There are fewer people on the streets of Chicago today than there were before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Illinois, but there are more mosaics. For the past several years, local artist Jim Bachor has been sprucing up potholes in the Windy City with fragments of functional, unexpected beauty by filling in the gaps in the pavement with his art. Now he has a new array of work in the Uptown neighborhood that calls attention to the totems of the coronavirus era.

The new mosaics feature a can of Old Style lager, a roll of toilet paper, a bottle of hand sanitizer, and a hexagram, all outlined with colorful nimbuses and radiating white lines that evoke religious iconography. They’re similar in style to his earlier work, which has featured colorful, soft subjects like bouquets of flowers that stand in stark contrast to the surrounding pavement.

A mosaic depicting a pink bottle of Purell hand sanitizer in a green halo surrounded by white beams of light sits in the pavement of a Chicago pothole
Jim Bachor's artworks blend the ancient and modern in often humorous ways © Jim Bachor / Lonely Planet

“The ‘Holy Trinity’ series tries to humorously point out some of the absurdities the virus has brought out in us humans,” Bachor told Lonely Planet. “‘Worshipping’ toilet paper and hand sanitizer, all while increasing our alcohol consumption. Perhaps the series will bring an unexpected grin to the face of an unsuspecting viewer during these dark times.” 

It was travel that led Bachor to his preferred medium. On a 1998 trip to London, Rome and Paris, the graphic designer fell hard for mosaics. He went back to Rome, as well as to Greece, Turkey, and Pompeii, again and again, to learn more about these pieces of art that are so often embedded – literally  – in cities’ urban fabric. He also began to create his own mosaics, and eventually was inspired by a perpetual pothole in front of his home to try using his art to resolve a wide-spread problem.

A mosaic depicting a red, blue, and silver can of Old Style lager is surrounded by an orange and yellow hallow and white lines of light in the pavement of a Chicago pothole
Old Style lager gets the Byzantine treatment in Bachor's newest mosaic series © Jim Bachor / Lonely Planet

“An ancient mosaic looks exactly as intended by the artist who produced it over two millennia ago. What else can claim that kind of staying power?” wrote Bachor on a 2015 Kickstarter campaign to fund his work. “Beginning in May of 2013 I began to apply this thinking to the numerous potholes filling the streets of Chicago. Temporarily fixed over and over again by city street crews, I began to apply this resilient artwork as a more permanent fix.”

That egalitarian approach to art applies not only to Bachor’s attitude toward his work but the current events that inspired his latest series as well. “These are tough, uncertain times and there’s nothing funny about it,” he said to Lonely Planet. “The virus applies to us all – rich, poor, young, old etc – it doesn’t matter who you are – you can’t buy your way out of it – you can't run away from it.”

Jim Bachor wears an safety orange t-shirt and reflective vest as he crouches between three orange traffic cones in gloves and kneepads over a white mosaic with a cluster of colorful flowers at its center
Jim Bachor works on one of his earlier mosaics in Chicago, Illinois © John Domine / Lonely Planet

Over the past seven years, Bachor has gone on to create 85 art installations throughout not only Chicago, but also the rest of the US and around the world. Like other street artists who work on public surfaces and whose format doesn’t exactly lend itself to private sale, part of the fun is finding Bachor’s work in the wild, whether on purpose or by stumbling across a piece during a stroll.

“Finding my work in the street is a bit like an Easter egg hunt – with a surprise when you find it. I think the same goes for public art in general – with a piece that suddenly shows up in an unexpected place,” Bachor said. “Art can bring a little joy, a little pleasure, a little wonder to people during these dark, unsettling times.”

Keep up to date with Lonely Planet's latest travel-related COVID-19 news here.

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