EAST SIDE — The rail viaducts underneath the Chicago Skyway feature pockmarked walls, glass-strewn sidewalks, rusted support columns — and now, world-class graffiti from local and national artists.
The Meeting of Styles made its latest stop in Chicago Friday through Sunday. The traveling, international gathering of graffiti artists, which began in 1997 at the Schlachthof Wiesbaden in Germany, brought a few dozen new murals to the East Side neighborhood.
Families, older residents and police officers were among those admiring the art on the viaducts at 99th and 100th streets, Ewing Avenue and Avenues J and L through the weekend-long event.
The crowd’s makeup is a sign of the mainstream’s growing acceptance of graffiti as an art form, said Knocke, a member of Chicago’s CWB crew. He got his start painting unauthorized murals in his native Mexico in the mid-2000s, and he has lived in Little Village for eight years.
“People now are getting used to the graffiti,” Knocke said. In “times before, I think everybody hated graffiti, because everybody thinks it’s something territorial or gangs or stuff like that. There’s something more than that — there’s something important here.”
Members of the CWB crew joined artists from Colorado, Texas and California in taking on the 100th Street viaduct’s southern wall. Together, they displayed the spontaneity and the structure of graffiti art.
“It happens that a lot of people writing here on this wall happen to have a similar style: straight lines, straight letters and stuff like that,” said CWB crew member Krase, a Madrid native who moved to Chicago in 2017. “It’s just a matter of coincidence. We didn’t plan that. It’s just our own styles happen to be cohesive.”
Krase highlighted his crew’s work on walls along Pulaski Avenue at Ogden, Fullerton and Wilson avenues. The pieces earned its members the nickname “The Pulaski Boys,” though the CWB crew’s art can be seen citywide, he said.
Sunday’s event allowed artists to learn from each other and appreciate differing techniques, local artist Viril the Mouse said. Viril doesn’t belong to any crew, as he prefers to work alone — though he was joined Sunday by his girlfriend, Kai, a novice graffiti artist.
Even for newer faces, Meeting of Styles gatherings are a way to “feel good about your work” and learn from more established artists, Kai said.
The prior Meeting of Styles gathering was held in 2019, at the viaducts near the intersection of Commercial and South Chicago Avenues. Some murals from the last event are visible across the street from Roman Villarreal’s Nine3 Studios, where street artists can practice on a triangular installation in the studio’s yard.
“This is the whole point of the walls,” Kai said. “You go out there, you learn — and over time, you get better.”
Several artists said they were not paid by the city for their work, but Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th) said her office paid for food, some paint and portable bathrooms. Her office also worked with transportation and transit officials to close roads and reroute buses, she said.
“People should really realize how everybody comes together to make this happen,” Viril said. “People take money out of their pockets to buff the wall black, to clean the pathway — it’s just something beautiful.”
Creating graffiti “brings me back to life in a way,” offering a break from daily routines and responsibilities, Viril said.
“It saves lives, to be honest,” he said. “It speaks to the people, and if you focus on the piece, the artist is telling you a story in a way. It goes deeper than anything.”
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