The Chicago graffiti artist who goes by Zwon says creating street art is “relaxing” and lets him “not think about ordinary life struggles. Just a way to turn off and be in the moment.”
Wait, but isn’t Zwon the guy who sometimes dangles from tall buildings with a rope and harness in the dark of night so he can illicitly splash his name — and maybe a snake or a skull or another character — on a wall in big, bold letters?
It is, says Zwon: “I might be a little bit of an adrenaline junky. It makes me feel alive.”
Especially at lower altitudes, he likes to feature characters and storylines you might find in comic books.
“I am, for sure, a fan of comic book-style drawings,” he says.
Some of his work seems apocalyptic or sci-fi — like images of tanks and rockets and barren wastelands.
Some of it’s crime-oriented. One piece shows a police officer finding a person in a pool of blood.
Some of it offers him catharsis — like the image of the flipped-over Chicago police car he painted after “I had a problem with the city of Chicago . . . So I showed it through my work.”
Some of it seems classy, like his image of the Mona Lisa worked into the painted letters spelling out his street name on a freight train.
There’s one piece with a spread on a table that includes wine, cheese, grapes and lobster.
There’s the ramen bowl he painted, with mushrooms flying about as a cat, immersed in the bowl, devours the noodles.
“I had ramen for the first time recently, like two years ago,” Zwon says of that. “I’m a big fan.”
And there are a lot of trains — which also are some of Zwon’s favorite targets to paint on because “they travel.
“It’s nice because you paint it, and it leaves your life, and you don’t worry about it, unlike a canvas that you stare at every day in your apartment,” he says.
Zwon says he likes to “create a little world to escape out of the real world.” He says his art can reflect “how I felt” on a given day.
His pieces are considered graffiti, not straight-up murals, because they incorporate his street name, which he says holds no special meeting: “It’s just letters that I like.”
Often displaying his name in unusual ways, Zwon says: “I’m trying to mask the graffiti behind the artwork. I’m trying to sneak the graffiti inside.”
Zwon won’t give his real name or say where he grew up. He doesn’t want anyone to know because he does most of his street art illegally, not getting property owners’ permission.
His work pops up all over, which railroad companies are especially unhappy about since he frequently targets their trains.
A spokeswoman for an industry trade group, the Association of American Railroads, says: “The first concern when we’re thinking about graffiti is safety. For someone to paint a rail car, they have to put themselves in a dangerous situation.
“To access the car, a person must trespass on rail property where there are active operations risking serious injury or even death.”
Zwon says he got interested in art because of his sister.
“I don’t have any artistic background, although my older sister has been always very creative and naturally gifted with all kind of arts,” he says. “I have been always very inspired by her and wanted to be capable of what she is. She is also the reason why I started being interested in graffiti.”
He says he “started very young, sneaking out of my mom’s house to venture out probably around age of 14. My first medium was a cheap spray paint from the hardware store and any latex paint I could get my hands on.”
He says he “started with the classic letter graffiti, but then I switched to doing characters with a bubble saying something because I like that people can relate to it more.
“I would go back and forth between letters and characters,” he says. “Over time, I started combining both together to keep it graffiti but still get the engagement from people.”
He sometimes tries to “tell a little story or capture recent events, feelings from my life inside my piece.”
He says that, “with my more detailed pieces, I am trying to challenge myself artistically. Try new things and learn from mistakes.
“My style’s been always mostly influenced by my close friends I have met in this culture,” Zwon says. “Nowadays, I find inspiration in everything, as I love to experiment with boundaries graffiti tends to give you.”
His street art, he says, is “for whoever enjoys it.”
Chicago’s murals & mosaics
Part of a series on public art in the city and suburbs. More murals are added every week.