The City of Chicago has many forms of polarized groups. People disagree over politics, sports, media, food, and many other topics. Chicago is even considered by many to be the most segregated city within the United States, which is a serious topic of discussion. Despite these divides, there is one thing that can be seen in seemingly every corner of the city. In fact, it can be seen in most cities and even small towns.
Street art is a prominent part of everyday life in Chicago, whether you are a business man walking to work next to Millennium Park or a homeless person on the far north or south side of the city. Street art adorns walls, tunnels, roads, alleyways, bus stops, and parks all over the city. While street art can take many forms, one of the most commonly used mediums is spray paint, which was invented in Chicago in 1949. Since spray paint’s invention, street art has been used to protest, express, and share important ideas as well as to simply bring art to barren spaces.
Edward Seymour, who lived at the time in Sycamore, Illinois, decided to attempt to pressurize paint after his wife’s suggestion. He wanted a simple way to exhibit his aluminum coating for painting radiators. His wife was inspired by the style of deodorizers at the time, which came in aerosol cans. Pressurized cans were common, as they had been invented 22 years prior. They were used in World War II (WWII) to hold insecticides used to kill mosquitoes infecting U.S. soldiers with malaria. Aerosol cans also had simpler uses, such as waxing skis and dispersing hairspray. Seymour quickly saw the many uses of the product his wife and he created. Demand grew, and Seymour opened Seymour of Sycamore, which still operates as one of the top manufacturers of aerosol paints today.
Though the Seymours partnered with many manufacturing companies, which used their product for an efficient way to paint their goods, individuals began to use the paint for personal projects. Artists experimented with the new painting method and everyday people used it to create signs and posters. Slowly the paint began being used by street artists. This was because It allowed them to create art with enough time to get away from the scene. The cans were easy to carry in comparison with large barrels of paint and brushes. The paint created a new texture and look that street artists embraced. Although street art has largely been criminalized, it has been used throughout history to inspire, protest, and admire people and situations. Today, cities all over the world are growing in their acceptance of street art of all kinds. It is even used as a way for some cities to draw tourists (Vienna, Berlin, Bristol, Los Angeles, and New York are some examples). Many cities offer spaces where artists can paint without repercussions. Cities will often commission street artists to create artwork on prominent buildings or within park areas.
The world of street art has steadily continued to grow despite the legal and ethical challenges that face it. It has provided grounds upon which anyone can be an artist or an activist. Though we may not know what the future of street art holds, one thing is certain; Seymour and his wife likely never expected that their simple invention would become what it has today all across the globe.