Earlier this year, amid the hysteria over the demise of Hostess Twinkies (a temporary lapse, it turned out), Jim Bachor bid online and scored a box of the discontinued treats for $12.99. Not to eat, though; rather, so that he could carbonize the cake on his outdoor grill and mix the powder into the mortar of one of his mosaics.
Perpetual Twinkies (2013), as he ended up calling that piece, shows a pair of the cakes nestled on a plate in a sort of beatific state, crowned with a halo – a modern take on the religious imagery seen in ancient mosaics, and a wry statement on the things we worship in the 21st century.
Bachor has immortalized a number of iconic snacks in this way, lovingly rendering Ho Hos, McDonald’s fries, Starbucks coffee, Doritos, and Cheetos in mosaics he meticulously composes out of tiny bits of glass and marble, with traces of the actual subject matter in the mortar. He has done the same thing in other, non-food-related pieces, such as the bling-y Under State (2012), which perversely spells out that term in glass bits infused with real gold.
A former adman, Bachor, 49, knows the power of medium, message, and a good gimmick. Yet there’s a deeper concept at the heart of his art. It has to do with permanence, and the timeless follies and foibles of human existence.
“I just love the idea of capturing some possibly ridiculous thought I might have. It’s mine, set in mortar, not going anywhere. It’s kind of my letter to the future,” he says. “Maybe a hundred years from now they’ll be like, ‘What was up with this guy?’ ”
Bachor’s creative base is his studio in the century-old American foursquare-style house in Chicago that he shares with his wife and 7-year-old twin boys. In conversation, he’s a lot like his work: funny, irreverent, engaging, sharp. “There are very few things I take seriously,” he says, but one of them is that his mosaics be seriously “anchored in authenticity.”
His materials are the age-old ones of mosaic art: marble, glass, and mortar (which may or may not include those extra ingredients). His method is a modified version of the traditional Ravenna or double-reverse technique, which he learned by taking a course in the Italian city.
Often he’ll meld contemporary imagery with ancient design motifs and themes. His Greco-Roman forebears inset a portrait of a Medusa into a geometric pattern; Bachor does the same with Lindsay Lohan. In place of deities, he’ll portray the “patron saints of Chicago politicians” (or maybe sinners, depending on your view), Richard M. Daley and Rod Blagojevich. Most every piece has a slightly absurd sensibility. Bachor calls it “an elbow to the ribs,” while Nancy Mills Pipgras, editor of the website Mosaic Art Now, has dubbed it (to his delight) a “Bachorian twist.”
Trained in graphic design at Detroit’s Center for Creative Studies, Bachor had a 22-year career as a creative director in advertising, marketing, and branding, for clients such as John Deere and Dow Chemical. In the late 1990s, he took a sabbatical and traveled around Europe. He found himself captivated by ancient ruins – so much so that he volunteered for a six-week archeological dig in Pompeii. In a place “where you trip over things that are 2,000 years old,” he found a new calling.
The still-vivid mosaics made the biggest impression. “Glass doesn’t fade, marble doesn’t fade, and mortar is pretty serious stuff to keep it together,” he says. “Just that staying power is amazing. You go to these ancient sites and you see a mosaic that looks exactly the way it was intended to when it was initially installed. That blew me away.”
Now he’s focused on pushing the medium further. Among his more challenging projects is BC in 3-D (2004), which depicts Julius Caesar as a stylized, old-school 3D image; he wants to make another in that vein, one that would work flawlessly viewed through 3D glasses. He’s also interested in public art, and recently landed a commission from the Chicago Transit Authority to do a permanent installation in an L station.
Mosaics may have been the original pixelated images, but in today’s digital, ephemeral world, there’s something special about Bachor’s labor-intensive, rock-solid, lasting expressions. One of his favorites is a composition in muted tones of off-white and gray.
Inspired by his parents, who taught him the virtue of doing your own thing quietly with integrity, it proclaims his motto in visually subtle yet emphatic terms: Make your mark.
Joyce Lovelace is American Craft’s contributing editor.