Murals have a long and tumultuous history as an art form. They are often political, and can serve as catalysts for change or protest. They can also be important tools for establishing the identity and artistic lineage of a place. Murals are visual stories, and in Chicago, you can glimpse the rich history, diversity, and resolve of the city through the art that adorns it’s buildings and walls.
These 7 Chicago murals are some of the most important local landmarks of the art form. It’s by no means a definitive list, as new murals are painted almost daily, but they are a robust jumping off point. These seven pieces would make a fantastic bike or car tour, and even a great way to explore Chicago’s train and bus lines, once COVID is under control, that is.
The Four Seasons mural is a fixture of public art in Chicago’s downtown area. Located in the Chase Tower Plaza, the 70 foot long mural is a gorgeous and dream-like interlude to the grind of the city. Depicting scenes of the city’s skyline, wildlife, and Surrealist motifs, the mosaic represents the centrality of the seasons to Chicago residents. If you live in the Windy City, you know how impactful the weather changes are.
Marc Chagall is a world-famous artist who worked in the modernist movement in the early 20th century. He is Jewish and Belarusian, but settled in America right before WWII. His work spanned several mediums, including painting, mosaics, stained glass, and textile. Chagall is famous for his dreamy style full of soft lines, natural imagery, and active, present colors. This Chicago mural is a necessary stop for any fan of art history, Chicago’s unique relationship with art, or murals in general!
The Mile of Murals is an ongoing community arts project in Rogers Park, on the far North side of Chicago. Beginning in 2007, the Roger’s Park Business Alliance has commissioned 14 different mural works along the Glenwood Avenue train line between Estes Avenue and Pratt Boulevard. It’s still in process, with the eventual end goal of completing 19 murals. These Chicago murals span several styles, themes, and artists! They’re all incredible examples of how vibrant and innovative Chicago’s art scene is.
The Declaration of Immigration is an iconic mural in Pilsen. Driving down the central 18th Street corridor, you cannot miss this piece and its explicit political message. It says, in no uncertain terms, that no human being is illegal, to tear down walls, and to embrace America’s history as a nation of immigrants. This message is one of particular importance to the neighborhood and its historical status as a hearth for Mexican and Latin American immigrants living in Chicago. Painted in 2009 by Salvador Jimenez, a Mexican-American Chicago-based mural artist and the Yollocalli youth council, a youth program of the National Museum of Mexican Art, this mural is intergenerational and still just as fresh.
The artists borrowed the tools of advertising, using bold and emphasized typography and recognizable symbols. The barbed wire in the background references the US.-Mexico border, and the symbols of freedom, such as butterflies and banners fly through the gaps. They are painted with the flags from Latin American and South American countries, displaying the pride and dignity of the immigrants who come to this country. The history of Mexcan muralism is long and rich, and this Chicago mural deserves to be established as part of that canon.
Hebru Brantley is one of the most famous Chicago-born contemporary artists working. His distinct style has graced buildings all over the world, as well as Nike and Adidas sneakers, and homes of celebrities like Jay-Z and Beyonce. Although there are many fantastic Brantley murals throughout the city, this mural in the Wicker Park neighborhood features his most iconic characters, Flyboy and Lil Mama in all their glory.
Brantley’s Flyboy character is based off of comic book style art, graffiti, and by the mythology surrounding the Tuskegee airmen, the first all-black unit of airmen serving in the American Military during World War II. Lil Mama is the female character that makes up the other half of the duo, and together, they encourage the black and brown youth of Chicago to dream big and embrace their creativity. Hebru Brantley works in a vein specific to Chicago, tapping into the wishes, hopes, fears, and imaginations of the young people of color who live here. If you enjoy this Chicago mural, it truly is the tip of the iceberg! Check out so much more from this incredible artist scattered all over the city.
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