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Blog

Finding Beauty in Potholes

Apr 11 2016

One afternoon, I got on my bike to leave our Chicago office after a really bad day. It was one of those times when it feels like everything you touch falls apart, and I was in a hurry to get home and lie down in the dark. I rode through the West Loop neighborhood and turned right to head north on Green Street. But then something passed by beneath my front wheel that caused me to stop and turn around.

I went back and stared: Inside what had been a pothole the size of a dinner plate, someone had constructed a beautiful mosaic of an iris.

The symbolism hit me hard: Here was an example of how someone could take a bad thing and turn it into something of transcendent beauty. Instead of complaining about my bad day, I should be looking for an opportunity to make something great. Or as the slogan goes, “When things fall apart, make art.” Once I’d spotted this one transformed pothole, I noticed more of them around Chicago, and resolved to track down the mysterious mosaic artist who was seeding the city’s broken streets with beauty. I’d like to tell you that my quest was long and heroic, but, in reality, all I did was type “Chicago pothole art” into Google. 

The name it threw back at me was Jim Bachor. I emailed him, and soon we were chatting. 

How did you get into mosaics? 

I went to Europe in the late '90s, and saw Paris, London, and Rome. That trip changed my life: It gave me a passion for ancient history. I started traveling in Greece and Turkey, checking out ancient sites, and saw that the art that survives is the sculpture and the mosaics. The mosaics got me going, particularly in Pompeii. I saw that glass and marble do not fade. That thought has driven my work ever since. I took a course in Ravenna, near Venice, and learned how to make mosaics in the ancient, tedious, and expensive way. Back in Chicago, I started making them on the side as a hobby, while working as a designer at an ad agency. Then, in August 2011, I was laid off and I decided to pursue art full-time.

What led you to potholes as sites for art? 

The street outside my house was beat up. There was this one pothole that refused to stay fixed. I thought it might be funny to solve this problem. So I did it one night. I was very paranoid: I felt like I was too old to get arrested. And it wouldn’t be a good example for my kiddies. So I didn’t even claim ownership of it, at first. But then, a buddy of mine started spreading the word. And from there, it went viral.

Bachor Ice Cream Sandwich

Strawberry Ice Cream Sandwich, Väinönkatu 14, 40100, Jyväskylä, Finland, May 2015. Header image is "Iris." 
All photos courtesy of Jim Bachor.

Do you do it during daytime now? 

Yes. I wear orange reflective gear. And have cones. I started off with my boys’ orange soccer cones. Now I have industrial, two-foot-tall cones. I look like a city worker who's spending way too much time on one pothole. I’m not trying to fool anyone: I’m just trying not to be hit.

What about passers-by?

I don’t really make eye contact with people and they mostly ignore me.

Bachor Install4

Bachor posing with "BombPop," part of his "Treat in the Streets" series. 

 I look like a city worker who's spending way too much time on one pothole.

Jim Bachor

What else have you done with the mosaic form? 

I did a super realistic "Snack Chip" series. It’s kind of funny to see a snack chip rendered in an ancient medium. For the Cheetos one, I carbonized some Cheetos, and then mixed the black powder into the mortar. The artwork truly has essence of Cheeto in it.

Bachor Cheeto

"Super Realistic Cheeto," 2012

See more of Jim Bachor’s mosaic art at bachor.com.

  • Neil Stevenson

    IDEO Alum
    Neil Stevenson is on a mission to understand creativity and find new ways to enable and encourage it in others. He's particularly interested in how the slowly-evolving human brain interacts with the rapidly-changing tech environment we live in, and the strange and wonderful new behaviors that emerge as a result.

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