Meet Zebra Man
By Ken Hare
Chicago Defender Staff Writer
In a not-so-obvious ode to his black and white parentage, Chicago artist, Michael Bailey aka Zebra Man is back in Chicago. Returning to Chicago via Atlanta, I recently had the opportunity to meet a truly God-gifted artist in a true sense of the word. Michael Bailey’s work literally stopped me in my tracks this week as I caught him humbly sitting on the ground downtown on the corner of Jackson and Plymouth Court selling his eye-popping, sketches of famous celebrities, politicians and entertainers.
Michael who worked as an architect for ten years before opening his own art gallery in 1990 says at one point Zebra Gallery that was on south Wabash became one of the largest art, mail order, publishing and distribution companies in the United States. Recently released from incarceration, he says his former two businesses pulled in over one million per year.
“I made a whole bunch of money. I blew a whole bunch of money and lost a whole bunch of money and end up with nothing,” he says as he showed me an outline of his next sketch; a rough draft depicting President Obama handing Hillary Clinton the “key” to the White House. When asked if this was his prediction for the 2016 election, he jokingly said: “Come on: You think Trump is gonna win?”
Clad in a grey, cable knit sweater, grey, paint spattered, jogging pants and his signature baseball cap; Zebra’s spirit was undaunted by his apparent travails. According to his website, http://www.artofzebra.com/ his primary mission is to “visually stimulate by sharing his God-given gift with the world.”
The charcoal drawings he had lined up along the wall were more than visually stimulating. They were breathtaking as pedestrian after pedestrian stopped to ask questions. The drawings on display featured the likenesses of Aliyah, Malcolm X, MLK, President Obama, Biggie, Tupac, Prince, Whitney, Hillary and on and on. In total, Zebra boasts of a collection of over 200 originals.
The reproductions are so precise in detail that some of them look more like digital photographs instead of charcoal hand drawings. If you happen to come across him in your daily jaunt across the city, be sure to snatch up as many as you can. He sells them for only $1 each! That’s right, I said one dollar.
With a Bachelor’s degree from IIT and an MBA from the University of Chicago, he could ask for much more and get it but I believe Zebra has learned from his humbling experience. When I asked him if he believed in second chances, he replied with a smile on his face “I’m working hard every day. I’m not going out like that.” He stated he was going to get his businesses back.
Update: Zebra Man just phoned and said he is in Washington D.C. on the corner of H Street and 8th, starting at 1pm today. He says he will be back in Chicago next week for the Beyonce concert. He says he’s doing some special artwork of Queen Bey.