With a plethora of museums and galleries in Chicago, feeling cultured for a few hours is as simple as paying an admission fee. But some of the most inspiring and jaw-dropping works of art can be seen for free simply by stepping out your front door.
While it's historically been considered vandalism, street art has more recently gained acceptance in Chicago's mainstream art community and has drawn support from local galleries like Chicago Truborn, Galerie F and Vertical Gallery. As more and more street art pops up across the city, you need to be in the know about the biggest names in the local scene. Here are five Chicago-based street artists you can name-drop the next time you want to impress your friends.
Known best for “Bear Champ," that famous bear you’ve probably seen sporting boxing gloves, Joel Colon is a fan favorite among many Chicagoans. His signature and colorful style has earned him several city and corporate commissions, along with collaborations with Threadless and BucketFeet. From fine art to cartoons to street murals, JC knows no bounds.
Adventure takes flight, quite literally, in the energetic and youthful narratives of this Bronzeville-raised artist’s imaginative work. Taking a page from Jean-Michel Basquiat’s book, his “fly-boy” and “fly-girl” characters seen zooming across brick walls and buildings nod to black American history, and they've attracted the attention of high-profile fans like Jay-Z and Lupe Fiasco. But Hebru’s comic book–inspired Pop Art goes deeper than childhood fantasy and nostalgia. As a self-taught artist who grew up tagging trains and sneaking into art classes, his message is one of hope and optimism for the nation’s urban youth.
Shrouded in mystery, this anonymous artist prefers to work under the guise of night while the rest of us catch some shut-eye. From tagging in his teens across the Chicago area to gracing the front cover of our special edition fall preview in September, Don’t Fret keenly observes (and often satirizes) the realities and absurdities of city living. His witty-yet-poignant social commentary can be seen everywhere from the Loop to the South Shore, and it reminds us that we’re all in this together, whether we like it or not.
Urban artist Lie (a.k.a. Jay Turner) proves that you don’t need a 606 zip code to be a key player in Chicago’s growing street art community. Born and based in the suburbs, his unique style of mixing traditional painting techniques with spray paint is one that’s hard to miss. With most of his pieces centered around a girl in a helmet, or her “war attire,” his story of 4D vs Doom uses the classic theme of good versus evil to portray the goodness within you and the challenges of life.
Pizza in the Rain
Newer to the urban art scene, PITR is wasting no time making his mark on Chicago. Along with his own paintings and wheatpastes, he spearheaded the White Wood Project: a citywide installation series that brought together some of Chicago’s best street artists to create black and white art on oversized panels (you can see one of the last remaining installations on the side of Five Star Bar in West Town). We’re looking forward to seeing what he puts up next.