Coronavirus drives Chicago artists

The pandemic is showing up in all sorts of ways in the work of Chicago artists.

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A mural in Logan Square by artist James Mosher reflects the coronavirus crisis.

A mural in Logan Square by artist James Mosher about hand-washing.

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Balloon rainbows.

Portraits of a teenage face — one carefree, the other struggling with isolation.

Black-and-white photos of discarded masks and gloves.

Reflection of the coronavirus in the work of Chicago artists is taking many forms.

Elaine Frei’s canvas is her house. The exterior of her Old Town Triangle home near Menomonee and Orleans streets is covered with hundreds of balloons that form a rainbow.

Designer Elaine Frei installed a balloon rainbow on her Old Town Triangle home.

Designer Elaine Frei installed a balloon rainbow on her Old Town Triangle home.

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“Balloons bring joy, they pull at the cord of your youth and anyone responds to it. There’s a whimsy to it that’s just like, ‘Oh, everything’s going to be OK,’” she said.

Dramatic fluctuations in air temperature are withering the biodegradable balloons. In the coming days, they’ll be replaced with balloons that will form the words: “Spread joy not germs.”

Frei, a designer, runs Luft Balloons, a company that creates large balloon installations for parties and events. She’s mostly pivoted to smaller balloon designs for individual customers.

James Mosher, a 35-year-old artist from Logan Square, created a mural on the side of a building at 2817 W. Diversey Ave. that shows two hands washing each other in three separate panels.

“It’s like an instructional brochure on hand-washing ... simple and to the point,” said Mosher, who’s known in the art world by his last name alone.

“My knuckles are cracked and dry because of constant hand-washing,” he said with a laugh.

Artist Tarik Brown, 17, has been working on two self-portraits as a project for an art class at Northside College Prep, where he’s a senior.

“I wanted to reflect on how the world is moving, and so the portraits are going to be a free-moving, goofy younger version of myself versus an image that’s more representative of me in this time of solitude. They’re going to be interacting with each other,” Brown said, who lives on the Far North Side.

Tarik Brown’s unfinished self-portrait.

Tarik Brown’s unfinished self-portrait.

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“I’m definitely spending more time on work just to keep myself sane,” he said.

On the South Side, artist Kuna Na noticed crumpled face masks and gloves tossed on lawns, streets and gutters near her Bridgeport home.

“It’s so horrible when I look at them,” said Na, who began photographing the strewn about items. “I feel like I am like that. We are very, very vulnerable and don’t know what’s coming. And people are careless about our lives, and I’m reacting to that kind of.”

A discarded face mask as photographed by Kuna Na.

A discarded face mask photographed by Kuna Na.

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Worms became the focus of artist Marc Fischer after he came across a few in his compost pile last month.

“I was just kind of struck by how oblivious they are to everything we’re dealing with,” he said. “I washed a few off and put them on a piece of paper and took some photographs.”

He wrote a few sentences about the moment and time and printed them in his basement to create the first issue of Quaranzine, a two-page publication that he posts on dumpsters and light poles near his Avondale home, as well as online. The project has become a daily endeavor that now features the work and stories of others.

Issue one of Marc Fischer’s Quarnazine.

Issue one of Marc Fischer’s Quarnazine.

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Fischer and Na have both been featured in the Quarantine Times, a website created last month by the local nonprofit Public Media Institute to highlight the work of local artists during the pandemic.

Ed Marszewski, who heads up the Public Media Institute and also runs Marz Community Brewing, organized the project, which will be compiled into a book after the pandemic subsides.

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