Many Michiana residents may not know Chris Stackowicz’s name, but they likely know his work.
Maybe they’ve seen his brush strokes welcoming them to downtown South Bend and Cassopolis. Perhaps they’ve admired his work decorating Iron Shoe Distillery in Niles or envisioned themselves standing inside his rendition of Notre Dame’s football stadium at University Park Mall.
“I’ve got so many projects,” Chris says as he attempts to list them all off by memory.
Living in Granger, Chris is a muralist specializing in larger than life art. Now 44, Chris began his career with an undergraduate degree in painting and studied installation art in graduate school. That education gave him the groundwork to start working on murals, and now his art can be viewed across the Michiana region in shopping malls, alleyways and on the sides of buildings.
“I’ve always worked really big,” he says, painting his latest creation, a redo of the façade at the Landing in South Bend. He makes sure to keep his hand steady as he draws a straight line along the brick. “I like working on a large scale.”
Chris comes up with the designs for his murals on his own, though he takes a customer’s vision into account when doing so. Chris says when he sees the side of a building, he gets ideas that he knows he needs to bring to life. In the case of Iron Shoe Distillery in Niles, he saw the building, a former muffler shop, and immediately knew he wanted to work with the building’s existing elements while painting whiskey barrels on the outside to make sure people knew what was being made on the inside.
“Now people don’t look at that building and think, ‘that’s a muffler shop,’” Chris says. “They look at it now and think, ‘that looks like a really cool place. We should check it out.’”
Chris says he is dedicated to his craft, sometimes working a full 24 hours on a mural, only breaking once the sun rises to signal a new day. As his schedule is packed with new projects and the timeline of each varies considerably, he says he hasn’t taken a vacation in eight years. Despite the toll his work takes on his schedule, Chris says his passion for art drives him to keep going.
“At a certain point, I realized that if I practiced, I could take my natural inclination and propensity towards making art to being an artist,” he says. “In order to do that, you have to be dedicated to it, and you can’t be dedicated to it unless you are passionate about it. You live it; you breathe it; it’s your thing in life. You are dedicated to your craft, your product and the feeling you get when you know you are making a number of people happy.”
His years of work and dedication have resulted in his images painted across Michiana and beyond. Though he is glad that people enjoy his work and seek it out, it is making his customers happy and making the communities he works in more beautiful places that bring him satisfaction from his work.
“I don’t care that it’s my name. It’s not about me. I care that people see a painting on a building that makes them stop thinking, ‘oh, that’s where the old Sears used to be,’” he says. “That’s what drives me, being able to provide that experience for people. The goal is to do as many as possible to make people happy and give some of the buildings around here some life and color. To create a vibrant community, you sometimes have to actually paint a vibrant community.”
Going forward, Chris says he hopes to continue to make his mark on Michiana by using his visuals to make the area a fun and interesting place to be. He has even begun to bring his family into his work, with his daughters helping to paint a façade on a food truck that will be touring Michiana. He says he is happy that he can share his passion for both painting and community with his family.
“Doing this for so many years, it’s been a lot of work, but I can’t complain,” he says. “You have to follow your passion.”
Photography by Emily Sobecki