Painting with a purpose

Evanston street artist The Guy Who Cares has a simple message: "stay as you are."


He lurks in Evanston late at night, sneaking around corners and scoping out his next canvas. Evanston residents can recognize his notorious street tag’s thick eyebrows, long nose, disproportionately small mouth and eyes drifting shut. It’s the work of The Guy Who Cares.

The Guy Who Cares is an anonymous street artist who has been spray painting this portrait on street signs and walls around Evanston for over a decade. His work includes a distinctive face — though he keeps his own hidden — and an encouraging message, the most common being “stay as you are.”

Evanston residents first noticed The Guy Who Cares’ work in spring 2010. In August 2011, the mystery evolved after the artist gave a CD to local news outlet Evanston RoundTable. The CD contained images of his work and a statement entitled “Stay as You Are” that answered questions about his work.

In the statement, The Guy Who Cares explained that he created all of his uplifting art in Evanston to “pay homage to the Evanston of [his] youth and the interesting and eccentric pockets that still exist today.” He wrote that he chose street art as his medium because of its accessibility.

Lisa Degliantoni, founder and executive director of art organization Evanston Made, is one of the few people who knows the identity of The Guy Who Cares.

Evanston Made commissioned an installation from The Guy Who Cares for their 2021 Holiday Market Pop-Up. Degliantoni wanted the people of Evanston to see his art up close rather than on a faraway wall.

Degliantoni promised complete anonymity to The Guy Who Cares throughout the creative process. She had no oversight over the piece's creation. After doing a quick assessment of the space, she gave The Guy Who Cares a set of keys and free rein for the night. She says the simplicity of the process reminded her that people can “make and share art just for the sake of making and sharing art.”

Degliantoni was determined to protect The Guy Who Cares’ anonymity because of potential repercussions from the City of Evanston, which frequently covers up The Guy Who Cares’ work.

Eric Young, owner of restaurant La Principal, was surprised when The Guy Who Cares’ work popped up on the deteriorating Metra wall on Custer Avenue near his restaurant. He says he and the other business owners in the area were excited when the art went up, making a “great little spot on this normally dingy, beat up wall.” But, Young says, someone covered the art with a different color, and the result looked worse than it did at the start.

The Evanston Community Development Department for the city had no comment other than pointing to the city code’s section on graffiti.

“Something about them is kind of rebellious in the sense that they appear in places they obviously aren't necessarily allowed. But [they] bring a message that's so hard to deny and so powerful and universal.”

Communication second-year Aidan Wohl

Despite efforts to cover up The Guy Who Cares’ work, the bright spots that he brings to Evanston shine through. On the Northwestern campus, students can find small tiles of his work outside of Allison Hall, the Segal Visitors Center parking lot and between Mudd Library and Sargent Hall.

Communication second-year Aidan Wohl has noticed and appreciated The Guy Who Cares’ pieces around campus and Evanston.

“Something about them is kind of rebellious in the sense that they appear in places they obviously aren't necessarily allowed,” Wohl says. “But [they] bring a message that's so hard to deny and so powerful and universal.”