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17 May 2017

Filled with art

Cyclist swerve to avoid them, motorists curse their suspension-jarring effect and local authority roads departments dread the cost of filling them. No one likes a pothole. But, as with life, it’s what we do about them that truly marks us out. Which is why one man – an artist now known throughout his community as the ‘pothole guy’ - has caused a bit of stir on the internet for his unique approach to dealing with this everyday nuisance. Maybe it will inspire others to follow suit.


By Jim Bachor, Unworthiest

Click here and  here to see Jim’s work on Instagram

Nobody likes potholes. Really no one, whether you're a cyclist who has to swerve so you don't fly off your bike or a driver who's concerned about what the hole will do to your suspension, they're a menace to our roads.

In Chicago - a city with harsh cold winters and hot summers - they also crop up (or should that be down?), so when in 2013, local artist Jim Bachor opened his front door and discovered a great big one, he decided to take matters into his own hands.

"We had a particularly bad pothole season in Chicago and my street was particularly beat-up. There was this one pothole outside my house that would refuse to stay fixed. The repair crews would fill it with asphalt but then, six months later, it would pop out again.

"I put two and two together and realised I had my passion for a really durable art form, mosaics and this pothole outside my house so why not merge the two? I made up some artwork and installed a piece of mosaic in that pothole in 2013."

Almost four years later and 45 pothole mosaics down the line, Jim Bachor's become something of a celebrity.

'Pothole guy' as he's affectionately known - well at least that's what people shout at him in the street ("Hey, you're the pothole guy!") - is not only creating beautiful pieces of art, he's essentially providing a civic service to the city he loves.

Now, it's not only locals paying attention: his potholes have become a tourist attraction. This is something he finds hard to get his head around.

"It blows me away!" He explains. "Some people have done these news articles like, ‘Here are 10 art things you need to see while you’re here’. They’ll mention Picasso, The Cloud Gate [a famous sculpture in the city's Millennium Park] and also my artwork. Sometimes they mention my stuff before Picasso so it’s very funny, ridiculous, humbling and great."

"It's got more attention than I ever thought it would," he continues. "I’m very aware I’m very fortunate. I don’t take it for granted - I try to answer any email or phone call. I try to take advantage of it because I know it’s not going to last forever but it’s been a cool ride."

It may indeed be a cool ride - but it's also hard work and time-consuming. He's turned the basement in his house to a studio, and that's where he creates the mosaics. For each pothole, he's looking at an 8-10 hour art session. Then a few days later he's got a two-day job on his hands to install it.

Laying the mosaic takes a couple of hours, but he then has to protect it with traffic cones, leave it to set overnight, come back the next day and clean it up using wire brushes. At that point he'll document it and take loads of pictures, "because I’ve learnt that it’s never going to look as good as it does then".

None of this, though, is the hardest aspect of his work - that's discovering the perfect pothole to begin with.

"Finding the right one is the biggest hassle of the whole process because it can’t be any old pothole. It can’t be in the centre of the road because I can’t block traffic.

"The street itself has to be pretty stable, so what I do now that I have more followers [on Instagram] is I’ll say 'I’d love to do something in this part of the city, if you see something that’s the right size send me a photo and address of where it is,' and if I use it I’ll usually send them something. So people do get involved, and I get a lot out of it too."

Not only is he making roads better for the city's residents and creating art in the process, he adds to his Best Neighbour Ever attributes by leaving a goodie bag nearby to a new installation.

"I tape it to a nearby tree or post and then on Instagram I send out a picture of it explaining it’s a new installation and where it is. Usually within 30-40 minutes someone will have come by and nabbed it, so there’s public participation to make it fun."

Yet is everyone a fan? How about the authorities - the ones who have specialist pothole filling teams?

"The City's never contacted me in any way. The only contact I’ve had is when the Chicago Tribune wrote an article about the campaign a couple of years back. They contacted the City for a response and they said they 'appreciated the spirit of the campaign but I should leave the work to the professionals' – so they didn’t say no but they said I should leave it the professional pothole crews."

He is, however, regularly stopped by the police, who want to know exactly what he's doing: "I’ve had about six or seven stops by the cops when I’m doing the installations. For the most part they’ve been really positive - that is once they know what I’m doing. For the most part they love it and as the campaign has got more press, they know who I am and will say ‘hey, you’re the pothole guy’."

"The thing is with the cops though," he jokes, "you never know, a week from now I might have the feds here..."

Jim's got no plans to stop his pothole filling anytime soon and he's about to start his 2017 campaign. Every year, he picks a different theme, from Pretty Trashed, which focuses on everyday rubbish you'd find on streets, to Treats in the Street - an ice-cream-themed campaign.

When picking a theme, his first thought is, 'What will bring a smile to people's faces?'

"A lot of times I’ve done what I call ‘universal truth’. Nobody loves potholes and what I do is juxtapose that with things that are universally loved, like flowers or ice cream, so you’re walking down the street and you see another pothole but then you see something that brings an unexpected grin to your face – like an ice cream you might have had in your childhood. I do a lot of that kind of stuff."

So what's up next? Well that's a secret which he'll be announcing over the next few weeks. But before we finish up our interview with him we ask the all important question: "Will you come over to the UK and fix our potholes?"

"I'd love to" he replies. "It's just a case of raising enough money to do so."

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