Vertical Gallery is a patron of Chicago street art. (Photos: via Instagram @VerticalGallery)
At its inception, street art existed on the margins of the art world — but now, galleries throughout the country celebrate it. Aerosol artistry is so popular in the Windy City, in fact, that it’s integrated into the local government’s “Chicago Cultural Plan.” Check out this guide to the best Chicago street art, graffiti, artists and showrooms:
Head to the ‘Hood
According to Patrick Hull, owner of Vertical Gallery, a renowned space “committed to exhibiting and promoting urban, contemporary and street art,” the three spots below are the best places to encounter street art in its “natural habitat.”
Pilsen. Venture over to the city’s center of Mexican culture , and you’ll be rewarded with some of Chicago’s finest street art. “This area was one of the first to have a mix of local, national and international murals,” Hull said.
For a taste of neighborhood history, be sure to check out the vibrant murals and mosaics along the 16th street railroad, from Ashland to Halsted. Gangs used to mark their territory on the 12-foot-high embankment supporting the tracks; now, the two-mile stretch is home to brilliant Chicago graffiti.
South Wabash Arts Corridor. This strip is the newest area of the city to enjoy large-scale (think: HUGE) wall murals from every corner of the world.
“Major international street art icons Shepard Fairey, POSE, RETNA and Cleon Peterson were the first to appear last year, and now Vertical Gallery is partnering with Columbia College to bring new murals from Hebru Brantley (Chicago), Never2501 (Italy), EINE (UK), HERA (Germany),” Hull said.
Ukranian Village. This hipster haven weaves edgy, experimental work throughout the up-and-coming neighborhood’s fantastic shops and restaurants. Head over to Chicago Avenue between Halsted (in River West) and Western Avenue to see futuristic, Tim Burton-esque illustrations by French artists Ador & Semor, or trippy, comic book-inspired portraits by Minnealpolis-based artist Greg Gossel.
Gawk in Galleries
In recent years, commercial venues have helped to validate and promote Chicago street art — along with offering a safe, legally protected environment in which artists can build a career and be financially compensated for their work. Chicago’s latest crop of gallery owners, Hull said, comprise “a tight-knit group that work together to give exposure to as many artists as possible.” Galerie F, Paper Crown Gallery, Pawn Works, and Vertical Gallery all strive to provide a launching pad and gateway into the global art scene.
Chicago Street Artists You Should Know
In addition to the gallery system, street artists have a large devoted fan base in Chicago and on social media. A handful of names (and Instagram links) include: CRO, Presto, Don’t fret, Ali 6 and Oryx. And then there’s Hebru Brantley. Brantley is not Chicago’s most famous street artist. He’s Chicago’s top emerging artist who happens to be a street artist. Along with critical acclaim and inclusion in major global exhibitions (and paintings purchased by Jay-Z), he still creates work on Chicago streets.
One final note: If you visit Chicago and wish to post photos of illegal street art on social media, please omit identifying landmarks and street names. Tagging the exact location will hasten the destruction of the piece.