Artist behind ‘you are beautiful’ wants people to ‘be yourself, and that’s enough’
Chicago artist Matthew Hoffman began the project nearly 2 decades ago. His saying can be seen on signs and walls across the city and increasingly across the United States.
They can be found in murals, on fences, on stickers across the city and increasingly across the country.
Chicago’s murals & mosaics
Part of a series on public art in the city and suburbs. More murals are added every week.
“My hope is, if you’re having a really bad day one day, that daily affirmation kicks in,” says Hoffman, who began the project in 2002 by putting those words on small stickers and selling them or giving them away.
Nearly 8 million printed stickers later, Hoffman says he never expected his “passion project” to grow so large, to spread across the city and beyond.
“I’ve always sort of done things one step at a time, one sticker at a time,” says Hoffman, 41. “It started when I was 23, so both myself and this project have grown over time together.”
He’s now way past stickers and the garage he once worked from. He collaborates with community groups on permanent art installations and has his own studio and retail shop.
For one of his installations, on a fence in Humboldt Park, he joined “you are beautiful” with other upbeat phrases, like “keep learning,” “keep pushing” and “keep going.” He collaborated on that 2015 project with Architreasures, a not-for-profit organization that helps create public art.
Hoffman also worked on a “love” mural on a building in the Bucktown-Wicker Park area that’s home to the brokerage firm @properties, whose co-founder Thaddeus Wong says he’s always loved Hoffman’s message and the type font he uses in his work.
“We were looking for a campaign that would be inspiring for Chicagoans,” Wong says. “We wanted something with love.”
The mural has become a popular spot for people to stop and take photos, he says.
Hoffman has more than 30 other public art installations around Chicago, from Pullman to Rogers Park.
He says someone once carved the name of that person’s significant other in a piece of wood and placed it next to a “you are beautiful” piece in Andersonville for Valentine’s Day.
He also has been working on “you are beautiful, where you are,” his latest endeavor, aiming to create an art installation in each of the 50 states. He’s managed about a dozen so far.
Hoffman says he collaborates with a local host with a wall or fence he can work on, much as he does in Chicago. He says he can create the art and send it to the host, along with stickers.
Hoffman’s stickers have traveled even farther.
“Someone was taking a tour of Antarctica and put some stickers up,” he says.
The Ohio-born artist who now lives in Lincolnwood says moving to Chicago in 2002 helped inspire him to create “you are beautiful.”
“It’s chaotic, and it’s incredible,” he says of the city, “but also sometimes you can feel sort of lost in that chaos. And I just reacted to all of that and made a simple message that there’s nothing you need to do, there’s no one you need tobe. Just be yourself, and that’s enough.”