The walls, like the food, are overseen by Won Kim, the head chef who’s a partner in the restaurant — and, for 20 years now, also a graffiti writer.
During the tumultuous months around the restaurant’s opening in 2016, Kim says he used one of the walls himself as a creative outlet to “keep my sanity.”
Since then, he has invited artists to “create something for fun and experiment” there. In the five years since the restaurant opened, he says more than 50 artists from across the Chicago area and around the country have come to paint a wall outside Kimski.
“I don’t give guidelines,” says Kim, 41. “Do what you’re good at and just have fun with it. That’s how you advance and get better.”
One recently completed piece, titled “Grape Drink,” was taken down in late February — to be replaced later this month with work by other artists — after dazzling passersby with its mix of pinks and purples in an homage to the five artists’ childhood memories.
They filled it with 1980s and 1990s pop culture references that ranged from band logos to characters in movies, TV shows and video games. Each piece of the mural was the distinctive work of the artist who did that part.
There was an “umbrella vulture” from the 1951 Disney movie “Alice in Wonderland,” a character the artist, who goes by Don.mega.art, had been doodling.
The vulture sits atop a blue tree branch done by an artist known as JoeyD. He also painted the character “Dumb” Donald Parker from the “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids” TV show.
The artist known as Dredske — who painted the large head at the center of the piece — says the mural “came together organically” and took about two weeks to finish. The center featured pop culture references like the logos for SEGA, Nirvana and PlayStation surrounded by eight-bit-style pixels that dotted the wall.
Dredske, 38, recruited his childhood friend Alero — the artist behind the “Alley Cat” character found in murals across the city. The “Garfield”-inspired character appeared to hang off a post, surrounded by fishbones and mice, Alero says.
The piece also featured a hyper-realistic woman with a third-eye and a snake wrapped around her shoulder — the creation of the fifth artist, who goes by Diosa.
The art on Kimski’s walls are here today, gone the following month.
“As a graffiti artist, it comes with the territory,” the artist who goes by KOMF_ONE says of the ephemeral nature of the wall art. “I try to push myself each time I go out and paint something.”
Kim occasionally steps in for “last-minute” collaborations with artists if they run out of paint or need to fill up space, as he did for a piece late last year done by a Chicago artist who goes by Goosenek. Alongside that artist’s signature tubular “goose neck” criss-crossing the wall was Kim’s contribution: a black-and-white freestyle bit of imagery.
Kim says his introduction to graffiti was seeing it riding the L and buses growing up in West Rogers Park.
He says he’s “come full circle,” that some of the artists whose work he admired while growing up are now his friends.
The restaurant gallery featured a piece in late 2019 piece by an artist who goes by DEAL — of an anthropomorphic walrus-chef and Batman. To Batman’s left was a purple-and-pink piece by KOMF_ONE. And next to the walrus-chef was a freestyle piece by Kim in purple, blue and black.
Kim says the outdoor canvas might be ever-changing, but the message it conveys is constant — showing that art is “necessary and essential.”
“If anything, this pandemic taught us art is important,” he says. “It’s helped a lot of people in this time, wanting more color.”