Mural’s message at House of Vans venue: We won’t ‘get through this all doing our own thing’
The work by Chicago artists O.J. Hays and Jae ‘An Original Peace’ Webb in the West Loop conveys ‘strength in having community and having a support system’ in troubled times.
Chicago’s murals & mosaics
Part of a series on public art in the city and suburbs. More murals are added every week.
But the artwork isn’t just an homage to our architecture, which Chicago artist O.J. Hays has long been fascinated with. The 110-foot-long painting also fits into a larger theme promoting mental health, Hays says.
“It’s been taxing,” Hays says of 2020 and the coronavirus pandemic. “Everyone’s going through their own issues. Everyone’s had some level of mental strain this year.”
Portraying a huge swath of the city, with the words “Strength in Community” in cursive and a reddish, silhouetted figure, Hays says it aims to show that we’re all in this together — “being proud of your community and helping each other.”
He focused on the buildings in the mural. Jae Webb, 30, who as an artist goes by the moniker “An Original Peace,” focused more on the sky, clouds and words.
They were paired by the House of Vans, which occupies the warehouse-type building at 113 N. Elizabeth St. where the mural was painted on an exterior brick wall that’s 18 feet high.
In normal times, music and skateboarding events are held inside the building, which is part of the Vans brand that makes shoes and apparel geared to skateboarding and other action sports.
Each year, the California company picks charities and a cause to help. Mental health awareness was this year’s focus, with murals commissioned in Chicago and elsewhere, according to Chuck Radue, who oversees Chicago’s House of Vans, which opened in 2017.
Hays and Webb came up with an idea embracing that theme and completed the mural over eight days in late October and early November.
“It’s their art,” Radue says. “It’s their vision of what we’ve asked them to do. So it was, like, go for it.”
Webb describes the artists’ vision: “It’s the pandemic. We’re isolated. It’s cold again. Chicago already has the Chicago blues as it is. So how do we do something that will spark that joy that you get when you’re out with your friends?
“The colors we chose were very vibrant, and it’s a very solid message to the time right now — that we’re not going to get through this all doing our own thing. We weren’t put on this earth to be alone. There’s such a strength in having community and having a support system. That’s what we wanted to push.”
Webb grew up in Toledo, Ohio, wanting to be an emergency physician. She ended up in “corporate America” and, while living in Charlotte, North Carolina, wanted to brighten up her apartment. Not finding the right artwork at Hobby Lobby or Target, she says she gave it a shot herself, painting something Bob Marley-themed on a canvas to hang on a wall.
“I took a picture and posted it to my Instagram,” Webb says. “People wanted to buy it.”
That was in 2015.
“I really enjoyed that. It was a type of peace that I’ve never known. Hence my name” now used for her artwork, Webb says. “I quit my corporate job. I wanted something more.”
She moved to Chicago, honed her art and started a business helping female entrepreneurs. She lives in Logan Square.
Hays grew up in West Virginia and moved to Chicago in 2012 after college. He lives in Humboldt Park.
What drew him to Chicago? “Skateboarding, art. I had a lot of friends and relationships here and just new opportunities.”
Hays says he “came from a traditional art background — drawing, painting, stuff like that” — but got a college degree in animation, which he now uses in digital projects.
He says he’s done work for Chance the Rapper: “I do art for him — tour branding, merch, show visuals, music videos.”
The Vans mural is the biggest one Hays has done and his only one in Chicago.
He hopes it uplifts people with “a beautiful, ideal view of the city — everything in there is beautiful and happy.”