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CHICAGO — Inspired by trips to Italy’s ancient ruins in the 1990s, Jim Bachor creates mosaics of what he sees as modern civilization’s take on religion and the eternal: Cheetos, packaged meats, and Lindsay Lohan — greasy bits of Americana preserved in glass. His portraits in grout point to our over-processed existence. Recently, however, the former advertising designer has become more practical with his chosen form, taking it to the worn-down streets of Chicago to confront the city’s own type of ruin: the pothole.
Bachor began his personal public-works project to repair potholes with mosaics in the summer of 2013. Starting by his home in the northwest Chicago neighborhood of Mayfair, Bachor sectioned off work zones with his twin sons’ miniature orange soccer cones. Within the last year the artist has graduated to industrial-sized cones and a bright reflective vest, which increase Bachor’s visibility — yet a common passerby would likely mistake the artist for doing roadwork, not artwork. Upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that the cement and mosaic-tiled potholes bear an obvious resemblance to the Chicago flag, a way for the artist to brand the road ruins as a city institution. “It was kind of like stating the obvious,” Bachor said in a conversation with Hyperallergic. “A way to say, ‘This is a Chicago pothole, dammit!’” Bachor riffs on the red, white, and blue flag by filling its center with either the word “POTHOLE” or a random serial number. “The fake serial numbers are a joke, a comment on the number of potholes there actually are in Chicago,” said Bachor.
The artist was originally drawn to mosaic work because of his fascination with the permanence of the art form. “It’s hard to make your mark in this world, he said. “My boys aren’t going to be building me a pyramid or anything like that. Mosaics are one of the few techniques that can really survive.” Bachor has experimented with different materials and locations to ensure that his mosaic pothole covers survive as best as possible: he’s learned that the pieces can’t be too large and must be situated far away from other holes; his first piece was nearly swallowed by a neighboring pothole. Even with planning, the mosaics are ultimately at the mercy of unpredictability.
Although Bachor was at first hesitant to associate his name with the public-works project, for fear of getting in trouble with the city, he’s now been awarded a commission by the Chicago Transit Authority. He’s also hoping to expand the pothole covers to prime locations downtown. His next design will incorporate local car repair shop phone numbers, something both practical and a bit mysterious to add to his pieces’ already rogue appearance.
Bachor has attempted to keep all of his pothole works approximately the same size to minimize cost, but even at 16 x 22 inches, they cost about $50 each to make. He doesn’t skimp on materials, though — he uses Murano glass in all of his pieces — and he works in the old-fashioned double reverse, or Ravenna, method. Cost is currently the reason he’s sticking to the simple Chicago-branded designs, but one day he dreams of creating pothole works more closely aligned with the detailed portraits found in his studio.
Jim Bachor’s mosaic commission for the Chicago Transit Authority will be installed at the Thorndale Red Line stop this summer.