Lea Pinsky and Dustin Harris were artists long before they got married. For 15 years, they’ve worked together to cover Evanston and Rogers Park in vast, vibrant murals.
Pinsky and Harris, Evanston natives, have dipped their toes in all types of art.
Pinsky, 46, previously was an actress in New York and has worked with children’s art programs.
Harris, 49, has dabbled in graffiti and breakdancing.
Neither gave much thought to painting murals until they started doing them together in 2005.
The two met in a high school guitar class in the 1980s. Harris was graduating. Pinsky still had a few years left of school, so she took a shot and gave him her phone number.
“I thought, ‘I’m never gonna see that cute guy in my guitar class again,’ ” Pinsky says.
They hung out together and became friends but “totally lost track of each other” when Harris went to Columbia College Chicago.
Until 15 years later. Pinsky was at a kids’ performance for her job when someone dropped a water bottle onto her shoulder from a balcony. She looked around to see what had happened. A man sitting nearby asked: Are you OK? It was Harris.
After the show, Pinsky was talking with a coworker about the performance when she mentioned the water bottle incident. The coworker happened to be Harris’ mom, who helped the two rekindle their friendship.
Pinsky and Harris found they had common interests, particularly art.
“We haven’t been together without working together,” Pinsky says. “It’s such a strong part of our relationship.”
They were married in 2008 and have a 9-year-old son, Jasper.
They’ve painted 24 murals in Chicago and Evanston together, and each has painted about eight solo murals as well.
They say their skills complement each other. Pinsky focuses on the big picture. Harris takes care of the details.
Much of their work features geometric designs and bright colors, much like a kaleidoscope or works of stained glass. But they also sprinkle in human faces and quotes like “we are here, our time is now” and “the future belongs to all of us.”
They say each mural reminds them of the process they went through creating it.
Painting in Rogers Park “is always interesting, with all the characters who walk by,” Harris says.
One man who walked by a mural-in-progress several times asked Harris to include his name in the finished work. He thought about it and ended up weaving the names of the man and three friends into a bicycle wheel.
Another time, a traffic cop kept telling Pinsky how she thought the mural could be better.
“She was on my team, no doubt,” Pinsky says.
Pinsky and Harris also have enlisted kids on some of their murals at schools, which Pinsky says “gives them a different relationship with their school, a sense of ownership and pride.”
Beyond their own work, Pinsky and Harris have brought other artists into the Rogers Park “Mile of Murals” project and the Evanston Mural Arts Program, run by the organization Art Encounter, for which Pinsky is executive director.
For those two projects, they’ve managed 22 murals by Chicago artists Anthony Lewellen, Juan-Carlos Perez, Jeff Zimmermann and Louise Jones, also known as Ouizi, and others. Pinsky and Harris say they try to find artists who will add something to a particular neighborhood.
“Who’s a hardworking artist? Who’s doing quality work?” Harris says. “That’s a hustle.”