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The Pothole Art Vigilante Has Returned, This Time With Garbage Mosaics

The man behind those whimsical pothole mosaics is starting a new season, this time with his series “Pretty Trashed.”

Mosaic artist Jim Bachor patches a pothole in Albany Park   Photos: Bettina Chang

“Pothole season” is winding down, but mosaic artist Jim Bachor is just getting started.

You might have seen Bachor’s work before, in a pothole near you. The 52-year-old Mayfair resident had dabbled in mosaics for over a decade before he began filling potholes with the custom-made creations in 2014. Since then, he’s attracted international attention for his work making everybody’s biggest headaches into whimsical pieces of art. Last year it was frozen desserts (“Treats in the Streets") and the year before it was flowers. For 2016, expect something grittier—the theme is “Pretty Trashed.”

If you don’t think people can get that excited about potholes, think again: Bachor’s Kickstarter for 2016 raised over $15,000 (far surpassing his $1,000 goal), and 312 backers are waiting to see his first installation of the year. Chicago magazine met up with Bachor at the yet-undisclosed Albany Park location to chat about his latest projects and why his new theme is such a departure from previous years.

So, what’s up with the “Pretty Trashed” theme? I think people will miss the ice cream.

Of course. The previous themes were all about juxtaposition—everyone hates potholes and everyone loves ice cream—taking something everyone hates and putting a smile on passersby. They get unexpected joy, an unexpected grin. With the “Pretty Trashed” theme, I’m flipping it back in the other direction, taking trash you find in the street and rendering it in the pothole. If there’s gonna be trash in the street, why not make it a piece of art?

 

A photo posted by bachor (@jimbachor) on

How many more installations are you doing this year? Can you share what the other images are?

Sorry, no. You’ll see when they happen. Part of the deal with the Kickstarter is that they get the first look at the final product. But I’m trying to do installs in more neighborhoods. It’ll be the first of at least 10, but probably more, in Chicago. And sometimes I’ll take suggestions for locations from Instagram.

How do you choose where they go?

Well, the pothole has to be just right. The street has to be in good shape so it won’t be resurfaced anytime soon. My artwork is about 18-by-24 [inches] so it doesn’t have to be that exact size but close to it. And it can’t be too deep or too shallow.

I have about 7,500 followers on Instagram so sometimes I will post the picture with a hint and ask people to find it. I’ll hide a little goodie bag with a few items in it, like this pothole mosaic badge [I wear on my arm], and post on Instagram, “the bag is taped to a tree.” Usually within 30 minutes someone will find it and post a photo of themselves with it. Once a guy laid on the street with the goodie bag and the pothole and I was like, no! I don’t want anyone to get hurt.

Jim Bachor slowly peels away the cheesecloth that kept his mosaic creation together before being placed in concrete.

How did you find this particular location?

I actually take my kids to school on this route so I saw that it was perfect. I thought, “The city better not fill it!”

So have you become some sort of pothole expert?

Kind of, reluctantly. It’s a little embarrassing. But in terms of what I do, yeah. I use concrete to fill in the pothole, then I bring the art in [it’s glued to a cheesecloth after he creates it at home] and lay it in there. I bring hot water with me to dissolve the adhesive so I can peel the cheesecloth off. Then I come back either at night or the next day to clean it up.

Do you ever hear from the city about your installations?

Never. The only communication I got from the city, back in 2014 the Trib did a nice article about the campaign and they contacted the city for a response. Their response was, that they appreciate the spirit of the campaign but I should leave the work to the professionals. So, they didn’t say no.

If the pothole itself is in a good condition they don’t mess with it. They don’t cover up something that’s actually fixed. Sometimes the asphalt around an installation will become unstable, then they will go in and fill [that part], but sometimes they will get sloppy and partially cover the artwork.

And has anyone else ever been angry about it?

Not once. It’s been completely positive.

What else are you working on this year?

I just installed a new piece at the new Pork and Mindy’s restaurant in Wicker Park. And I’ve got about a half dozen projects floating about. I do fine art mosaics and ship them to customers, too. Since the pothole art can’t be sold because it’s stuck in the ground, I sell fine art prints of it on my website. I’m also giving a talk at the Getty Villa in L.A. and doing some sort of demo of the technique I use. I’ll bring a piece of art and install it [in a pothole] out there, too.

All the tools for installation—including the mosaic itself, bags of concrete mix, jugs of hot water, and a personalized set of orange cones—fit in Jim Bachor’s van.

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