Conversations with the Artists: Chris Silva / by Place Lab

Chris Siva is one of the six finalists who will submit a full proposal for ArtHouse's public art commissions. Silva will propose a work for the commission Surface. The artists selected for ArtHouse's public art commissions will be announced in late May 2016. 


What motivated you to apply for the Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Art Challenge at ArtHouse? If you have a connection to Gary, what is it?
I won't pretend that a major motivation for applying isn't trying to keep my bills paid, but I've chosen the work that I do because I truly love it. I make a variety of art, but the public work which I create with the help of others is definitely some of the most satisfying. I try very hard to keep my work rooted in a spirit of generosity and service to my fellow humans, so the mission of ArtHouse feels right in line with my own.

The Green Citadel, in Magdeburg, Germany, designed by Hundertwasser. Photo by Basileia Gorgo.

The Green Citadel, in Magdeburg, Germany, designed by Hundertwasser. Photo by Basileia Gorgo.

Are there examples of public art works that have had an impact on you?
The first pieces of public art which really grabbed me by the collar were the graffiti pieces along the rooftops in Chicago, and on the subway cars in NYC. Another thing which I remember being incredibly inspired by was the architectural work of the Austrian artist, Friedensreich Hundertwasser. There's so much great public art work being created all the time, so it's hard for me to even keep track of what my latest public art inspirations are. It feels like the bar keeps being raised every month.

Does your approach to a public commission differ from the approach you take to other work, such as for private clients, exhibitions, galleries, or targeted audiences? If so, how? If not, why not?
Yes, absolutely. I avoid promoting despair in all my work, but my installation pieces often meditate on many of the unhealthy ways we treat our world. Because of that they can feel a little heavy, and I often think of them as visual blues songs. Some of my small personal work can also lean that way at times, but when it comes to large permanent public art, I focus on creating more clearly uplifting and joyful work. When I know things are going to be there for long term I feel that I should fully engage my idealism and try to represent the change I want to see in the world.

With All of Our Might, mural designed by Chris Silva and created with 9 youth apprentices/collaborators for Yollocalli Arts Reach. 

With All of Our Might, mural designed by Chris Silva and created with 9 youth apprentices/collaborators for Yollocalli Arts Reach. 

Why do you feel that public art is important to communities?
Public art represents an investment in an area. It shows that someone cared enough to try to create beauty there, and that effort can help to inspire others to try and do the same. Colors, shapes, and sounds have a strong psychological effect on people, and I believe that when they are used to successfully create something of beauty there are usually positive side effects.

Should your proposal be chosen as the winning artwork, how do you envision the Gary community would be involved in bringing the work to fruition?
My proposal is very open ended. I've created a design solution which leaves room for original content to be added by local participants. In addition to that, the final fabrication method of the piece has been left intentionally unresolved so that I can continue to seek out creative ways to involve locals in the fabrication process. My proposal depends heavily on Gary locals getting involved for it to really resonate they way I would like it to. If my proposal gets green lighted want this to be something the local participants were proud to have been a part of.

What do you want to convey about cities in your commissioned work of art (or in the process that leads up to its installation)?
I am promoting love, and that message is more universal in scope, but my artwork has been impacted heavily by my experiences in the city, so abstract as it may be, I feel like I am in speaking in a dialect of city life. The process I've proposed involves people working well together for the successful outcome of the project, and that strikes me as something which holds true for cities as well. Love yourself, love your neighbor, love your city.

Anything else you’d like to add, or tell ArtHouse fans?
I'm just honored to have been selected as a semi-finalist, and whether I am awarded the commission or not, I'm excited to see this kind of investment in Gary happening and hope to see it continue.


Though born in Puerto Rico, Chris Silva’s creative pursuits are firmly rooted in Chicago's urban culture. Since the late 80s he has been a prominent figure in Chicago’s graffiti and skateboarding scenes, and building on this foundation proceeded to play a significant role in the development of what is now commonly referred to as "street art". Chris splits his time between working on large-scale commissions, producing gallery-oriented work, and leading youth-involved public art projects. A self-taught sound artist with roots in DJ culture, Chris anchors a collaborative recording project known as This Mother Falcon, and integrates these audio compositions into his installation work. Chris was the recipient of an Artist Fellowship Award from The Illinois Arts Council (2007), a 3Arts Award (2015), and is represented by Linda Warren Projects.