Chris DevinsChris Devins is an artist/urban planner who creates outdoor art exhibits designed to attract tourists and increase community pride. One of his many projects is the Bronzeville Legends Initiative, which is designed to transform the community with a public art installation that reaffirms its identity. Recently, Devins has been working to create a large outdoor mural of First Lady Michelle Obama that will be installed at Chicago’s Bouchet School, a South Side school the first lady attended as a child.

ILI: How long have you been an artist or when did you start? Was there a single incident or moment when you realized this was your passion and if so, tell us about it?

Devins: I’ve been an artist for as long as I can remember, although there were times that I was not in touch with that side of myself. It really took off for me in 2012 when I began to combine my love of art, particularly street art, with my degree in urban planning.  Art + urban planning = creative placemaking.  Combining the two professionalized my approach and made a career possible. 

Nat King ColeILI: Illinois has been factored into your work in the past. What does being able to live and work in Illinois mean to you?

Devins: It’s true.  As an artist/urban planner, all of my art is place-based and reaffirms the identity of the community in which it is located.  Most of my work takes place in Illinois. Everyone is familiar with the Chicago art scene, but my first exposure happened when I visited such places as Galena, Oak Park and Naperville, which have art scenes of their own.  Living and working in Illinois means having access to such diverse scenes, from the big city to the rural scene, where artists occupy entire towns and being an artist is a real lifestyle. Illinois is a wide-open state, the gateway to the west.  Living in such an open space has ingrained in me the idea of endless possibility.  I am affected by the natural colors of Illinois, the browns/greens of the prairie and the grasslands. Illinois green is different from Georgia green, or Hawaii green.

Pullman MuseumILI: What opportunities does Illinois present to local Illinois artists?

Devins: Of course, Chicago has some of the best art schools in the country and one of the most robust scenes. As I said earlier in the interview, there are opportunities to find suburban and rural locations where the access to a metro environment is there, but which also have low rents and the amenities attractive to artists, beautiful locations, interesting faces, etc.   I’ve always said Illinois has those rare qualities of access and affordability, a combination not seen in too many other places. Illinois is a place where an artist can afford to live and have the time to develop.  This is why so many successful artists, musicians and actors come from Chicago.  For instance, New York artists spend the majority of their time working the two jobs needed to pay the rent and so have less time and energy to develop their craft.

ILI: What do you like about Illinois?

Devins: The people of Illinois are roll-up-your-sleeves, get-it-done type people.  People here talk less and deliver more than people on either of the two coasts.  You don’t notice it until you go somewhere like Los Angeles, where people talk and talk and promise much, but rarely deliver.

Mural of rapper, actor, film producer and poet CommonILI: What is your favorite medium to work in?

Devins: Though I work in many mediums like acrylic paint and glicce printing, the medium I use most of all is the wheat paste.  I use found and original photography, alter the pictures so they can be blown up to a very large scale, and then get them onto the outdoor walls I prefer using flour, salt and water.

ILI: Where can people view or purchase your work?

Devins: As a street artist, all of my work is outdoors for public viewing.  There is a Google map of the location of my murals on my website.

Louis ArmstrongILI: What artist inspires you and why?

Devins: The first artist I saw who used the wheat paste/photograph combination is named JR. JR is a French artist.  I was first exposed to him during my travels there after completing grad school.  He inspired me the most because I saw how much he accomplished, doing murals all over the world with just basic resources.