PILSEN — Artist Pablo Ramirez makes money scratching up "L" trains.
But before you call the cops on him, know that his trains are plastic and fit in your hand.
“This is all hand-assembled with a lot of love, you know what I mean?” the 37-year-old artist said of his line, Art Tank Toys.
Growing up with an activist mother, Ramirez found himself imbedded in the Pilsen art scene early on. Ramirez, a conceptual artist who co-founded artist incubator Blink Mob Studios, said he created the "L'’ trains in homage to his cousin, who hand-carved trains from wood for years.
After seeing a collection of those trains at his uncle’s house last year, Ramirez was hooked.
“When I saw them all lined up, I thought, wow, it’d be really cool if we could make some toys like that without having to carve every piece,” he said.
In January, Ramirez crossed paths with Pilsen printing company Boosh Works at 2118 S. Halsted St.
“Every now and then we get a cool customer like Pablo who creates the CTA trains here and that’s where the fun comes in,” said Boosh Works co-owner Brad Aherns.
The trains are assembled by an Epilog laser that cuts out designated shapes programmed by a computer.
Lasered at Boosh Works and hand-painted by Ramirez at his studio in Brighton Park, the trains come in a nifty box designed by Aherns that doubles as a display.
And if you like your "L" train with a little graffiti, you can snag a custom-tagged train by Pilsen artists like Teresa Magaña, Diana Solis and Camilo Cumpian.
The trains have already been shown at Cobalt Gallery, and over the summer they’ll be making regular appearances at the Pilsen Community Market every first Sunday of the month.
The trains come in both magnet and keychain form, as well as larger wood and acrylic versions that retail for between $20 and $30.
For Ramirez, the CTA trains are more than just colorful collectibles.
“Everybody loves trains. I mean, how can you not love trains, right?” he said.