Three mural hubs where the cracks are beginning to show

The Bushwick Collective. Photo by Mr Seb.
The Bushwick Collective. Photo by Mr Seb.

What do Bushwick, Chicago, and Detroit all have in common? Their mural cultures are under threat. In Bushwick, gentrification and greed some to be putting the final nails in the coffin of The Bushwick Collective. In Chicago, the city is failing to pay artists and organizers for murals that they commissioned. In Detroit, city officials are trying to tame graffiti’s Wild West with regulations that are bound to cause problems.

The Bushwick Collective’s year hasn’t started out so well. There was always suspicion among artists and art fans about the project’s motives. Behind closed doors (and sometimes publicly), you’d hear suggestions that The Bushwick Collective was an exploitative gentrification effort rather than a celebration of art, and its no secret that the project is anti-graffiti and doesn’t usually allow political messages in murals. But they have walls, so plenty of artists set aside their reservations and paint there anyway. Now, those rumbling frustrations about gentrification and whitewashing of graffiti have gone explosively public, with ZEXOR dissing over a dozen Bushwick Collective murals with his tags and throw ups.

But are ZEXOR’s accusations based in fact? The latest development at The Bushwick Collective suggests so. This month, what appear to be frames for two billboards were installed on top of Bushwick Collective murals. The (currently empty) billboard frames were installed with complete disregard for the murals they partially cover by Concrete Jungle, The Yok, and Sheryo. So much for subtly transforming the neighborhood in the name of art. Seem to me though that with these billboard installations, The Bushwick Collective is finally showing their true colors.

Sheryo said that she hasn’t asked The Bushwick Collective what happened, but her thoughts on the situation are clear: “It’s such an eyesore they shoulda at least buffed it first… I think there should be mutual respect. Do things right.”

I’ve reached out to The Bushwick Collective on Sunday for comment, as well as for more information about the billboard frames and the building owner’s relationship with the Collective. As of Tuesday night, I have not heard back.

Roa in Chicago, a mural organized by Pawn Works. Photo by Kevin Tao.
Roa in Chicago, a mural organized by Pawn Works. Photo by Kevin Tao.

In Chicago, there are a number of great murals by artists like Gaia, Roa and Troy Lovegates that Pawn Works organized in collaboration with the city and Alderman Danny Solis. Unfortunately, it seems that the alderman seriously messed up and the city has so far failed to pay the artists or reimburse Pawn Works for $16,000 in out-of-pocket expenses related to the murals. The city and the alderman claim to be working to fix the problem, but Pawn Works and the artists have been owed money for well over a year. For now, Pawn Works has stopped organizing murals for the city. That mural project was shut down because of Solis’ fiscal mismanagement and bureaucratic snafus, and of course, the artists and Pawn Work still haven’t been paid. At least Solis is “very sorry.”

A mural in Detroit by The Weird. Or is it graffiti? Photo by RJ Rushmore.
A mural in Detroit by The Weird. Or is it graffiti? Photo by RJ Rushmore.

Finally, politicians in Detroit are trying to change the city’s reputation as the Wild West of graffiti. A city council member is working on new anti-graffiti regulations that would fine property owners for not cleaning the graffiti on their buildings. It’s unclear how new regulations will be different from the tickets that the city is already issuing, but presumably they would make it even easier for a Detroit building owner to be ticketed for graffiti. As the Metro Times asks, how do you determine what’s graffiti and what’s a mural? That’s a determination that the city is already messing up, and the proposed solution of a database of all the legal murals in the city is bound to be incomplete and difficult to maintain.

Regulations like these make me nervous, not just for the graffiti and for property owners, but for all public art in Detroit. Imagine you’re a property owner in Detroit and an artist comes to you about painting a mural on your property. Even if legally that’s okay and you’d love some art on your wall, do you really want to take the risk that there will be confusion and you’ll be fined and investigated by the city? These regulations could have a serious chilling effect on the muralism Renaissance taking place in the city right now.

Detroit can’t seem to properly manage the system they’ve already got to ticket property owners for graffiti. Why give that system more power? More intense regulations like the ones being developed now will only serve to hurt Detroit’s property owners, artists, and public art.

In recent years, a lot of great art has come out of The Bushwick Collective, and Pawn Works, and the overall mural culture in Detroit. Maybe, hopefully, I’m just being a Chicken Little about all this news. After all, there are other murals in Bushwick and Chicago, and the Detroit regulations are a long way from being implemented, but let’s not pretend that everything is all okay. These amazing mural cultures, often held up as some of the best in the nation, are under threat from greed and mismanagement.

Photos by Mr SebKevin Tao, and RJ Rushmore

Paint, Paste, Sticker at the Chicago Cultural Center


Note from the editor: I know we here at Vandalog tend to neglect all the great things going on on the streets of Chicago, but hopefully this guest post by Terry Cartlon starts to make up for that. Terry visited Paint, Paste, Sticker, a show of work by street artists active in Chicago at the Chicago Cultural Center. – RJ Rushmore

With all the Banksyness happening across New York’s five boroughs this month, it’s difficult to focus on any other art happenings in any other part of the world. Unfortunately here in Chicago, we’re used to doing our thing in The Big Onion only to finish second to The Big Apple. Fortunately, when you’ve got Chicago’s heaviest of hitters gathered at the cultural center for a lesson in Chicago street art, it helps soften the blow from the international spectacle occurring in that first city.

Don't Fret
Don’t Fret

The architectural gem that is The Chicago Cultural Center houses something for The Second City to be proud of: Paint, Paste, Sticker encompasses quite the retrospective of Chicago street art history in one impressive room. Past, present, and future are all represented…and represented well.

Matthew Hoffman
Matthew Hoffman

Coming up the stairs or exiting the elevator on the fourth floor, attendees get greeted by Matthew Hoffman‘s worldwide wonder You Are Beautiful stone slab and Zore‘s Sheltered Bombing, a painted CTA bus shelter worth the time it takes to get downtown alone. Once inside, pieces from Slang, Don’t Fret, Nice One, Stefskills, C3PO, Kane One, and Radah flank the walls with collections from Galerie F and their Logan Square Mural Project ricocheting ideas and possibility in the city. Paint, Paste, Sticker takes us far north for the Rogers Park Participatory Budgeting project, down south for the South Shore Art Festival, and to the 25th Ward for Alderman Danny Solis’, Pawn Works‘, and Chicago Urban Art Society‘s Art in Public Places initiative. All three of these excellent projects have taken Chicago street art to the next level over the past year while showcasing international and local legends on the exterior walls in an attempt to put Chicago in the rightful spotlight.


Hebru Brantley shows off his prolific significance, Tselone and Jeff Zimmerman input their importance to the movement, and Ruben Aguirre’s masterful stylistics are on display in full harmony with Secret Sticker Club’s underrated sticker presence that is prevalent throughout Chicago.

Hebru Brantley
Hebru Brantley

The artistic talent in Chicago is undoubtedly the most underappreciated in the country, and this event has the potential to create the necessary influx/outflux relationship for artists to get the recognition they deserve. Seeing a large scale collection of accomplishments on display like this really puts it in perspective, and the excitement that this exhibition should ignite is what it’s all about. Chicagoans are some of the most precisely knowledgeable and honestly humble artists in the game with some of the highest standards for street art and graffiti you’ll ever see. Lucky for show-goers, those standards are put into action for everything on display.


Paint, Paste, Sticker does a thorough job of representing the who’s who and what’s what of the Chicago street art scene—a scene made up of interdisciplinary, intergenerational artists who transcend time, space, race, and class. If you miss this exhibit, you should kick your own ass…

Continue reading “Paint, Paste, Sticker at the Chicago Cultural Center”

Overunder and Labrona up in Chicago

Overunder and Labrona. Photo courtesy of Pawn Works. Click to view large.

Overunder and Labrona were recently in Chicago for a mural project with Pawn Works (more info on that side of their trip soon), but they also had some fun installing less sanctioned work while in town. Here are a few of the pieces they put up:

Overunder. Photo by Overunder.
Overunder and Labrona. Photo courtesy of Pawn Works. Click to view large.
Labrona. Photo courtesy of Pawn Works.
Overunder. Photo courtesy of Pawn Works. Click to view large.
Overunder. Photo courtesy of Pawn Works.

Photos courtesy of Pawn Works and by Overunder

Gaia and Roa in Chicago thanks to Pawn Works

Quetzalcoatl and the Stork by Gaia. Photo by Brock Brake. Click to view large.

Continuing the work that Pawn Works, 25th Ward Alderman Danny Solis (who is paying for these murals), The National Museum of Mexican Art, and the Chicago Urban Art Society have been bringing to Chicago, Gaia and Roa both recently painted in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago.

Gaia painted a piece called Quetzalcoatl and the Stork, about the neighborhood transitioning from mostly having Polish immigrants to now being home to many Mexican immigrants.

Quetzalcoatl and the Stork by Gaia. Photo by Gaia.

Roa‘s piece is a nice illusion of sorts and utilizes the space absolutely perfectly. Some of the best placement of a mural or piece of street art I’ve seen all year. Remember folks, learn from Roa and always practice good placement.

Roa. Photo by Brock Brake. Click to view large.
Roa. Photo by Brock Brake. Click to view large.

While in town, Gaia also painted another piece independently of the Pilsen project called Afro Cuban Siblings.

Afro Cuban Siblings by Gaia. Photo by Brock Brake.

Photos by Gaia and Brock Brake

RAE paints Chicago

Click here to view large

RAE was in my hometown of Chicago a couple of weeks ago showing them how it’s done. RAE was in town thanks to Pawn Works, who had this to say about the visit:

We were very excited to be able to host Rae in Chicago to kick off an on-going mural project in the Historic Pilsen neighborhood on the Southside of Chicago of which we’ve been asked to participate in. We are working with the Alderman’s Office, The Mexican Museum of Art, The Chicago Urban Art Society and other partners to beautify a stretch of wall in the Pilsen neighborhood. With an array of amazing artists planned to come out to participate on our end we look forward to keeping everyone caught up.

Photos by Brooklynite Gallery

Chicago, meet Skewville

As far as I can tell, Pawn Works have brought Skewville to Chicago for the first time. Not My Type opened last week and looks to be just what we’ve come to expect from Skewville: A colorful celebration of fun. Most of the work is in the gallery, but Skewville also customized a full-sized school bus, painted this mural and tossed some kicks. And it looks like Skewville is trying to take back “Your Ad Here” from Shepard Fairey. Of course it’s not a term that Skewville coined, but there’s this little feud between the two concerning on the phrase.

Check out some photos from inside Not My Type after the jump… Continue reading “Chicago, meet Skewville”

Clownsoldier at Pawn Works

Following on the coattails of Rj just three posts down, to bring us all up to speed, Clownsoldier is this months artist showing at Pawn Works in Chicago. I have some vested interest in that space, but what they are doing for the chicago street scene is pretty spectacular as every artist that has come so far has left a little piece of themselves in the city. Now let’s see some more pieces on the street son, you ve got six days!

Photos by Mo.FoTo

Clownsoldier heads to Pawn Works in Chicago

Clownsoldier is the next artist who will be showing at the Pawn Works gallery in Chicago. His solo show, The Human Cannon Ball will open in just under two weeks on Friday, June 24th. The press release describes Clownsoldier as “an explosion of absurdity wheatpasted onto a wall near you,” and I think that’s pretty accurate, but his gallery work isn’t half bad either! For this show, Clownsoldier has made collages on book covers and original paintings. In case you missed it, check out this studio visit I did with him last month. Clownsoldier’s best collages have a sense of wonder and playfulness. The combination of his fine arts background and seeming relative naiveté about street art culture combine to offer something a bit different from what street art fans have come to expect and yet make him the perfect fit for Pawn Works (whose previous shows have been with Specter and Gaia).

Check out The Human Cannon Ball at Pawn Works in Chicago, opening on June 24th from 7-11pm.

Photo courtesy of Pawn Works

Speaking with Seth Mooney of Pawn Works

An avid fan of both stickers and urban art, I love what Pawn Works has been up to: the design and installation of vending machines that makes the best of urban art available in sticker format.  I recently had a chance to speak with one of its two founders, Seth Mooney, currently living in NYC. His partner, Nick Marzullo, is based in Chicago.

I love the concept of a vending machine that dispenses stickers featuring urban art. How did you guys come up with the idea?  We thought it would be a great way to showcase contemporary artists and designers and make their work easily affordable and accessible to collectors. 

You guys have an amazing roster of artists, and the stickers look fabulous.  Not only have you featured some of my favorites – folks like C215, Dain and Gaia – but you’ve introduced me to artists whose work is new to me. How do you engage artists in your project?  We’ve approached some artists and some are referred to us. Others contact us directly.  The artists have complete control over their image. 10% of the stickers we print go directly to the artist. A small portion of the stickers printed are pooled and distributed in sticker packs among the sticker club’s members, as one of our goals is to connect artists from around the globe.

Where can we find these vending machines? We plan to place them in a variety of venues, including, of course, galleries and cafes. The first NYC gallery to have our sticker machine is Brooklynite in Bed-Stuy.

Do you collect stickers yourself?   I’ve been collecting them for over 20 years, since I was 9 years old. I love stickers. They are the most portable genre of tangible art!

Do you design your own? I’ve done some but I’m far more focused on other people.

I see that your partner in Pawn Works, Nick Marzullo, is running a gallery in Chicago.  How did you guys get into that?  About 5-6 years ago, Nick started doing shows in friends’ apartments and representing their work at art fairs.  In time, it led to the establishment of a gallery that features work by emerging contemporary artists. The current exhibit REPEAT OFFENDER features work by Gabriel Specter.

Have you a formal art background? I studied photography at Columbia College in Chicago and I also work as a photographer.  But I consider myself primarily a “facilitator of the arts.” 

Sounds good! I love what you’re doing and I look forward to seeing and collecting more of Pawn Work’s stickers.

Photojournalists Lisa Kahane on the left and Martha Cooper on the right

Sticker with image by Jesse Reno, mixed-media painter living and working in Portland, OR.

Images courtesy Seth Mooney