Artist will have you smiling at Chicago potholes

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Have you ever smiled at a pothole?  WGN’s Steve Sanders has the story of a Chicago artist who is making potholes; smile worthy.

“I’m very excited about pothole season this year. Ya, I found one right at Grand & Bishop here that is off to the side of the street. It’s kinda by a crosswalk which is nice. It’s about the right size, right depth. You know, it’s good to go.”  Former Chicago ad man Jim Bachor has waited all winter for back-to-back 60 degree days. “I’ve got industrial strength traffic cones, and I’ve got my orange vest on, and I look like a utility worker. You get a little bit of a workout doing this. Nobody likes potholes. They’re universally reviled.  And so I think it’s kinda funny to have something beautiful, like a bouquet of tulips or something like that. It’s this total opposite of what you’d expect. Short of repaving every street in the city with concrete, which apparently is too expensive, but in the long run wouldn’t be, it’s an insolvable problem.” Bachor is a mosaic artist. “The permanence of the art form just kinda blows me away.”  They’re skills he was eager to learn after a trip to Europe.

“When people think mosaic they don’t think what I do. People think of bathroom framed mirrors, or flower pots, or things that their aunt did to some craft class or whatnot. And I really try and turn that concept on its head. ” That head turning process began almost when Bachor was inspired by a pothole right in front of his house. “This is the original pothole piece of art. It was installed in May of 2013. And then I’m like, I’ve got this art form that I love the permanence of;  why don’t I try putting a mosaic in that pothole?” He started with a simple design, a Chicago flag and one word- Pothole. It lasted about a year before city crews covered it with asphalt. He scoped out other potholes close to home and began numbering them. “This is pothole number 316841 documented by the city.” Of course, he’s joking. ” And it looks as good as it did when I first put it in I think last May.”

Last summer he designed a flower series for some lucky potholes in the West loop, not far from where he’s starting this season’s series. “It’s basically get it street level, and at that point we introduce the artwork. And then things get real exciting. You only get like one shot to get it. I just pour hot water on it and let it soak for 20 minutes.”  In the spirit of guerilla artists everywhere, Bachor doesn’t ask permission to use public spaces. He just sets up his cones and goes to work. “You gotta take risks. If you don’t take risks, you don’t do interesting stuff. This is the culmination of all this ridiculous work. Doing this has ruined my hand modeling career for sure.”Fellow mosaic artist Kate Jessup of Seattle had to see the pothole process first hand. “I do really admire his technique and his integrity using some really ancient materials and technique so I think it’s a really cool thing.” Jim says, “It’s all positive. I haven’t heard one negative thing.” Mosaics can get pricey; especially when you use Murano glass and marble from Italy.  He suspected he could easily raise 300-dollars on the crowdfunding website Kickstarter. He got his $300, plus $4300 more “The first person to contribute $100 said he wanted soft serve ice cream. Next one’s gonna be a bomb pop and the one after than is gonna be a creamscicle.” Bachor’s hope is, the next time you see potholes,s you’ll see flowers, and ice cream cones, and smiles. “I think it looks great.  It almost looks 3 dimensional. I almost want to grab it off the street.” (laughs)

Bachor has been invited to Finland in a few weeks where he’ll appear at an end-of-winter festival. And the Nike Store on Michigan Avenue commissioned him to create a four-foot-by-six-foot pothole on their concrete floor. You can share this story and learn even more about what Jim Bachor is up to by clicking these links.

Producer Pam Grimes and Photojournalists Steve Scheuer and Mike D’Angelo contributed to this report.





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