Uptown Tree Grates

Beautifying the streets has been a goal and a joy of mine for the past decade. I shifted from strictly printing to permanently painting iron. It becomes more of a public art piece, a street mural, transforming urban elements that are often overlooked into works of art for the community to enjoy. Hearing someone say "wow, I never noticed that," or "Thank you for making our neighborhood look nicer," or "I've never seen something like this before" has made my efforts worth it for all of these years.

I recently completed a project with Uptown United in Chicago, IL. Uptown United has done an amazing job promoting artists and producing public art in the area. I first painted a cover near that corner in 2021 and noticed the tree grates along Broadway. We connected, collaborated, and and I proposed a series of art deco designs inspired by the neighborhood buildings, theaters, and famous architecture.

Design Inspiration

At the turn of the 20th century, large entertainment venues appeared alongside new residential buildings and Uptown was on its way to becoming the "Broadway of Chicago". The famous Aragon Theater, the Riviera, The Sheridan Trust, and Chicago's oldest jazz bar, the Green Mill were some of the places that inspired my designs. Throughout the 20s and 30s, The Green Mill hosted some of the best musicians including Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong. So many amazing and famous artists played in Uptown. I even learned it was the silent film capital of the world. I wanted to make a design that captured that history and honored the architecture in the neighborhood.

Execution

I spent a number of days exploring the area, snapping photos, and taking it in. At that point, I knew I wanted to use the existing pattern on the grates to create a circle design around each tree. In a way, it was my chance to make my own utility covers designed specifically for that neighborhood. I found inspiration in patterns, architectural elements, and small details that have existed in Uptown for the past century. They started with a thought, a sketch, converted to digital, and then cut into 3 foot stencils that would repeat around the tree making unique patterns for each.

On day 1, we buffed, cleaned, and sanded all 9 covers to prepare for the primer and base coat. Day 2 was 8 hours of priming and painting the base layers which all included an ivory circle in the center with black around the edges. On the third day, we used the stencils to bring the patterns to life during the annual Uptown Art Walk on June 8, 2024.

The dot pattern below was inspired by the lights on the iconic Green Mill sign with an organic border giving a nod to the script font and cool “L” in lounge.

The overlapping circles creating one larger circle was Inspired by the famous Getty Tomb in Graceland Cemetery.

This design using cross patterns and diamond shapes was inspired by the old Uptown Station and the facade of the Aragon Theater.

This design was inspired by the small details in the iconic Sheridan Trust and Savings Bank Building.

In total, 9 unique designs were painted on to the tree grates along Broadway just north of Wilson. Each one paying homage to the past while celebrating the diversity and vibrancy of the neighborhood  - one where the residents were supportive, thankful, and generally down to earth, good people that I got to know over those few days. To me, that's what it's about.

Interested in a project like this?

We are the pioneers in street printing and infrastructure painting making this project not only unique, but the first of its kind. We love collaborating with community organizations and private partners to beautify neighborhoods and would love to talk to you about your next public art project.