Not your typical twisted balloons: Artist creating giant installation

Chicago artist Willy Chyr talks about an installation he is creating at the Lawrence Arts Center from an estimated 1,200 balloons.

Willy Chyr puts plugs in his ears and covers his fingers with Band-Aids.

“They keep my fingers from wearing from tying the balloons,” Chyr said.

He opens a suitcase filled with bags of different-colored balloons, chooses a bag of blue and begins to fill them with air. His fingers intricately twist and tie the latex together, creating a big balloon ball. The ball isn’t the finished product, though; it is just a small part of a large aerial installation that will be on display at the Lawrence Arts Center by Thursday.

Chyr is a balloon artist, and although he began his career twisting balloons into animals for events during his college years, the artwork he creates is larger and more abstract than any balloon creatures requested at children’s parties.

As a physics and economics major at the University of Chicago, Chyr was a member of Le Vorris & Vox Circus, the university’s student circus. He was a juggler, magician and unicyclist.

He received an email asking for a balloon twister, and, although he didn’t know how, he replied yes. From then on, he began working part time as a balloon twister at parties and other events.

After learning about an architect who uses science to create images in buildings based on where the sun is, Chyr realized he, too, could combine art and science. He began creating balloon sculptures using lights to mimic bioluminescence, which is the biochemical emission of light by living organisms.

“I thought, maybe I can try to merge these two, and after a while the balloon aspect of the idea took off,” Chyr said.

After being featured in an article on the university’s website in spring 2009, Chyr’s art career expanded.

He was commissioned to create a balloon sculpture for the Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry’s LabFest! finale at Millennium Park that summer. He has since been sought after for exhibits, commissions and projects by national companies such as AOL and Leo Burnett. Most recently, he designed a label for Beck’s beer.

Chyr said as a college student he would attend job fairs and talk to businesses about career opportunities. But every job seemed lacking or just didn’t feel right.

“There’s no way I could’ve imagined doing this, but I knew I wanted to do something like this,” Chyr said.

Chyr was invited to be a visiting artist at the Lawrence Arts Center after exhibition program director Ben Ahlvers read an article about his work in a publication by the Bemis Art Center in Omaha, Neb., where Chyr was an artist-in-residence.

Lawrence Arts Center executive director Susan Tate said the center supports the creation of new work and wanted to choose an emerging artist to not only teach at the center but also to create.

Chyr’s installation at the center will take about 1,200 balloons to create. He thinks it will be his largest installation yet.

Community members can watch Chyr creating his installation at the Lawrence Arts Center until Thursday, when he will teach physics and art in the studios in the morning. Chyr will also speak about art and science at 7 p.m. Thursday in the large gallery as part of the INSIGHT Art Talk Series. Chyr’s final day at the center will be Friday; however, his installation will stay up the entire summer.

Chyr’s talk Thursday night is free and open to the public.


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