Getting up, going legit

Oak Park business owner sells aerosol paints, runs mural business

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

The 10-story mural of Muddy Waters on the Chicago high-rise at State and Washington by famed Brazilian muralist Kobra is hard to miss.

The mural, along with countless others throughout the city, were made possible with spray paint purchased in Oak Park.

The store, Momentum Art Technologies, Inc., has been open at 958 S. Oak Park Ave., for about three years, supplying the entire Midwest with high-quality paint at affordable prices, according to co-owner Hiram Villa.

He said Kobra comes to the store to purchase his paints a few days before the works of art go up. 

Villa said he moved the store from a warehouse in Pilsen about three years ago, because of a Chicago ordinance from the early 1990s that forbids the sale of spray paint in the city.

"Oak Park has always been a very friendly location for us," Villa said during a recent tour of the store. "They accept things easier than other cities like our neighbor city, the bigger one – I don't want to mention them. They have a situation where they don't want aerosol being sold inside the city area, so we found that Oak Park was more accepting, more liberal."

Villa, who started out as a graffiti artist, said he also runs a mural business on the side, painting large murals for corporate clients like Adidas, Jack Daniels, FX Channel and the Brookfield Zoo, among many others.

"Because of our background when we started painting graffiti, we had to do everything kind of quick, so when we went legal and professional we still have that quickness when we paint," Villa said. "So we'll bring two or three guys in there and we're just like printers; we'll knock it out. We're not your regular muralists who go in there with a brush and take 30 hours to paint one little section."

Villa said cans of paint at Momentum sell for between $3 and $6, a price that makes it affordable for professional muralists but likely too expensive for graffiti artists.

"I always tell people that graffiti artists that are going to go out and write on something are not going to pay $5 a can. He's going to find the cheap stuff probably at Home Depot and pay a couple of dollars for it," Villa said.

"They're not going to spend $100 on a bunch of cans and then go write on someone's building. I don't think my clients do that."

He noted that the city considered softening its ban on spray-paint sales last year, but the proposal by Ald. Matthew O'Shea (19th Ward) and Ald. Ed Burke (14th), never went anywhere. That proposal would have created an age limit of 18 for purchasing and increased penalties for adults purchasing spray paint for minors.

Villa noted that the ordinance blocking spray-paint sales was passed prior to the era of online sales, which makes it easy for anyone to purchase the paint.

"In the early 90s, it made it a bit difficult for the graffiti artists that needed the paint. You would have to come out to a Home Depot or a Menard's, that type of place, and buy the paint," he said. "But when the internet came on in the 2000s when people started selling things on line, it made it easier and it wasn't as much of a problem anymore, so you were able to order it online and have it shipped to the city."

* This story was updated to correct information concerning a mural of Vivian Maier in Wicker Park. 

CONTACT: tim@oakpark.com

Reader Comments

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Mine Oner from Chicago  

Posted: August 18th, 2017 11:39 AM

I am very proud of you Mr. Villa for your growth, tenacity, and success! You took an art form you love and made it a viable and legitimate business. Narrow minded and ignorant people can not grasp something they are uninformed about, they just pass judgment, generalize, and stereotype because that is their range of thought. Don't allow their very limited thinking to be a deterrent. Why should you pay for someone else's offense? That's ridiculous and very country! Does Newport pay families for Lung Cancer or Heineken pay for liver Issues, does Kool-Aid or Coca Cola pay for Diabetes costs? So, let them save that white inferior limited thinking for someone who doesn't know better. You are following ALL of their rules and STILL there will always be a few Debbie downers and pessimistic people named Tom and Marie to rain on a parade. That's life. In fact, I feel they owe reparations, so they should pay for all the defacing of property in this country, higher tax rates on mom jeans, and fines for ignorant comments that aren't polite and encouraging. I celebrate your talent and success! Cheers!

Angel Rome Pagan  

Posted: August 16th, 2017 5:37 PM

Congratulations for staying focused and running a successful business. Not many can say they can stay afloat and still be level headed surrounded by negative options about this art form.people fail to see how much commerical marketing takes from graffiti to help push their product.

Ang Zone  

Posted: August 16th, 2017 1:37 PM

Marie and Tom stop bitching. He turned it around into a legit business. You two just wanna talk shit. And while your busy doing that he'll still be in business.

Tony Once from Omaha, NE  

Posted: August 16th, 2017 1:11 PM

Why is everyone here so bitter? Here is a rags to riches story of a guy that managed to turn his life around and run a lucrative business. A business in which he is vastly familiar upon the products in which he sells and I'm sure stands behind. Yes, vandalism is a problem in most cities, so is being an artist with no where to buy supplies. Artists pay for supplies, vandals don't. I can't picture a kid spending his allowances on paint rather then stealing from a garage or other. I commend Mr. VILLA for making it possible for artists to gain another step towards acceptance, acceptance from ignorant uneducated people that can't tell the difference of what is Art & plain out vandalism.

Vince Eckles  

Posted: August 16th, 2017 12:09 PM

Ok Tom, you do that in my honor...and while you're at it, take a couple snapshots of any mural art you come across that was done by artists and not the 'vandals' that you only seem to be able to see. Have fun.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: August 16th, 2017 9:28 AM

Yeah Vince, only a moron would not enjoy some good old fashioned vandalizing. I think I'll do my neighborhood walk with the scrub brush and paint remover to scrub some art off the mailbox, the garbage cans and telephone poles, to make them drab again, in your honor.

Vince Eckles  

Posted: August 16th, 2017 1:40 AM

Contrary to the moronic comments, I applaud the efforts of these guys. This store definitely helps artists who choose aerosol as a medium to accomplish artistic goals and spread beauty to a drab world. True, no 'vandal' is going to spend money like that on spray paint to vandalize private property, and Chicago is definitely doing itself a disservice by restricting art supplies from artists. I say bravo to these guys.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: July 19th, 2017 1:24 PM

I rarely like new taxes and fees, but we should have a $10 per can fee on all spray paints to cover the clean up costs for the vandals using it.

Marie Perkins from Oak Park  

Posted: July 19th, 2017 11:37 AM

Since when is defacing someone's property considered art? Graffiti is nothing but vandalism. What right do these punks have to paint their crap on other people's property? Go take a trip on any el and see the "art" throughout the city. Go look at any train car and see the "artist" who left that garbage there. How would Mr. Villa like it if "graffiti artists" defaced HIS store like HE used to do to other people's stores. There is NOTHING artistic about ruining people's houses, garages, stores or other property. They should all be forced to pay and clean up their mess. And I'd throw in jail time too. I'm so glad Oak Park has strict policies regarding graffiti and are quick to respond to calls wherever they appear. And I certainly do not blame Chicago for cracking down on these criminals.

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