LAKEVIEW — Ratko Ikic paints.
“My Lord bless me with inspiration,” the 74-year-old Serbian immigrant says in broken English while looking skyward and making the sign of the cross on his chest.
Maybe you’ve seen his work — giant canvases of pastoral scenes, landscapes and still lifes of flowers — tied to the wrought-iron fence fronting his apartment building on Ashland Avenue just north of Irving Park Road in Lakeview. On Friday, he hauled out a giant painting of a girl frolicking near a “Polish castle” and a fight scene inspired by a “Robin Hood movie on TV," he said.
That stretch of sidewalk has been Ikic’s “gallery” for about four years.
The grandfather said he came to Chicago in 1995 when he could no longer find work as bricklayer or any construction jobs. He sold his paintings in Serbia, too, but folks in his village didn’t have money for art.
“No jobs. No good,” Ikic said. “I come to America. Chicago.”
Here, Ikic relied on his childhood love of painting to make enough money to survive.
“In school, my teacher say I good at painting, and I should go to university, but in my family there no money for university,” he said. “No diploma for me.”
In posh Lakeview, Ikic makes enough money to rent a tiny apartment that doubles as an art studio where he paints almost every night — and all day on Sunday.
Most days — even in the middle of winter — you can find him on the sidewalk across from Lake View High School visiting with locals and tending to customers who pull over to take a closer look, and, on the best days, fork over cash for his art.
“The people in Chicago good people. Very friendly,” he said. “I love Chicago.”
Ask about his streetside gallery, and Ikic pulls his Chicago business license from his wallet.
“I no on Social Security. I work,” he says proudly. “No green card, but I pay taxes.”
Last week, Ikic huddled to keep warm in the tiny enclosed gangway while waiting for elusive winter customers to be enticed to check out paintings hung on the fence stretching nearly a quarter of the block.
In a few weeks, Ikic says he hopes to unveil his latest work — a 15-foot long mural of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
“Like in the Bible,” Ikic says, again looking skyward. “My Lord, he blesses me with inspiration. I paint.”