, particularly young kids, cannot find suitable mediums for their art. I grew up in the suburbs, and I had mandatory art class up until college, and even know, an art course is required at College of Dupage. I personally take for granted art in my life, and the ability to create art through many (legal) mediums. However, not all artists have the same opportunities. Some of them are vandals because it is the only way they can express their art. Perhaps some of the vandalism would decrease if the arts were more readily available to students in public schools. However, I do not think that it would become obsolete. For some artists, their art cannot be displayed on traditional mediums, and they would continue to show their art in unusual places.

  5. As a suburban dweller, of almost 20 years who is now once again starting to explore the city, street art has a way of defining, to me, the concept of ‘urban’. It is interesting to note how bare the walls of suburbia can be, but as you make your way east, an awakening takes place. Some art is appealing, some confusing and perhaps too abstract for me to understand, and some, without a doubt, upsetting or thought provoking. What cannot be ignored is the fact that someone took the time and thought to make a statement. I somewhat admire the risks of street artists, as I doubt I would go and deface something…. and the fact that I’m using the word deface in itself speaks of where I lean with street art: criminal, if it were a church, a synagogue, or even a type of business or organization. But on an abandoned building, to me, it gives hope that something abandoned and uncared for can still be a place to express one’s self. If it were not for the art’s ‘hey, take a look at me over here’, I doubt we would take a second look.

    Given the opportunity to express myself, I believe I would lean towards something that would reflect the community. Your mention of street artist Swiv made me Google him and find out more about his work. My first thoughts of his works were from paranoia within me: we are being watched at any given moment, yet we are not aware of those watching us from Swiv’s use of indirect stare and covered mouth. Cameras in the city of Chicago are not unusual, whether for crime monitored by the city itself, homeowners and businesses conducting their own surveillance or even Joe Average recording something of pleasure, entertainment or conspiracy values with a camera or cell phone. One of Swiv’s other works further confirmed my thoughts of being watched. This is the multi panel piece of him looking through a prism. The prism reflects the rainbow colors and children at play. Unbeknown to the children, they are being watched and their mouths covered! And a phrase came to mind: Children should be seen and not heard.

    The portrait of the dance with the headless mannequin made me think of the intimacy that sometimes people yearn for, but with anonymity. This picture so well suggests having intimacy without the involvement of an actual relationship. That his mouth is covered suggests that they will never speak of this again.

  6. When we examine our own culture we often do so strictly from the mainstream television media, but whats happening outside, at night, in the streets often goes unconsidered. The people who are awake when others aren’t, working jobs other wouldn’t, are as much a part of the organism as a congressman or a lawyer. Street art and graffiti give these real people a tangible political voice.

  7. I saw some street art in maywood it was an abstract painting it had people from almost all the ethnicities. I dont remember exactly how it was but i remember a seeing a woman with curly hair wearing earings. It was painted with bright colors, i found it very intresting. I believe that street art is a way common people use to express their feelings, thoughts and perceptions. I believe these artists have passion for their work and they want to show it to people around them but may be because of lack of resources they are unable to do so therefore they post their paintings or paint the street walls so that other people can see it. Street art also reminds me of intresting graffiti on the trains. I love street art it makes the boring trips much more intresting 🙂

  8. I believe street art is true art. Although it may be done in criminal ways such as on buildings and privately own places, it is a way for artist who are not well known to express themselves. Many artist who continue to express themselves through street art have been discovered and are well known for the way they vandalize buildings and leave their marks all over the city. Something that is looked at so wrong by law enforcers makes the city interesting to just simply walk through and may just inspires others to create their own art. And maybe it doesn’t lead them to create their own art but it gets people thinking in different ways and allows them to believe that this criminal activity could as be taken as art.

  9. I believe the suburbs is not the place to do something such as street art due to the fact most of it is homes, small schools, or general stores. If someone started painting my house with their artwork I would be pretty upset because it’s my property. I would feel bad if I had a company and went so far as having my own building for it, but then someone else decides to paint on it. Yes there is artwork out there that is beautiful in it’s own way. Although it would be disrespectful to be tagging your art on someone else’s property.

  10. I think street art is a form of art. While some may think the artists are destroying the town’s buildings, like you said, they can easily be covered, taken down or just painted over if the work isn’t appreciated. I think a lot of the time street art is used to open up are person’s mind to what is going on in society and convey a message that the artists think is important for people to know. I watched a documentary a few months ago about a street artist who would quickly paste his messages near the cross walks at intersections. The artist was able to paste his messages around the town unnoticed because he cut out the floor of his car and would paste his art at a red light and then continue on his drive as normal. I just think that is so amazing, how clever some artists can get, just to get their message across.

  11. I believe street art is something more then just “graffiting” the wall as many people call it. For most people art it’s a big passion, helping them to create something so fascinating. Art let us see the world from a different perspective; giving the brain to create its own idea of thr artistic work until its understood. Therefore I strongly believe street art shouldn’t be seen any near as criminal activity. For us the public is interesting to see something beyond our regular environment. Although it might be illegal now, for artist is a way to express their emotions. It’s Incredible to see beautiful pieces of art and try to define its real meaning.

  12. An experience I, and perhaps many others have had with street art, is the graffiti found on trains and the route to chicago. As I see the graffiti on trains speeding past me and on the walls of underpasses and red line stations, i often think to myself, “these artists are probably unknown, yet they have just as much if not more talent than artists featured in museums”. The bright colors and the eccentric style are enough to grab anyones attention. All of these works of art are original and have an abundance of character. See what i mean by looking at the link below.

  13. I believe regardless of it breaking the law, street art is art. It is a way someone maybe expressing themselves or just to make the street look better. I don’t think many people mind when they see it on trains or wall that aren’t being used, or even if they are, whatever. though there are times that it isn’t liked, such as when gang put up signs or has curse words.

  14. I feel that street art is a form of expression. I used to have friends that did these kinds of things, I personally never held any interest in it. Street art can be considered a subversive criminal activity if gang members are going around tagging the name of their gang around neighborhood buildings, but I believe street art such as the ones posted are forms of expression.

    If I were a street artist, I would create at to inspire discussion, I would want people to look at my art work and discuss what they believe I am trying to tell, from their own perspectives. If I were an artist, I would want my art to be a form of expression, not in direct detail, but something that can get the viewers thinking, providing input to one another as to what they believe the art represents.

    I believe there are less street art in the suburbs due to suburban culture in general. From what I have personally seen, many street artists use these tags and artworks as a form of voice and expression. Based on what I believe, many suburban kids grew up without having seen single piece or street art due to the sole fact that the only time they step in the city is to walk on Michigan avenue.

    I have come across a few pieces of art in the past that caught my attention, simply due to the design and lettering style used in the tag, and the vibrant colors used, such as different bright green colors.

  15. This artist seems very mysterious. His purpose of creating these pieces are unknown but they are forcing people to think, which I think is his main purpose. They are also interesting to look at, I enjoy coming across art on the streets of the city.

  16. It was fantastic that you posted this street art to start the blog. What a great way to get people to start thinking about different forms of art. The think that struck me most was the coverng over the mouth. It was like he had something to say, but was afracid to say it. Also the image of him dancing with the headless (well-dressed) female partner reinforced the idea ; it was as if he was not very interested in the girl as a person, just the apperances of dancing with her (and both to them bieing well dressed). Still he had the cover over his if he was keeping himself from saying what he really wanted to.

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