The first time Chicago artist Jim Bachor fixed a pothole, it was under the cover of night. His 87-year-old neighbor stood guard while he crept out onto the street, poured wet cement into the ruptured asphalt, and pressed in a mosaic.
Since February of last year, Bachor has made five more pothole mosaics, and now he has at least two in waiting. The idea arrived during one of the worst pothole seasons ever. Chicago has been hit particularly hard–with 47,500 pothole complaints between December and March alone, the city has rolled out a pothole tracker and a new strategy to deal with the spring thaw.
“What really drew me to the mosaics originally was the permanence of the artwork. When I first went to work in the late ‘90s and came across the ancient mosaics still intact 2,000 years later it blew me away,” Bachor says. “Potholes can never be solved. They come back every year. They keep people employed, but it’s always a temporary solution.”
So far, the Chicago Department of Transportation has let Bachor’s public artworks slide. When the Chicago Tribune sought comment from the city agency, they didn’t see Bachor’s alternative pothole repair method as much of a threat. “Mr. Bachor and his art are proof that even the coldest, harshest winter can not darken the spirits of Chicagoans,” CDOT told the paper. “But filling potholes is a task best left to the professionals and CDOT.”
CDOT’s comments have not deterred Bachor. “They weren’t saying not to do it,” he says.
It all seems friendly enough. And the mosaics–which depict the Chicago flag, the word “pothole,” and random serial numbers–aren’t a particularly efficient method of pothole maintenance, anyway. Each pothole mosaic costs Bachor about $50 to make, and they require at least 10 hours to dry. But Bachor’s done them enough times to learn some tricks–like how to set up orange traffic cones around his worksite and not pour concrete when it’s too cold to set.
“When I’m doing this kind of stuff, it’s amazing the percentage of people who pay no attention. And then there are people who stop by and say, ‘Thanks for beautifying our neighborhood,’” Bachor says. “One guy stopped to thank me and gave me a coffee and a Danish.”