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Chicago’s Pothole Artist Turns Road Hazards Into Works of Art

Chicago-based Jim Bachor is one of those rare street artists’ whose works can be classified as both art pieces and a public service. The man specializes in fixing up pot holes by filling them up with his beautiful and durable mosaics.

In fact Jim’s career as a pothole artist began with a trip to the ancient city of Pompeii, in Italy, where he learned just how durable mosaics really were. The tour guide pointed at a 2,000-year-old artwork and said that although it had been set in mortar, the marble and glass pieces had not faded. The realization of the artwork’s staying power blew him away, and a few months later he was in Italy learning the secrets of ancient mosaic art. He pursued it as a hobby for a few years, but then he started doing commission works and in May of 2013 he got the idea of applying his skill to fixing a pesky pothole in his neighborhood.

Photo © Jim Bachor

“Flashback to May of 2013, the potholes were really bad in my area of Chicago,” Bachor said in an interview with The Chicago Ambassador. “There was one in front of our house that was a stubborn one that refused to stay fixed. The city would put asphalt in it and it would pop back out. It just dawned on me over time that I had this passion for this art form that is so durable and permanent, and I had this hole in front of my house that refused to stay fixed. So, what I did was I created a custom piece of art for that pothole.”

Obviously, doing pothole mosaics was quite a lot different than doing them in the comfort of his own studio, and Jim Bachor admits that it took him about a half dozen tries to learn how to do them properly. Protecting them for a few hours before they set was key, so he started using his boys’ soccer training cones to direct traffic around his artworks. Now he has his own professional traffic cones.

“It’s a two-step process,” Jim said about filling potholes with mosaics. “The first step takes about an hour-and-a -half to install it, to put the art in. Then I protect it with traffic cones or maybe a tarp depending on the weather. Then I come back 8-10 hours later once the concrete is hard to do a final scrub with metal brushes and take photos of it to document it because that’s the best it’s ever going to look. I can’t do it any faster than that.”

Jim started doing pothole mosaics in his home neighborhood, but as his work started getting more attention, he branched out to other areas, and even did some projects in other major cities. He says figuring out what pothole to work on can be tricky, as those far away from his studio take more time, and those in richer neighborhoods tend to get fixed up by the city faster, sometimes before he gets there.

Asked if he has ever gotten into trouble with local authorities or the police, the Chicago artist said that his only indirect contact with city officials was when thee Chicago Tribune did an article on him and called the city to get their take. They said that they appreciated the spirit of his project, but that he should leave plugging potholes to professionals. That was about it. Police have been cool with his pothole mosaics too, and some even congratulated him on his art.

The themes of Jim Bachor’s pothole mosaics range from simple juxtapositions, to political topics – he once plugged a hole near Trump Tower with the word ‘Liar’ and the Russian flag mosaic – and, most recently, pandemic symbols like toilet paper or bottles of Purell hand sanitizer.

To follow the exploits of Chicago’s famous pothole mosaic artist, check out his official website, and follow him on Instagram.