Chicago artist turns discarded drug bags into mosaic art

Ben Hooper

Sept. 1 (UPI) -- A Chicago artist working in an unusual medium -- discarded drug bags -- said his project began with the simple act of picking up some litter.

Ben Kurstin, 32, of the Humboldt Park neighborhood said he was first fascinated by a discarded drug bag -- or "dime bag" -- when he found one on the sidewalk near his home.


"I saw a drug bag on the ground and it had a nude woman on it and said heavy D on it. I thought it was really peculiar," Kurstin told WGN-TV.

Kurstin said he started collecting the bags while walking the next day.

"I just started to pick them up to see how many I could find," he said. "It's very depressing that I could pick up 50, 100, 150 in a day and the next day pick up a number that was comparable to that."

Kurstin said many of the bags contained residue of drugs including marijuana, heroin, crack, meth and various pills.

He said he was slightly concerned about what he would say if the police every caught him with his pockets full of the bags.

"I was getting ready to talk to the police if I was stopped. If you walk up to someone with a bunch of drug bags and they say they're turning them into mosaics, you probably wouldn't believe it," he told DNAinfo.

The artist collected a total of about 8816 bags, which he then decided to turn into works of art.

His works include an 8-foot portrait of Richard Nixon -- who popularized the phrase "War on Drugs" -- made from 4,000 of the repurposed drug bags.

Kurstin said he will be displaying his mosaics in a show at the Casa Calle 20 gallery in October. He said he hopes his project will help shine a light on the city's drug problem.

"Seeing the sheer number of bags I was finding, and the indifference of the police to that, was really concerning," Kurstin said. "It became very obvious that the 'War on Drugs' is a complete failure. People who are addicted are able to get drugs, and they're able to get them easily. Our current way of going about helping people isn't helping at all."

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