Please see Mr. Rios’s artwork any time in the alley behind Silent Funny.
Mr. Rios won a Chicago Artists Month featured artist award in 2015.
The old cliche, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to Mr. Victor Rios. Along with his wife Miriam Rios and son Jose Rios, the family has created a magical art installation featuring discarded toys and other ephemera in a patch of alley on Chicago’s west side. None of the family members were artists until Victor started collecting these objects in the mid-1990s, during a short stretch when Miriam was out of town. When she came back to find a pile of toys in the backyard and garage, she put her foot down and told her husband that in order to keep his newfound stuff around, they’d have to put effort into making it look presentable.
Since then, Mr. Rios’s curiosity in found objects has unleashed his and his family’s inner artists, while simultaneously inspiring the neighborhood at large. Says Miriam Rios of her husband’s work ethic: “He gets up every day at 5:00 a.m. to find objects for our yard. He goes from Chicago Avenue to Division, from Kostner to Pulaski. It keeps his mind busy. Some people say to me, ‘I see your husband up early every day, in his wheelchair missing two legs, and it helps me get motivated to go and do my job.’” According to Jose, “Dad started the collecting about 18-19 years ago, then mom started to put it up nice, then I started helping out to tweak it,” continues Jose. “Grandma said my dad collected everything he found as a kid. It’s hereditary, it’s in our genes. The word in this age is hoarders. The sad thing is it’s hard to pass something up that looks good.”
The longer one spends with the Rios family’s artwork, what at first seems like a random patch of toys evolves into an intentional piece of work imbedded with countless hidden treasures. Says Victor Rios, “I grew up in a little town in Puerto Rico, and there weren’t any toys. I had to make my own toys. This yard, it’s my fantasy. It looks beautiful.”
Mr. Rios and his family have never had an official art show, until now. The moment that Matt Baronand Daniel Schor, co-creative directors of burgeoning West Humboldt Park arts space Silent Funny, learned about open applications for the city’s annual Chicago Artists Month (CAM), sponsored by Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Events (DCASE), they jumped at the chance to put a show together for Mr. Rios. Over the past year, Baron and Schor have cultivated a friendship with longtime 37th ward resident Mr. Victor Rios, and offered to apply for a CAM show on his behalf. “When we first opened up the back door to our space, onto the alley, and saw the magnificent trove of installation art, we were amazed. We knew we wanted to work with this guy,” says Baron.
Since finding out that they won a featured show as part of Chicago Artists Month, Baron and Schor have been coordinating with the Rios family for their public exhibition and studio visit in October. Prepare to be wowed by the Rios family’s work, which is one of their main goals. “We make our work to give a wow factor,” says Jose. “That’s what we want people to say. That tops it all off right there.”
In cooperation with Alderman Emma Mitts, 37th Ward