Clothespin artist of 1994 influences the creation of spudart

Signed clothespin silhouette print

The clothespin artist stands at the front steps of the Art Institute of Chicago in the summer of 1994. My fellow college freshman friends and I approach this man selling clothespin necklaces and tshirts with simple clothespin silhouettes.

While signing free xerox prints of clothespins, he teaches us the meaning of clothespin art. People can read their own personal meanings into the clothespin icon. As the artist, the meaning for his work is what the viewer brings. His explanations would become very much an influence on my outlook on art to this day. Spudart and my potato theories have their origin from this clothespin artist.

He opens up a small shoebox sized container with clothespin necklaces inside for $1.00 each. As I was deciding which one to purchase, he was explaining the criteria that people use when selecting a clothespin necklace. “Some people like their clothespin to be perfect with no flaws. Others like one that is unique and has its own personality. Like this one.” He pointed to a clothespin that had a little knot in the wood. I happily selected that unique one.

I proudly wore that necklace to all art openings and events for the next few years. Pictured below, with clothespin around my neck, Tammy Zych, Dima Strakovsky and I visit the circa 1996 Art Chicago show at Navy Pier.

Matt Maldre, Tammy K, Dima Strakovsky at Navy Pier, circa 1996

The clothespin necklace is buried in my closet today. His signed print still hangs in my dining room. I put it in a frame made of the same type of raw wood that traditional clothespins are made of. I wonder where this clothespin artist is today–and if he’s still doing his clothespin art.

If you happen to know anything about the clothespin artist, please leave your thoughts and experiences in the comments. Thank you.

The clothespin artist’s name is Paul Zubrzycki. The Chicago Tribune wrote about him on September 9, 1987, An Artist, Pinned Down.

Have you been wondering about the clothespins?

They’re spray-paint-stenciled on sidewalks around the Merchandise Mart, the west Loop and River North. Pictures of them are taped to lampposts. They’re even in the gift shop of the Museum of Contemporary Art, in the form of magnets and buttons.

Just plain black clothespins against a white background.

The clothespin man is artist/photographer Paul Zubrzycki, and he started planting the ubiquitous pins around town late last winter, first on the lampposts and then on sidewalks.

“The reason I do it is that it’s public art and it’s a way of demonstrating that the most fundamental thing an artist can do is

communicate,” he says. “I’m reaching people with the idea of the clothespin. It’s a common object; it’s interesting to look at and it has a neutral quality.

“What does the clothespin mean? It has no meaning. It just is what it is. I’ve reduced it to an act of communication.”

Actually, it communicated Zubrzycki to jail overnight after police caught him leaving the scene of a fresh clothespin near the Sears Tower. “I told them what I was doing. I cooperated. . . . The charge was criminal damage to public property. I felt I should have been given a warning; (jail) came as a surprise.”

There’s been no spray-painting since then, but Zubrzycki is now working on a series of 10 prints that “deal with reconstructing the clothespin as a visual form. It’s a progressive set of images. It changes the clothespin so that although it’s still recognizable as a clothespin, it’s been idealized.” What next? Zubrzycki gets a dreamy look.

“Sculpture. I’m thinking of a major sculpture based on the clothespin for downtown Chicago.

“Why not?”

SOURCE: Barbara Sullivan.

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Tom Saaristo
10 years ago

Somehow this does not surprise me at all. First of all I was (still am!) a big fan of this artist … why? Well, I like the simplicity of an everyday object in silhouette … but what was really cool was finding this art posted around town. One day a roommate and I were down by the AI (probably there for a show) and we found one poorly applied to a lamp post. I was able to get it off with hardly any damage. We took it home and I matted it and it sat on the mantel forever. I think I even took it with me when I moved to Wrigleyville. I don’t believe I still have it … it may have been damaged in a flood I had, I really don’t remember. The weird thing is that I think this artist was also someone who posted in the personals of the Chicago Reader, something me and my roommates looked forward to reading every week. The personals were more like today’s facebook than today’s Craig’s List. The usual suspects would post and other usual suspects would reply, except it wasn’t, of course, in real time. You had to wait at least a week to see your post and another week for someone’s reply (hopefully). This guy we believed to be the clothespin artist used a pseudonym so we started referring to him with the name … but after consulting my vodka-soaked brain for something from 20 years ago, well, it’s just not coming. In any event, it isn’t surprising that someone who put his art up in and around the city inspired your blog which includes material about posting art in public. That you actually met him was probably paramount in that too … unlike us, we never met him or ever found out who he was. We just exchanged personals in the Chicago Reader. So there it is, the experience me and my roommates had with the clothespin artist

10 years ago

I can’t remember the name. It wasn’t a big box like Jo-Ann. I want to say it was “Royal” or something like that. I don’t know. It was on 95th Street around Longwood Ave. It wasn’t west of Damen Ave and it wasn’t east of Vincennes Ave. I want to say it wasn’t east of Ashland Ave.

10 years ago

It’s cool how the clothespin artist’s signature echoes the shape of the clothespin. I’ll share my random encounter that strongly influenced who I am as an artist (since we’re on the topic)… Back in the summer of 1994 while a college student, I went to a fabric store on the south side of the Chicago to beat the prices of the art store. The worker at the fabric counter asked me what I was doing with the material. I told her I was an art student and I was taking a painting class, but I wasn’t a painter. She replied very sternly and confidently, “If you paint, then you are a painter.” That moment has stayed with me since.

Randy shear
Randy shear
6 years ago

Paul Zubrzycki Is the artist-we have one of his pieces but there is no info on facebook or on the net about his Ware abouts

Richard Jones
Richard Jones
5 years ago

I just found this posting about the art of Paul Zubrzycki. I had the opportunity to meet Paul in Chicago during the Navy Pier Show back in 1987. Like everyone else, we couldn’t avoid all the clothespins that were pasted and spray painted all around town. We finally bumped into Paul on the street near the Pier Show. I happened to acquire from him #1/60 of his infamous clothespin print, which is still in my collection! I also have a signed clothespin necklace, a round clothespin button, and a few of his unsigned clothespin copies that he was putting up on telephone poles around town. Paul later sent me a signed letter that thanked me for encouraging him. Hand drawn on the letter is an outline of a clothespin that is about 9″ tall. I have often wondered about what he is up to these days.

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