WEST TOWN — An Instagram account run by a local artist is showcasing paintings of historic Chicago buildings and businesses, as well as locations in Colorado, Texas and elsewhere.
Bus Stop Paintings is run by Chicago artist Diego Bleifuss Prados, who started painting watercolors at the beginning of the pandemic when he was living in Denver.
The project actually began with photography, Bleifuss Prados said, after he was inspired by posts on Twitter from Lee Bey, Deborah Mercer and other accounts which chronicle underknown buildings throughout Chicago’s neighborhoods.
Bleifuss Prados said he would walk around and take photos of older buildings and storefronts, usually ones with historic features and newer businesses below, including grocery stores, taquerias and liquor stores.
“Especially in Chicago, there’s a type of building, really beautiful, older buildings that have architectural terracotta or really fine brickwork and engraving. And then on the first floor, there’s like, a butcher. Or an auto shop or just some small shop that kind of juxtaposes with the grand and older building above it,” Bleifuss Prados said.
While working from home during the pandemic, he began experimenting with drawing and painting the buildings. Last year, he started posting his work online under the Bus Stop Paintings account.
He moved back to Chicago this spring, and many of his recent paintings feature buildings in the larger West Town area, like Alcala’s Western Wear, Ciales Poultry in Bucktown and the Starsiak Clothing building on the Polish Triangle.
He’s also painted a taqueria in Pilsen, a grocery store in Humboldt Park and many scenes in Denver, Texas and even one in Hebron, Palestine.
Bleifuss Prados said he took a few art classes in school but never received any formal training. He hadn’t worked much with watercolors until he started what became Bus Stop Paintings in 2020.
“I had all this extra free time and so I just started painting some of the photos I was taking around Denver. More than anything, it just takes a lot of time and patience to go through the tedious process of drawing and redrawing it and then painting it,” he said.
One of his biggest challenges has been getting the light right for his photos, which serve as the template for each painting. That process has been harder in Chicago than in sunny Denver and Texas, he said.
“I’ve noticed buildings and then I often have to come back when the lighting is good to get good lighting, good sun exposure and then good shadows too. And that can be pretty tricky,” he said. “I’ll take multiple photos … and recreate it as best I can.”
Many of the older buildings Bleifuss Prados depicts are in gentrifying neighborhoods, where longtime businesses are often threatened with displacement.
He said there’s a dedication to historic preservation in his work, with an urge to document a building or store before it disappears or changes forever.
“I think there’s an element of trying to chronicle treasures or neighborhood gems, architectural gems that are kind of disappearing. And just a style of building and store that is slowly being replaced, or quickly in some places,” he said.
Recently, he stopped by a locksmith in Humboldt Park to take a photo after waiting for a sunny day when the light would be good.
Instead, he found the building under construction, and the business’ sign removed.
“It feels sometimes like a race against time trying to get some of the shots before they get torn down or turned into a Target or something like that,” he said. “A lot of these buildings are kind of fleeting.”
He has sold a small number of physical prints of his work, and is hoping to expand his offerings when he finds the time.
Until then, he’s planning to paint more buildings across Chicago, as well as finish a few older ones.
“I just keep an eye out whenever I’m going around the city, looking out for stuff, buildings or shops or signs that would be interesting or that I think are beautiful,” he said. “I’m just really appreciative of the people that like the paintings and yeah, I’m excited to share more of them.”
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