It’s as reliable a sign of spring as buds on the trees and unfounded optimism in Wrigleyville: city crews patching the pockmarked streets. Irritated by the endless, cyclical nature of street repair in Chicago, artist Jim Bachor decided to pitch in. As part of a personal public art/public works project, he’s been repairing potholes with custom mosaics, including a Chicago flag design and one with the number 361,841—as good a guess as any for how many craters exist in the city’s roadways.
“The artwork’s durability allows it to last, with a few tears, forever,” Bachor says. “The concept of indestructible art, something with that kind of staying power, blows me away.”
The former advertising creative turned artist—his mural for the Thorndale Red Line stop goes up this summer—took a trip to Italy in the late 90s, and between visits to ancient ruins, he learned to make murals using the traditional Ravenna method, named after the former Roman capital where he took classes.
Bachor’s pothole fixes have been clustered near his home in Mayfair, on the northwest side. The artist spends a few hours prepping a mural in his studio, hammering marble and glass pieces that he sets around a pattern traced in clay, and then covering the work in cheesecloth. When he finds the perfect pothole (one near the side of the road and relatively isolated, not part of a cavity-filled block), he marks off the hole with orange traffic cones, pours in about five gallons of mortar, then installs the mural, which takes about two hours to fully set.
“It’s a power play when you buy your own traffic cones,” Bachor says. “People obey them and you get a weird sense of power.”
Even Bachor’s careful, time-intensive, and relatively expensive (about $50 per fill) process can’t overcome the persistence of Chicago’s potholes. A mural from last year, in front of his house on Kenton Avenue, has already been marred—but only because another pothole had formed right next to it.
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