We've all been there before: You're driving down the road when suddenly a pothole seems to appear out of nowhere and sends the car jumping. Most people think potholes are a nuisance, but artist Jim Bachor sees them as a canvas for his intricate artwork.
"It’s the idea of taking something that is universally hated and fixing it," Bachor tells MNN. "But not just fixing it, but fixing it with something that is universally loved by everyone. I like that juxtaposition."
Bachor uses the ancient art form of mosaic to create eye-catching, colorful portraits of famous artists like Aretha Franklin or even simple everyday objects like food. He even makes less-appealing visuals of rodents and insects.
Bachor was a graphic designer for 20 years before he began his career in mosaics. He credits a fateful trip to Europe in the late 1990s as his inspiration to change careers.
While traveling to visit a friend in Paris, Bachor decided to take a side trip to Rome and Pompeii where he fell in love with ancient ruins. A tour guide in Pompeii pointed out a mosaic and told Bachor, "Glass and marble don’t fade. It’s set into mortar. So, this looks essentially the way the artist intended."
"That kind of staying power just blew me away," Bachor says.
Bachor returned a year later to attend a mosaic class in Ravenna, Italy, to learn the proper way to perform the ancient technique. For years after that, Bachor only created mosaics as a hobby, but eventually he mastered the craft. He realized that mosaics can be just as significant today as the art form was over 1,000 years ago.
"I just saw that there was an opportunity to kind of like bring it into the 20th century as contemporary subject matter and thoughts," he says.
Even though Bachor was now a mosaic artist, he didn't know where he would install his work. It wasn't as simple as painting a canvas and hanging it on a wall. Then one day he had an epiphany.
"It kind of dawned on me that we had this unsolvable problem outside of our house, and I also had this passion for this artwork that’s so durable," he says. "So, I decided to make a custom piece of artwork for that pothole. So, one night I was very nervous because I’m too old to be getting arrested — I have twin boys now — I did it at night. It’s not the smartest idea either to be playing in the street period."
Since then, Bachor has created mosaic pothole art around Chicago, Detroit, New York City, Nashville and even in Finland.
The mosaics are a mixture of Italian marble and glass and typically measure 18-by-24 inches. The pothole can't be located in the middle of a road because Bachor can't block traffic. Theoretically, the mosaics can last for years, but most don't endure that long because roads get repaved over time.
Also, Bachor is a bit of a rebel. He doesn't ask local governments permission to essentially "fix" potholes. He just does it — knowing that his work may get destroyed. Some people compare him to the anonymous English street artist, Banksy. But while Banksy can come-and-go without being seen, Bachor's process takes eight to 10 hours to fully set the mosaic in the concrete.
"It's a thankless task," he says.
While he may not be getting praise from drivers or pedestrians, Bachor's art is a pleasant surprise to discover.