Wall demo will leave vacuum

Staff Writer

The graffiti wall on 53rd Street has been an artistic outlet and medium for a generation of Hyde Park and South Side artists.

The wall, along with the Mobil gas station and car wash, 1330 E. 53rd St., will be demolished later this summer to make way for a 13-story residential and retail building.

When the wall comes down, the artists, who have been using the wall as a canvas for their medium since 1991, won’t have a legal place to paint as they do now with the wall.

Jon Pounds, executive director of the Chicago Public Art Group, said the wall has been a public good.

“A very positive effect of the this spray paint site has been its ability to strengthen social contracts. Artists could work there during the daylight, develop their skills, connect with other artists and exchange ideas. In turn, the local community saw young people, mostly young men, who gathered to share their own artistic development,” Pounds said. “Residents and visitors — including me —could stop by and talk to these young artists about what they were doing. As a result, these artists were not working in isolation, as so many artists have done, but in a social context that respected both self-imposed limitations and skill development.”

Hyde Park artist “Dwel,” whose given name is Doug Freitag, has over the years become an unofficial watchdog for the wall. Out-of-towners will call him to ask permission to paint it before coming down to do so and he still paints when he “gets the itch,” though he prefers canvas these days.

He doesn’t expect that there will be a huge explosion of graffiti around the neighborhood once the wall does come down, he said. But Hyde Parkers could see more guerilla art around. That is, unless another permission wall is found.

“I know there’s a scramble to find another place,” Freitag said. “It would be nice if the alderman or the city came up with a solution but that’s a hassle in itself.”
Ravi Raven was one of the original painters on the wall.

“I think we still need a wall in Hyde Park,” Raven said. “Why don’t they give us the Midway viaducts?”

The Midway or Metra viaducts are among the walls that Raven said would make a good replacement option because they’re often unpainted. There is more than one wall, which would allow for greater variety. There also aren’t many other privately-owned walls nearby, which would help to prevent unwanted graffiti.

“We’d love the Hyde Park community’s support in establishing a new space,” Raven said. “Hyde Park is becoming Evanston with all these high rises and corporate conglomerates.”

Both Freitag and Raven fear that losing the wall is just a symptom of a changing neighborhood.

“We’re losing the things that make Hyde Park, Hyde Park,” Freitag said.