Dont Fret, one of Chicago’s most recognizable street artists, today unveiled a new, large-scale art installation on the Chicago Riverwalk. Titled The People in Your Neighborhood, the installation is located at the Riverwalk’s most western point, known as The Confluence between E Lake St and N Franklin St, and features 55 portraits of Chicagoans, all portrayed in Dont Fret’s inimitable sardonic style. The unveiling is accompanied by the release of his new book, Dont Fret: Life Thus Far, now available for purchase.
Offering a microcosmic reflection of Chicago’s scrappy and hard-working residents, the portrait subjects of The People in Your Neighborhood range from the well-known to the obscure. Designer and restaurateur Kevin Heisner stands alongside Claudio, Chicago’s beloved tamale vendor, who in turn rubs elbows with Maria, longtime owner of Maria’s Bridgeport and Howard Brown Health doctor Abby Baus. Each is depicted with both comedic and piercing insight, caricatures that are reminiscent of the archetypical Chicagoans who have lived in the city for generations. The portraits and subject bios can also be seen on Dont Fret’s Instagram page.
“There are certain character traits that I think define a true Chicagoan. Tough, full-browed with a sense of ingenuity and midwestern humbleness, but always toiling, working, moving forward with an almost absurd laugh and grin about this crazy, wonderful city,” said Dont Fret. “I was asked to paint 55 portraits of Chicagoans who I think contribute to the hard work that defines our city, although it can only scratch the surface of the millions of stories moving through our streets. These are the people in your neighborhood.”
“Dont Fret’s proposal for celebrating everyday Chicagoans who make our City go – from the beloved Tamale Man to artists to bridge engineers – was really appealing to enliven a long stretch of the Riverwalk that otherwise fades into the background,” said Lydia Ross, Director of Public Art at the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. “The artist’s distinctive style isn’t intended to capture an accurate portrait, but rather the heartfelt spirit of the great people that surround us, some of whom we know, some we recognize, others we may be more attuned to looking out for…it was conceived pre-COVID but felt even more resonant to celebrate people in the midst of social distancing.”
Dont Fret’s unpolished aesthetics paired with pithy one-liners are recognizable features of Chicago’s built environment, in addition to being painted and wheat-pasted on buildings around the world, from New York to Berlin, Miami, São Paulo, London and Helsinki. Don’t Fret: Life Thus Far, the first comprehensive survey of the artist’s work, showcases a decade of his street and gallery work and features memories and anecdotes from fellow artists and friends including Louder Than A Bomb founder Kevin Coval, artist Cody Hudson and rapper Vic Mensa.
In the 256-page monograph, the figures and texts of consummate wise guy Dont Fret skewer the obvious and reflect the normalized-until-numbed issues of the city back at the passerby experiencing them firsthand. While his work populates city streets worldwide, he remains a true Wicker Park native, digging into the character(s) of Chicago—the stew of down-and-out and up-and-up, the meatpackers, the artists, the street-wise, and the stupid. Featuring 216 color images, this monograph also includes a foreword by writer and Brooklyn Street Art co-founder Steven P. Harrington.
In addition to The People in Your Neighborhood, the Chicago Riverwalk also recently unveiled a mural by Chicago-based artist Kate Lynn Lewis,The Radiance of Being, which celebrates 100 years of Art Deco. Lewis is also one of the 55 Chicagoans portrayed in Dont Fret’s installation.The Chicago Riverwalk has been going through a phased reopening which included the Community Marketplace opening July 17. Vendors are open by reservation for contact tracing purposes, walk-ups are welcome and will be asked for contact information. Vendor details are available at www.chicagoriverwalk.us.
About Dont Fret
Dont Fret is an artist born, raised, and currently working in Chicago. In addition to his wheat pasting, his practice includes drawing, painting, sculpture, performance, and installation-based work both on the street and in the gallery. He has produced large-scale public murals in a number of American cities, including Chicago, New York City, Miami, San Francisco, Grand Rapids, and Denver, as well as internationally in such cities as São Paulo, London, and Helsinki. His work has been in a number of galleries nationally and internationally, with shows in Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and London. Dont Fret’s work was also featured prominently in the Netflix original series Easy.