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Big Omaha: From animals to installations, balloon artist Willy Chyr

As part of a content syndication partnership, the following article also appears in this week’s (June 2-8) issue of Shout!, an alternative weekly newspaper in Omaha. Each Wednesday, look to Shout!’s Silicon Prairie News page for a feature story and “Quick Scoop.”


Photo by Danny Schreiber

While an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, Willy Chyr learned to juggle figuratively and literally. Between double-majoring in economics and physics and hanging out with friends, Chyr performed in a local circus.

And when opportunity presented itself his sophomore year, he added another ball to his act.

“One time an event organizer was looking for a balloon twister, I didn’t know how to twist balloons at the time but the pay was pretty good, so I signed up,” Chyr readily admits with a grin.

Needless to say, he quickly learned the skill. For over a year now, he’s taken that unique skill and turned it into a unique art form: massive balloon sculptures.

Chyr’s art, which also uses the element of light, has been displayed in Millennium Park for Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry’s LabFest! (below), at the University of Chicago’s Biological Sciences Learning Center, and as part of the University’s Festival of the Arts, in which he created a women’s line of Balloon Fashion.

Photo by Willy Chyr

At this year’s Big Omaha event, Chyr’s work (below) was featured as one of three art installations. Barcode Art by Omaha artist Scott Blake and photography from the New York-based non-profit charity: water were the other two.

Photo by Malone and Company Photography.

Unfortunately, Chyr returned to his home in Chicago the week before Big Omaha. On May 6, he concluded a one-month artist residency at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, which he earned as a recipient of the 2010 Midwestern Voices and Visions award.

On the day before his departure, while he was setting up his Big Omaha installation, I spoke with Chyr about his art.

Silicon Prairie News (SPN): This would be “balloon art.” Is that what you label it?

Willy Chyr: Yes, these are the same balloons that you use for making puppies, swords and hats.

How did you take twisting balloons to the next level?

I was doing physics in school and kind of interested in combining my interest in science and the arts, so I started building large sculptures based on different things I was learning about. The first series I did was based on bioluminescence (left, photo by Willy Chyr). Since then, it’s kind of evolved past that, where [now] it’s more abstract stuff.

How long have you done these and how many have you done?

It’s been exactly a year since I did my first large piece and I guess I’ve done about 15.

How many balloons did you use in this one and how many do you typically use?

I think there are about 600 balloons in this piece, [I] might go over. This is on the bigger scale of things. I think normally like 400 balloons.

Where do you draw your inspiration from – are there other balloon artists at this scale or other artists at this scale in which you turn their art into balloon art?

There are other people working with balloons on this scale and also a few other artists using very nontraditional material to create sculptures, like bottle caps and key chains, so … I’m inspired by other artists and stuff that’s happening around me.

This is the first black and white that you’ve done. What’s the transition like to a black and white from ones of many color?

I think in the past I was really caught up with the colors of the pieces, which is not a bad thing, but this time it’s allowed me to sort of focus more on the structure and the shape … but the black and white does have a very nice look to it.”

Where do you see yourself with your art in the future?

One field I’ve been experimenting with a little bit is animation, and so I’ve been thinking about trying to incorporate balloons in animation, sort of the same way they started using clay to create claymation. I’m not sure exactly how that’s going to work or if it’s possible, but that’s just something I’m thinking about … experimenting with.

Chyr’s assistant in the video was Omaha artist Thomas Kaminski.

View more of Chyr’s work on willychyr.com, and watch a timelapse on YouTube of Chyr setting up his Millennium Park balloon sculpture.

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