Famous Artist Beats Graffiti Artists to the Punch at a West Town Café

 Gabriel Painting Upton Mural

When Dan Staackmann built the natural food and vegan café Upton’s Breakroom, he considered the possibility that it might be tagged by a graffiti artist. Tagging isn’t uncommon in the West Town area where Upton’s opened three weeks ago.

Staackmann decided to pre-empt any street artist interested in using his 2054 West Grand Avenue building as a canvas. He finished the precast concrete, steel, and glass building with an acid wash to resist staining. Then he hired his own street artist.

Left to right: Upton Breakroom owner Dan Staackmann and Artist Gabriel Specter

Left to right: Upton Breakroom owner Dan Staackmann and Artist Gabriel Specter

He commissioned Gabriel Specter, a Brooklynite who has international credentials. Spector began work last week on a giant mural on the north facing outside wall behind the restaurant. It’s scheduled to be complete by August 14.

Every day, Specter mounts an articulated lift and rises skyward, accompanied by a concept in his head and several cans of blue paint in various hues at his feet. The mural is being completed in a separate 24-foot section each day.

“We were fans of Gabriel’s work,” said Staackmann. “We also knew he did some large-scale projects like this one. He was actually the first artist we contacted when we were looking for someone.”

Spector developed the dreamy cloudscape to be consistent with the business inside the building.

“I wanted to achieve a subtle concept of sustainability and clean air,” Specter said. “I also want it to enhance the building and be a design the residents of the neighborhood can enjoy.”

The mural is typical of Specter’s work. He first hand-draws a concept, then paints using standard housepainter tools like a roller. His other projects span the globe from London and Paris to Saint Petersburg.

Although the mural doesn’t face the West Grand Avenue entrance to Upton’s Breakroom, it is easily visible from sidewalks along North Hoyne Avenue.

Upton Mural In Progress

Author: Bill Motchan

Bill Motchan is a writer and photographer, and a former resident of the West Loop. He can be reached at bill@ChicagoArchitecture.org.

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