Since the 1980s, Chicago muralist Olivia Gude has created about 20 murals and mosaics around Chicago, casting an artist’s eye on societal questions.
Like: “Why do people pick a group to pick on?”
That’s a key theme of the piece titled “Fellows and Others,” at 844 W. 32nd St., that Gude produced with fellow artist Juan Angel Chavez.
They spoke with people of different ages in the surrounding community about the notion of separation. Faces and silhouettes are set against bright backgrounds, and the work quotes from what they were told.
Another quotation it includes: “I feel like an Other when I don’t have a say.”
“The question we ask ourselves is how we decide who’s a fellow and who’s an other, and how did people get separated in the first place,” says Gude, 69.
The artist, who lives in Bridgeport, says she was inspired by the mural movement of the 1960s and 1970s and its efforts pushing for racial equality.
“As she worked in the 1990s on a piece titled “Where We Come From, Where We’re Going,” 1545 E. 56th St., Gude asked passersby where they were coming from and where they were headed and incorporated their words in the mural.
What is the language of everyday life, and how does that language illuminate our lives?” Gude says of her frequent use of text in her murals.
While Gude worked late one night on “Where We Come From,” near South Lake Park Avenue, she noticed a stranger looking on from the darkness.
It turned to be William “Bill” Walker, a renowned Chicago muralist known for works exploring racial issues.
Later, she would work on restoring Walker’s “Childhood is Without Prejudice” mural, near East 56th Street and South Stony Island Avenue, which shows faces of children of different races laid over one another.
Originally from St. Louis, Gude has been a high school art teacher and also taught art education at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She now teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Jon Pounds, former executive director of Chicago Public Art Group, has been married to Gude for more than 30 years and worked on several projects with her. He calls her a “persistent and creative and forgiving” person with a “fast mind and a quick eye.”
Chavez, who worked with Gude on “Fellows and Others,” met her when he was in high school during an arts program at the Art Institute.
Chavez — whose works include the “Vida Simple” mural at the CTA Pink Line Damen Avenue station — says Gude helped him understand technical aspect of art, like how to use a grid and draw an eye. Beyond that, he says she helped him understand how to produce art that makes an impact on the surrounding community.
“It was a transitional moment from meeting Olivia and the transformation of me as an artist,” Chavez says.