If only in a mural, Oprah Winfrey is back in the West Loop
‘It took my breath away,’ the former TV talk-show superstar says of how artist Shawn Michael Warren ‘was able to capture a feeling of hope and inspiration and strength.’
Chicago’s murals & mosaics
Part of a series on public art in the city and suburbs. More murals are added every week.
The mural, completed in October, is about 300 feet long and 26 feet tall. The focal point is a portrait of Winfrey, looking rather regal, painted by artist Shawn Michael Warren, a Chicago native who was among the artists collaborating on the piece.
“It’s almost like planting a flag of a person that has claimed the territory,” says Warren, 33.
The West Loop “was her territory long before it went through this major evolution in terms of being a go-to destination in the city of Chicago.”
The building that provided the canvas for the mural is part of a development called Porte, 855 W. Madison St., that includes townhomes, 585 apartments and retail space. The mural is on the side of the building that faces Green Street between Monroe and Madison.
Warren also painted the huge bird featured in the mural — a magpie, a particularly smart bird that he says can recognize itself in a mirror and shows the kind of self-awareness Winfrey is known for.
“You have Oprah, and this magpie kind of serves as her spirit animal,” Warren says.
Levar Hoard of B_Line Projects directed the project and says coming up with just the right image of Winfrey to work from was especially important. The one that was chosen was a recent image with a classic feel.
“It was very glamorous, very timeless and still looked like Oprah from ‘86,” says Hoard, 42.
That was the year “The Oprah Winfrey Show” was first broadcast nationally.
As you look beyond Warren’s portrait of Winfrey and the sprawling wingspan of the magpie, you see a mix of florals, geometric shapes and graphic patterns, elements woven together by three other artists.
Around Winfrey’s head and seeming to pour forth from her mouth are sharp geometric images, painted by Jane Barthes, 60, who says her aim was to create a sort of halo in reds, blacks and yellows.
“I almost feel like she’s being canonized because she is, in Chicago, sort of being enshrined on this wall,” Barthes says.
Intersecting with Barthes’ cutting shapes are soft florals, bees and an angel bearing a bow like Cupid’s, created by Anna Murphy.
Murphy, 31, used blue and whites, reminiscent of classic porcelain, set against a gold background to create a sense of spirituality, something she says Winfrey exudes.
“Oprah is all about being our best selves and doing the spiritual work to be the best people we can be,” Murphy says. “The mural, as a whole, represents inspiration and hope because Oprah is a great example of that.”
Then, there’s a magpie again, now taking flight followed by silhouettes of birds, all done by Berwyn artist Janson Rapisarda, who goes by CERA for his street art.
Rapisarda, 31, says he took elements already in the mural and weaved them together to create a sense of movement. Much of the piece already had been completed when he added his part.
“Instead of actually starting with a totally blank slate, it actually makes it a little bit easier because you’re reacting to a decision that’s already been made,” Rapisarda says.
When Winfrey saw the mural, she recorded a video message to thank the artists, especially Warren for his portrait of her.
“When I saw it, it took my breath away,” Winfrey says in the video. “I was so impressed by Shawn Michael Warren’s artistry, the creativity, the way he was able to capture a feeling of hope and inspiration and strength.”