My friend Amy and I have mutual loves—among them are birds and art (also Democrats and anti-Trump jokes). So I clicked yes! to her text inviting me to Chicago Truborn Gallery’s Fight or Flight exhibit of bird art. Pulling up outside we ogled fresh art painted on the old three-story brick facade—birds and animals in purple, blue and yellow painted as if they are moving in and out of the building’s windows. Inside, famous street artists whose names I’d never heard had constrained themselves to canvas and board to fit the first-floor walls with their bird creations.
For opening day other street artists had contributed small examples of their work to a Truborn fundraising raffle. We bought raffle tickets, wrote down our particulars and dropped them in jars. I put all five of my tickets in one jar by a work labeled “Don’t Fret.”
“Who is this artist?” I asked the gallery curator. “I’ve seen this work someplace.”
“That’s Don’t Fret. He’s very famous. He has work all over the world. Elusive, shy.”
“Don’t Fret? That’s his name?”
“Yes. Don’t Fret.”
‘What’s his real name?”
As it happens, I tell myself “don’t fret” all the time. It’s my way of staying present—halting past and future thoughts that bring on worried pain. I often text “don’t fret” to friends instead of “don’t worry.” “Don’t fret” is less demanding. Worry malingers, like a spooky old hook-nose relative looking over our shoulders marking every wrong decision, every wrong move. Fret, on the other hand hard-stops at its very sound. It has no shelf life. “Don’t fret” lightens the load for those of us who may be worried that we worry.
A few weeks after our trip to Truborn (and a memorable lunch at Hoosier Mama Pies across Chicago Avenue), Amy messaged me that I won the raffle for the Don’t Fret.
“Huh? No one contacted me. Where’d you see that?”
She saw it on Instagram. I post photos on Instagram but I willfully bypass notifications on social media so I missed it. Thinking it was too good to be true, I decided to not fret and put it out of my mind. About a month later Truborn contacted me directly.
I woke to rain the day I’d arranged to fetch my prize but even on a cloudless day the artwork would have been unwieldy on the bus. I imposed on a friend to drive me to Truborn for the 3’x4’ wooden box—open in the back and a pedestrian street scene on the front. The artist painted a lone white guy with a backpack galumphing along the sidewalk passing in front of an oversized sign on a brick building. Grade-school lettering on the sign reads “Coming Soon Luxury Apartments! Premium Retail Space! Shiny Metal Buildings!”
I imagine this is Don’t Fret’s whack at gentrification but these days signs promoting “Luxury Apartments” appear on buildings in every Chicago neighborhood, every zip code. It’s nondescript, a throwaway, less than meaningless, annoying even. To me it’s an ode to the ignored and unread signs along our way from here to there.
When I disentangled the art from the protection of my raincoat in the lobby of my building, Noel the doorman, whose real job is photographer, jumped out from behind the counter.
“You have a Don’t Fret! Where’d you get that? I’ve been trying to catch that guy in action for years.”
“What? Where have you seen his art?”
“It’s around. I’ve got lots of pictures of it. But not him. You’re so lucky to have that. It’s worth a lot of money.”
Don’t fret, Noel. You’ll catch him eventually. It’s a sign.