Art & Artists by John Coyle Steinbrunner

July 7th, 2010


(Image lifted from Atkinson Designs)

It’s not, perhaps, the most auspicious way to kick off a blog, but the thing I want to tell you about is gone. Then again, I was hunting down illicit art and “ephemeral” is a precondition. I had been walking from here to there along Michigan Avenue last month, somewhere in the lake streets (I think), when I encountered street art that took the term to a literal level.

It looked as if someone had pulled up the road’s patching asphalt and reshaped it into a neat little robot. A ten-inch man of tar, sanguine and flat on the street – and of the street – unseen and stepped upon by wave after wave of pedestrian.

It was hilarious. It was brilliant. It was affectingly private in central touristville – food for the pavement gazers. It was a STIKMAN.

Known for placing his iconic figures on curbs and crosswalks from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles, there’s not a whole lot of information on this artist outside of his work. And that’s fine: there was something about the improvisation and humor and raw play that won me over – qualities that I find essential in public art whether ad hoc or commissioned. Good public work dislocates you, if just for a second. Stikman was charming and quiet and slightly sad, not to mention unexpected. The artist has said “the goal is not to provoke … but simply to cause those gazing down to pause and wonder.” (Washington Post)

Stikman reminded me of Invader’s tiled alien ships: art that’s there for the looking, if you care to look. But look quick: I returned a week later, camera in hand, to find a cleanly scraped curbside. Apparently Streets & Sanitation was not as edified (or I was on the wrong block). Comment here if you find him on the street.

(This is just regular, boring asphalt … or maybe a street-level Franz Kline?)


I recently received a photo of a STIKMAN spotted near the corner of Ohio and Lake Shore Drive. Notice how the lane stripe is painted over his foot? This little dude must have been there for quite some time. Send me pictures if you find any more!

-John Coyle Steinbrunner

J.C. is a painter in Chicago. He also founded and hosts The Salon Series to bring audiences and creatives together over dinner for an evening of discussion. He prefers Mexican lagers, Gibson guitars and the window seat. More about his art and work can be found at

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