Pilsen Rehabber Turns Vacant Homes Into Art

By Chloe Riley on February 8, 2013 3:15pm 

PILSEN — Artist Eric Stefanski doesn’t just see vacant homes when he looks at abandoned buildings in Chicago.

He sees art.

“This work didn’t come from anywhere else. These windows, this material. It came from here, it came from Chicago. If I can start creating that dialogue, it’ll be really helpful,” he said.

Stefanski, a 26-year-old painter, started rehabbing vacant homes for Chicago Housing Authority tenants two years ago.

Pretty soon, the scrap wood that would’ve ended up the trash bin found its way to Stefanski’s Pilsen studio.

“I was seeing these abandoned homes, these signifiers for desolation and poverty. Seeing it in my city, seeing it in our city, really, really started to affect me,” he said.

His show, “Vacancies,” which opens Friday at Ugly Step Sister Gallery at 1750 S. Union Ave., features found items from vacant homes all over Chicago.

One piece — a large square of wood with a Miller High Life neon sign sticking out of it — symbolizes poverty and the liquor stores that give the despairing a quick fix, Stefanski said.

Several pieces have windows with old multicolored two by fours nailed behind them.

“The people who have opened and shut that window — they’re not using that window anymore and, instead, you see yourself in it,” he said.

The large, raw wood pieces — some of them over four feet tall — seem like they were meant to fill up the industrial space at Ugly Stepsister, according to gallery co-owner John Mitola.

“I love it,” Mitola said of the exhibition. “If I tried to make something out of lumber, I could spend the rest of my life and never come up with something that looks as cool.”

The show runs through March 26 and Stefanski encourages anyone who attends to bring nonperishable food items that will then be donated to the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

“We have to start having an open dialogue about poverty in this city. You can find it here in Pilsen, you can find it in Bridgeport, you can find it in Englewood. It does not matter. Poverty is colorblind,” he said.

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