M74 Spiral Galaxy wrapped around water pipe outside The Book Cellar bookstore

Star Wraps

A public art project where galaxies are wrapped around things. Starting in 2015, I started wrapping things in public with printouts of nebula.



Every artist has their go-to methods when creativity runs dry. Tools like sketchpads. Working in locations like coffee shops. For me one of my methods is to placing artwork on the front of Tribune Tower in Chicago.

Origami Crane on Tribune Tower ledge
Vials containing interpretations of music

149 rocks from around the world are embedded on the exterior of Tribune Tower in Chicago. One of those rocks is a tiny ledge from the Royal Castle in Stockholm Sweden. Sitting on a busy tourist-filled sidewalk, this is perfect podium to hold tiny works of art for people to discover. I like to frequently place artwork here. This is one of my creativity buster go-tos.

Earlier in 2015, I made a book of 100 million stars for my fiancé using a super high-res image from NASA of the Andromeda Galaxy. With that image still fresh in my mind, I thought to use it on my public Tribune Tower gallery.

Andromeda Galaxy 1.5 giga-pixel image

Originally I envisioned the paper hanging off the ledge like a tongue. But as I stood in front of the ledge with paper in hand, it was clear this strip of stars should be laid along the width of the ledge.

Andromeda Galaxy laying on the Tribune Tower

Honestly, the image wasn’t THAT compelling. Sure, it’s interesting seeing a random piece of paper with stars on it, but… uh, ok, what is really being said here? I guess it’s cool how the texture of the stars mimics the texture of the sandstone. As many stars in the sky as there is sand on the beaches. But the paper just sits there. Limp. Not sure of itself.

I left walking away thinking that maybe these strips can be wrapped around the poles inside Chicago’s CTA commuter trains. Or around fence poles. Against the foggy sky the Michigan Avenue trees were asking to have some art wrapped around their stark branches. A perfect place to wrap the Galaxy around!

Contact sheet of Star Wrap photos

With my bad back, I climbed a top the damp sidewalk planter containing the trees to install a starwrap print around an aesthetically pleasing branch. The backdrop is wonderful at his location with the limestone Michigan Avenue bridgetowers.

First starwrap

My first wrap wasn’t so successful as it was a darker section of the Andromeda Galaxy. The foggy sky had a light exposure which made taking photos tricky. Thankfully I can cut about 8 strips from one 11 x 17 print. After doing some climbing around, I finally took this shot:

The placement of the star burst was completely unintentional when I was wrapping the branch. But the star totally stood out as I was photographing it, I decided to make it the hero of the photo. That star helps to identify the photo as being one of many stars.

The Andromeda Galaxy wrapped around a tree branch

It’s amazing that something so massively huge like a galaxy would wrap something small like a single tree branch. The contrast of scales is wonder-spoking (yes, I made up that word). Plus, with the close-style of photography, the texture of the tree branch is captured. You get a true sense of what that branch feels like, and its size. The photo reveals the truth of the branch. Yet, it’s wrapped by a galaxy—one with a texture all its own.

I’m excited to start wrapping more galaxies around other items in public. Perhaps the images I use can even feature different photos from NASA. Train pole wrapped by Orion Nebula. Fence pole wrapped by Pillars of Creation.


Star Wraps in Winnemac Park

Wrapping the nebula in a park

Winnemac Park fence post wrapped by Jet in Carina Nebula

The fences throughout Winnemac Park are one of my favorite places to leave public art. Today as I walked out of the Tribune Tower, the 147 bus was sitting right there, so I figured I’d hop on that bus and take a different way home—ending up walking through Winnemac Park. I had my Star Wraps in hand, so I knew I would leave one in the park.

The HDR version of this photo turned our really nice. Pumping up the saturation in the newly springing greens, and in the NASA photo of the Jet in Carina Nebula.

This is five Star Wraps tapped together.

I enjoy so much how these images both show how striking galaxies look on our planet, yet also how fitting that the texture of a galaxy would be shown among the textures of our planet. While the galaxies bring contrast, they also bring unity.

The textures of our planet are among the textures of the galaxy.

Star Wraps on Puppet Bike

The Puppet Bike gets wrapped by the Carina Nebula

The Puppet Bike gets wrapped by the Carina Nebula #starwraps
Just cutting up galaxies
Puppet bike parked by Michigan Ave Bridge

Parked and waiting was the infamous Puppet Bike. Strips of the Carina Nebula in my hand, I was looking for poles and other items to wrap the Nebula around. What great felicity to run into one of Chicago’s most famous mobile works of street art.

The Puppet Bike has given me great enjoyment on many occasions, but I never walked and touched it, for this is a beloved part of Chicago. The opportunity was to great to pass up as the bunny puppet performers inside the bike would surely love to go on an intergalactic ride. My Star Wraps are completely non-destructive, so I felt ok to give the Puppet Bike the star treatment.

The chrome handlebars were the obvious choice, but which wrap should I use? Each NASA image gets cut into eight slices, resulting in a variety of images to select from. Given the Puppet Bike’s intense colors, a wrap with vivid crazy color would be very fitting. Having learned from yesterday’s tree wrap, I positioned the wrapping so a hero star would be most prominent in the composition.

The Puppet Bike brings so much out of this world joy to people, I’m glad to have contributed just a little bit to the entertaining piece of street art.

I love anything of the 2-dimensional taken to 3d. In this case. 3d to 2d to 3d. Come to think of it, this 3d>2d>3d idea I explored a number of years ago and sold a piece or two. My stuff was more angularly wrapped. How this is curved and spirally is leaning organic which is very curious…

Artist Erik Maldre

Huh. I didn’t even think of the 3d->2d->3d. That’s pretty cool. And I didn’t realize until now the fact that it’s a SPIRAL wrap, like how galaxies have spiral arms. There’s something really incredible about wrapping an entire galaxy around a physical object. I’m extremely intrigued about the implications.

Also, I was thinking what it would be like to take one continuous strip of planet Earth’s surface. Kinda like peeling an orange in one peel. And then taking that peel and wrapping it around a non-sphere object, like a pole. You’d end up with some fun remixed connections on the pole. That can be applied to other things like maps of cities.

Wrapping pipes with stars

M74 Spiral Galaxy wrapped around water pipe outside The Book Cellar bookstore

M74 Spiral Galaxy wrapped around water pipe outside The Book Cellar bookstore.

It’s good to see a USA pipe is the gateway to another galaxy. I wonder what other galaxies are stored up in that same pipe.

Artist Erik Maldre

Wrapping garbage cans with galaxies

Carina Nebula wrapped around garbage can in Chicago

Carina Nebula wrapped around garbage can in Chicago

Celestial nebulas come to planet Earth

The textures of the nebulas play very nicely with the urban textures. The rust texture on a garbage can looks just like a nebula cloud. What is so large in outer space is mimic’ed on something so small as a humble garbage can planet Earth.

I take NASA photos of nebulas, print them out onto strips, and wrap them around public objects. I’m also considering how to leverage the popularity of Mars, Pluto, and the Moon. Water being discovered on Mars, all 8,400 high-res Apollo’s photos are now on Flickr, the Supermoon eclipse, and New Horizons flying by Pluto sending back incredible photos.

We are truly in a time where space is in the news. These two planets and moon are very much being talked about. Yes, I’m counting Pluto as a planet, deal with it. I venture to say most everyone loves the underdog Pluto so much that they would consider it a planet too. And that very care is what I’d like to leverage in this Star Wraps series.

People don’t really care as much about nebulas. Sure, they are super pretty. But where in the world are they? They are this vague “out there” thing that we can’t get our arms around. But that might be why they are so fascinating to work with. The Star Wraps series takes something so immensely huge and non-understandable, and truly brings it down to Earth. So much to Earth that these mystic nebulas are placed against the very textures we are familiar with on a daily level.

In fact, these textures are so everyday, that we pass them by without a notice. By using celestial nebulas I hope to call out the beauty of the textures that surround us.

Wrapping hand rails with stars

Carina Constellation wrapped around hand rail at #CTA Randolph/Wabash train station #starwraps

Carina Constellation wrapped around hand rail at CTA Randolph/Wabash train station.

Seeing this one makes me want to try to intentionally match the colors of the constellation with whatever I’m wrapping it around. In this case, I would have used a warmer color constellation.

Wrapping fence posts with stars

Carina Nebula wrapped around fence post at United States Posr Office

Carina Nebula wrapped around fence post at United States Post Office.

Carina nebula wrapped around Chicago riverwalk rail

Many layers of paint cover the thick railing along the riverwalk on Upper Wacker drive. The texture of the railing drew me to wrap a nebula around it. Softly in the background is the Wrigley Building.


Star Wraps trimmed into strips on a cutting board.

I really like this idea. So massive and expansive, but also so elementary and accessible.

Artist Erik Maldre

Star Wraps organized by galaxy and nebula

  • Carina Nebula
  • Whirlpool Galaxy
  • Spiral Galaxy M74
  • Majestic Sombrero Galaxy
  • Jet in Carina
  • Constellation Carina
  • Carina Nebula

Six lessons learned from wrapping the Carina Nebula around a parking pole

Carina Nebula wrapped around a parking pole #starwraps

I had a feeling something was going to happen while I was carrying around a eight-foot long print of the Carina Nebula. My plans were to wrap this colorful strip of paper around something in public and take photographs of it. This art placement is part of a series I call Star Wraps (flickr gallery).

Normally I use only one strip of paper 10 inches long by one inch wide. A simple little printout of a galaxy wrapped around a pipe or fence post. But today I wanted to do something with more impact. Something larger. I took ten of these strips and taped them together into one long strip, eight feet long.

Carrying the Carina Nebula in my hands, I walked outside the Tribune Tower during the Money evening rush hour commute at 5:15pm. The sidewalks were extremely busy, full of commuters busily walking home. The sidewalks in Chicago are usually a great place to leave artwork, but the sheer amount of people everywhere just didn’t feel right. I would get in people’s way with placing this artwork. Plus, people don’t like their photo being taken in the background.

Something just didn’t feel right for me to place this artwork tonight. However, determined to place this artwork, a quieter place was needed. I departed the parade of people on Lake Street, and turned down an empty alley. The alley was somewhat clean being next to a new hotel, but had a demolished toilet. I figured that the people in this alley don’t care too much about what happens here, because, really. A smashed up toilet is in the alley.

Star Wraps on bright yellow parking poles

Around the corner was six bright yellow poles to prevent trucks from backing up into the hotel building. The rhythm of the poles was very striking. The photo of the placement would have great contrast through the empty poles against the single pole with the wrap.

Dropping my backpack, I looked around to make the alley was legit. The Carina Nebula came out of my backpack, and I wound it around the pole. The number of times the nebula can wrap around this pole was surprising. Eight times.

As I was photographing the pole, a woman who looked to be the building manager walked out with a maintenance man. They both walked right by me to a point on the alley that was cracked up. The woman was pretending to talk about the crack. But that’s not why there were there. They wanted to see how I would react to their presence. I simply continued taking my photos.

She asked me in a friendly manner was I was doing. I explained to her that I was photographing this wrap around the pole. I didn’t pretend it was like someone else’s work. I laid claim to it directly. Knowing what she was getting after, I told her that I would remove it after I finished photographing it. I demonstrated how it was attached using painters tape to not affect the pole.

Knowing that I was no longer a threat she asked me if I was doing this for work. I was dressed in a tie and blazer. I responded that I just enjoy doing this and taking photos.

I happily pointed out to her that this is to demonstrate dynamic ranges of scale. The huge galaxy is contrasted against the small pole.

She was like, “uhh, ok, just make sure you remove it when you are done, ok?”

I affirmed.

Granted, I like to leave my art behind for others to enjoy. In this case I made the exception for her request. Besides, these printouts are a little bit time consuming to make (moreso than a simple sticky note). At least I’ll get a little bit more mileage out of this Carina Nebula.

Six lessons learned:

  1. A demolished toilet does not mean that people don’t care about their alley.
  2. When you have a weird feeling to not drop a piece of artwork, listen to your instincts.
  3. Take ownership of your street art
  4. Never damage public property. Just in case you get caught, you need an easy out. I’ve always practiced this rule out of respect for other people’s property. But in this case, it saves your own skin too.
  5. When placing artwork, wear a tie and blazer. People won’t freak out as much.
  6. Wear a Narrative Clip when placing artwork. It would be fun to capture encounters with other people like this one.

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