This material was originally published as the Murals and Mosaics newsletter on Oct. 6, 2023. Sign up for the newsletter here.
The Chicago graffiti artist who goes by Zwon says making street art is “relaxing” and allows him to “not think about ordinary life struggles.”
“Just a way to turn off and be in the moment,” Zwon says.
But . . . isn’t he the guy who sometimes dangles from tall buildings with a rope and harness in the dark of night so he can illicitly splash his name — and perhaps a character or two, like a snake or skull — on a wall in big, bold letters?
Zwonnotes that’s a newer pursuit and acknowledges, “I might be a little bit of an adrenaline junky.”
“It makes me feel alive.”
Let’s just say, Zwon’s graffiti can be daring (and frowned upon by authorities.)
But especially at lower altitudes, it can also be unique in its style, often incorporating characters and storylines that you might find in comic books. Which is no accident.
“I am for sure a fan of comic book-style drawings,” he says.
Some of his work (which is the focus of this week’s ”Murals and Mosaics” feature in the Chicago Sun-Times at this link) comes across as apocalyptic or sci-fi — with images of tanks and rockets and barren wastelands.
Some of it’s crime oriented — with one piece showing a cop discovering a murdered man in a pool of blood.
Some of it’s an act of personal catharsis — like the image of the flipped-over Chicago squad car that he painted after “I had a problem with the city of Chicago, some bureaucratic bull—- . . . I was pissed about it so I showed it through my work.”
Some of it’s light-hearted, whether involving bubbles . . .
. . . or ramen noodles.
Some of it skews classy, with an image of the Mona Lisa worked into the painted letters spelling out his street name on the side of a freight train. We’ll leave you with that image, below.
Again, click here if you want to read more on Zwon.
Shifting from Zwon’s da Vinci to Picasso via Liz Flores.
She’s an Avondale artist who’s part of a new exhibition at the Elmhurst Art Museum focusing on late Spanish artist Pablo Picasso, his work and his legacy pegged to the 50th anniversary of his death.
There are Picasso pieces on display, but one thing the museum also did was enlist several artists with Chicago ties, including Flores, to showcase their own work, orbiting, in a way, around him.
“We wanted to see how people are taking Picasso forward, or challenging him, perhaps,” says museum director John McKinnon. “I feel that Liz is someone who takes some of the approaches that were in Picasso’s toolbox and made it her own.”
Her paintings for the exhibition, which goes into January, are shown below.
“I wanted to play around with different rug patterns, I wanted women at rest, lounging on these intricate rugs,” says Flores, who grew up in Berwyn.
“I grew up in an old Victorian house so my parents have all these rugs with tassels . . . so that’s where the inspiration came from.”
Flores says, “I’d say I was definitely influenced by and inspired by Picasso, Matisse – artists who were painting in a more contemporary way . . . I was always kind of inspired by that and very figurative artwork and that kind of led to my style.”
That being said, Flores says of Picasso, “You love the work but you sort of have a love-hate relationship between loving the work and respecting the work but also maybe not always respecting the artist.”
“The misogyny, all the women . . . the way he even looked at artwork, that it came from such a dark and painful place.”
Flores also does murals around town, including the one shown above, on the 4600 block of North Clifton Avenue in 2020, for the Chicago Bears.
As she wrote on Instagram at the time, “The mural features the Bears C in the middle with hands intertwining – a representation of Bears fans’ connection to the team.”
Moving on to soccer, there’s a hands-on kind of mural just done on the West Side. Perhaps a poor choice of words, maybe it’s better say “feet-on” given the rules of the game?
Either way, the organizers call it “an interactive art piece that provides soccer coaching to aspiring youth players.”
As my colleague Emmanuel Camarillo recently wrote, “The 25-foot mural was designed by local artist Dwight White II, who drew inspiration from U.S. Soccer stars Crystal Dunn, Naomi Girma and Lynn Williams. The three players served as creative directors of the project.”
“The mural features a goal and instructions on how to position your foot to strike a ball. It also depicts some simple footwork, passing drills and targets for players to aim at.”
“Allstate Insurance, the U.S. Soccer Federation and Black Star Soccer, an organization that aims to accelerate the growth and popularity of soccer among Black youth, partnered on the mural,” located at 1841 N. Laramie Ave.
The Damen Silos have been in the news quite a bit since we profiled them in 2021 as a hulking, aging industrial canvas for graffiti artists along the Chicago River near Damen Avenue.
In December, the state-owned complex was sold to a developer, who plans to tear them down and redevelop the site.
But word recently came that the razing will be delayed as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conducts an environmental review of the project.
There’s been some noise about preserving the century-old silos, which once stored grain but have long been vacant.
The group Landmarks Illinois says, “Local advocates want to see this site creatively reused in a way that invites the community into the space. That might include public art, recreation amenities, music venues and park space.”
“Other locales as diverse as Toronto, Buenos Aires, Omaha and the Australian Outback have transformed their silos into murals, museums, housing, climbing gyms and sports stadiums. Adaptive reuse of silos has the potential to be imaginative and beautiful.”
Last week we highlighted a new mural inside O’Hare Airport’s International Terminal by Chicago artist Mayumi Lake.
This week, City Hall revealed a whole batch of new artwork there, including the piece shown above by artist Krista Franklin.
Titled ”Wherever You Go There You Are,” it’s described as ”a large-scale mixed media collage that adopts its primary form from Rorschach test inkblots, the famed psychological tests designed to reveal particular personality and emotional characteristics.”
“Musing upon the joy and magic of children, the artist weaves archival Chicago photographs through amorphous shapes, forming the inkblots, and creating a dreamlike, surreal ecology that mirrors itself on each side.”
We’ll try to highlight a few others in coming weeks. But if you’re bored, feel free to check them out now at this link.
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Have a great weekend!
Robert Herguth, Sun-Times