Q&A: Ruben Aguirre, Chicago's Public Art Maestro

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Ever wondered who splashed Simone’s wall with the dope mural on the side? Come meet Ruben Aguirre painting live at this weekend’s Remezcla ARTEQUE in Chicago, a a touring multisensory music and art experience that pairs local Latino visual artists with some of the most innovative Latin DJs on the scene. One lucky tequila drinker will take home Ruben’s paiting from the night (RSVP HERE). Read more about Pilsen’s graf artist turned public art maestro below:



Name: Ruben Aguirre

Day job: I do some freelance work with a photography company, but I spend most of my week working on personal projects.

Neighborhood? Pilsen

Recent musical discovery: Toro y Moi

Last good book you read: “What the Dog Saw” by Malcolm Gladwell

I just wanted to instill some color and vibrancy in places that were pretty dismal and overlooked.


Tell us about your run as a graffiti artist. I’m not sure where to start. It’s been a really fun sport, and I’ve made a lot of friends through it. It’s played a huge foundation for my current public and studio work. It taught me networking, how to challenge myself, craftsmanship, and to basically do what you want to do. It’s quite therapeutic. Until recent years, it was the only medium that I felt I had fallen into a groove with my work.

Why does graffiti still make people nervous? Obviously it has a negative stigma attached because it’s primarily illegal. There has always been a generation gap and I think until recently it was misunderstood by most people who didn’t actually understand what was happening. But that’s changing at a pretty fast rate.

When and why did you start to move into other visual concepts and mixed media? I’ve always made studio work, but it in the past it wasn’t really connected to my graffiti work. And I started getting bored with the repetition of my graffiti painting process, and as a result I just started experimenting on a large scale and merging the two. It was kind of a natural step, but it took me a long time to get to that point.

What type of dialogue do you intend to create with your large public space pieces? When I started doing the murals, I was doing them in places where there really wasn’t much public art. At that point I just wanted to instill some color and vibrancy in places that were pretty dismal and overlooked. I think colors are very therapeutic. To my surprise, a lot of residents connected with it and appreciated seeing something big and colorful in a place where there was nothing. Now my work is scattered in a range of environments, but that’s essentially still what I’m doing. I think adding color to buildings really changes the context of what’s happening with the architecture and the cityscape. Hopefully it breaks the tunnel vision of getting from point a to point b, with a feeling, or a daydream.

What has been the best compliment for your work? Being commissioned for my work is a very nice compliment. There have been a couple times when artists that I look up to have complimented my work, and that means a lot to me too. Even though a lot of my work is public, the painting process is still very personal, so I don’t expect everyone to connect to it. So when a total stranger does, that’s really nice too.

How has Chicago influenced your work? It’s mainly taught me to be humble. Most graffiti and public pieces are temporary due to the graffiti blasters or the weather (but I think both of those things are changing). I think being surrounded by brown walls has encouraged me to use the colors that I do.

Have you done work outside of Chicago? If so where? I have painted just about every time I’ve traveled. Most recently St. Louis, and San Francisco. But I’ve painted in a few places: NY, Berlin, Mexico DF, Guadalajara, Memphis, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Denver, Amsterdam, San Juan, Aguadilla. Sometimes it’s work, sometimes it’s for fun, sometimes it’s murals, and sometimes it’s graffiti.

Current projects? I’m doing some live painting at Simone’s January 26th, for the Jose Cuervo Tradicional Mural campaign where someone will win my piece at the end of the night. Other than that, mainly hibernating over the winter and planning my next mural projects for the spring, as well as spending more time on studio pieces. You can keep up to date at www.theshiftchange.com.