Chicago artist tells his city: ‘You are Beautiful’
by Morgan Stolle
In a garage-turned-workshop below his cozy Lincolnwood home, Chicago artist and designer, Matthew Hoffman builds his projects, including his most viral: “You Are Beautiful.” Everything is set up on wheels so that the tables and machines can be moved around easily, depending on the newest installment.
Upstairs an office space houses future projects and completed installments on walls and shelves. Packaging supplies are neatly organized in one corner of the room and a shelving unit against the opposite wall holds buttons, shirts, stickers, pins and more for Hoffman’s “Your Are Beautiful” online shop. A funky sign hangs on the wall: “You have something in your teeth.”
Hoffman moved to Chicago in 2002 with dreams of developing something new with his graphic design background, but he never knew the possibilities of creating collaborative public art would take flight in his small Lincolnwood home.
“That was a time when street art was really big. I was looking at Chicago locally and then online at all the forums globally,” says Hoffman. “Just seeing what people were doing and seeing how they were interacting with the public. That was both exciting and inspiring.”
Thanks to the launch of a Kickstarter campaign in early February, Hoffman will bring “You Are Beautiful” to life in the Andersonville neighborhood come May. After crowdfunding with Kickstarter and teaming up with non-profit community group eco-Andersonville, Hoffman surpassed his goal of $5,500 raising a total of $7,312.
Now scattered across Chicago and surrounding suburbs, installments and stickers greet bystanders with the positive message: “You Are Beautiful.” The project involves a collection of posters, stickers and plywood pieces, all bearing the upbeat message. Sayings come in the form of art sculptures, valentines and t-shirts on Hoffman’s website. Fans of the project can subscribe to receive silver and black “You Are Beautiful” stickers to paste where they please.
“I act immediately on ideas. Put it out in the world and then revise from there. So, you could almost say that it (‘You Are Beautiful’) is still in progress,” says Hoffman.
Hoffman believes the project is important in small and big ways. “You Are Beautiful” has the power to make a person smile on their way to work or completely change their outlook for the week, says Hoffman.
Mary Vazquez, an industrial designer with a degree from the University of Illinois-Chicago, says “You Are Beautiful” is not only important to individuals but also to communities as a whole.
“The stickers and signs are what brings the neighborhoods and communities together. When it comes to certain types of art, the motive isn’t to make you think or challenge you, it’s to cause an emotion within. With Matthew’s work, it provides a smile, laugh and even a chain reaction,” says Vazquez.
Large installments of the project are in different spots around the city, towering over intersections and across fences. Some of them were put up illegally, but haven’t been taken down—perhaps because they are too high up, or because of their cheerful message, says Hoffman.
When Hoffman talks about his previous work and upcoming projects, the excitement and passion is contagious. A newly finished piece—positive sayings in a public library etched in plywood and painted in bright colors—brings a positive energy to Hoffman as he describes the project.
Working with the Chicago community has been an important aspect in Hoffman’s projects throughout the years. Having the opportunity to work with so many individuals has broadened the reach of the projects. He views it as collaboration instead of a competition.
“The community in Chicago is very strong. Over the years I have worked with thousands of artists and designer on the project. So, I would much prefer to work with as many people as possible,” says Hoffman.
When Hoffman describes his projects, the people he has worked with and “You Are Beautiful,” a sense of pride yet modest tone is present in his words.
“This won’t change the world, but it does have the power to change someone’s world.”
edited by Tamarah Webb
photos by Morgan Stolle
headshot courtesy of Matt Hoffman