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The Aptly Named Street Artist ‘Nice One’

[“Best of Chicago Art Magazine” re-post. Originally appeared 5/28/10]

Fruzsina Eordogh
With Banksy coming through Chicago and marking the side of a building, he announced to the world that Chicago’s street art scene is one to watch. I thought I’d take this moment to muse about a street artist who recently “leveled up” and began leaving high-quality street art all over the city.
Not many street artists in Chicago do large, intricate wheat pastes… so when one does emerge, his or her presence is felt immediately. I saw my first Nice One paste when I visited Wicker Park for the opening of The Chicago Alderman Project on March 20th this year. Although I viewed the Nice One piece from across the street I remember being struck by the amount of detail in the work, and wondering about the reference to Goons.  A google search reveals Nice One has been around since 2007, labeled an “up and comer” by Gapers Block.  Does his recent switch to wheat pastes mean he’s been inspired by Goons?
If we are going to compare street artists that use pastes, Nice One is the opposite of GoonsGoons are crudely done so they belong on the street while Nice One‘s are tidy and neat. It is hard to ignore the effort put into a Nice One.  Goons has admitted that he doesn’t know how to draw, while Nice One has proven otherwise.  Needless to say, I spent just as much time thinking about Nice One and street art as I did contemplating the portraits of aldermen inside Johalla Projects.
The next day, I set out finding this artist in the laziest way possible: by searching the internet. I quickly learned the artist’ name was Nice One through flickr comments, a cheeky fact that made me chuckle. Nice One is the first thing I want to say when I see his work. The city of Chicago also appears to appreciate Nice One‘s work; each piece enjoys a longevity unusual for street art. Here is piece that was first photographed in November of last year, and again a couple weeks ago. This character on a watermelon plane is still airborne months later.
Nice One‘s don’t stand out only for their detail…the placement of each work seems just as important. Does Nice One scope out the perfect place for his pastes?  I ask this because the color of the “canvas” always fits in with the Nice One‘s color scheme. Look at the rare black and white Nice One‘s: the red brick pattern juxtaposed with the huddled star spangled character appears intentional. Is the brown paint underneath this Nice One accidental? I say no way.
As for the messages behind these weird creatures with stick arms and pillowy legs, I draw a blank. I see some satire in some of the work, like this police officer, this parking ticket meter man (notice the pronounced balls), this floating blob of a cop, in this streets and sanitation nod and in this midAMERICAN revolution on the lazy boy chair.  But why are some characters on flying fantastical contraptions? I get the whole “I want to fly away”  sentiment… but Nice One‘s are not up high in the sky, visible on trains or on billboards. Nice One‘s are psychedelic but they are street level- they are grounded in some sort of reality. Nice One‘s don’t seem to be caricatures of people you find on the street like a “goon”- their purpose makes you smile. I think of them as a reminder that imagination still exists.

A piece by Nice One

The one close to my neighborhood is right by a bus stop and I can’t help but think about the people looking at this Nice One while they wait for their bus. Calling a packed bus a submarine isn’t too hard of a stretch to make. Or is Nice One willing the bus-stop waiter to think about riding a flying submarine to work? The dreamer in me says yes.
Here’s hoping Nice One will continue to do pastes…between Goons and Nice One I would be hard pressed to name a city that has better wheat pastes.