Wicker Park art has graffiti roots

(Jack M Silverstein/For…)
October 08, 2013|By Jack M Silverstein, @readjack | For RedEye

In Wicker Park, the space between the Blue Line tracks and Milwaukee Avenue is a hop, skip, and a jump. But for graffiti artist Tyrue ‘Slang’ Jones, the distance spans nearly 30 years.

“Wicker Park was kind of my school of practice,” said Jones, now 43. “In the early- to mid-80s, the best pieces were between where Division comes up until where it goes down in Logan Square. That was almost the masterpiece burner strip. From Division to Logan, guys would hit the rooftops. The rooftops were the most visual. And I guess we were thinking like ad agencies in a sense, because we were hitting all of the rooftops. Some of my first rooftops were along this area.”

If West Town residents didn’t know Jones’ work before this summer, it’s likely they know it now. He was commissioned to produce two high-profile murals on Milwaukee Avenue: a wall-length piece inside the video arcade Emporium, followed by an outdoor piece on Evergreen Avenue along the side of the Hollywood Cleaners.

Emporium came first. After opening in March, the owners decided they wanted a mural with a “classic Chicago graffiti style” to mix with their arcades. They called Jones.

“I came and saw the spot,” he said. “The guys gave me a tour and walked me around the back, and that’s when I realized that was one of the buildings where I actually practiced early styles. That specific building was actually one of them. So there I was coming back and being paid a nice amount of money to actually re-brand something almost 30 years later.”

For Jones, walking through Wicker Park is a walk through his own evolution. Even his studio on 1000 N. Milwaukee Ave. is a short stroll from the Noble Square apartments where he grew up and created his name.

“I would hit that first alley, which is over by what’s now the CVS and the Aldo Shoes where Division comes up, and I would walk that all the way straight down and almost write on everything,” he said. “Just practicing my new name. Calling myself Slang. My new tag. [writing] my way all the way into the tunnels.”

Taggers write on the side of tunnels because it’s a high-visibility area for commuters. Today, instead of using trains, Slang’s exposure comes from public, contracted works like the two on Milwaukee. The Emporium mural in particular was a full-circle moment.

“It was nostalgic in the sense that I was really tied to this neighborhood,” he said. “Coming away from jobs or meetings and looking up at the building where I became Slang only two blocks away. Seeing contracts tied into the name I came up with 30 years ago on an establishment where I actually wrote on illegally, and then being paid and doing contracted work and holding a professional relationship with the owners of an establishment.” He shakes his head and smiles in disbelief. “It’s a different thing from being chased away by a business owner.”

Jack M Silverstein is a RedEye special contributor.

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