Driving on the Kennedy Expressway, you might have noticed the giant man in a bird mask as you pass through River West.
It’s part of a 240-by-24-feet mural by Chicago artist Joseph Perez, who uses the name Sentrock for his art, that adorns a new apartment building.
The mural is split into three parts, each featuring his signature imagery of a red cardinal mask and bird.
The biggest section, which is visible from the Kennedy, features an array of five towering figures with oval faces and blushing cheeks.
Perez, 33, says the work is meant to give the area a little “character, life and humanity.”
“Whether it’s people on the street or the expressway, the fact of there being color on the walls adds to the quality of our life and the city,” he says. “I hope people continue to embrace [artists] and appreciate what they add to the city.”
A wall facing Ogden Avenue is adorned with a kneeling figure clad in a bird mask, holding a white bird and the phrase “you can fly higher” unfurling above him to remind people to “reach higher and go further,” Perez says.
On the east end of the building, two larger-than-life characters overlook a small park — one wearing the artist’s trademark mask and holding a bird house, the other with two white birds in flight tied to his finger and the words “follow along” painted below.
Perez says he wants the characters in his work to be “whimsical” and “borderline cartoonish” but with a street-art edge.
“I don’t try to say, ‘Look how great my skills are,’ ” he says. “I’m big on the visual message, creating a visual narrative.”
The mural took more than four weeks to complete. Fifield Companies, real estate developers, hired Perez to do it for the Westerly, 740 N. Aberdeen St., an 11-story, luxury apartment building completed in September, according to Lindsey Senn, the company’s executive vice president.
Senn says the company wanted a mural that fit the “urban, edgy, playful” character and diversity of the neighborhood. She says Perez’s iconic bird-mask imagery helped get him the job.
The artist says the bird mask is meant to evoke freedom and escape and also to remind people “there’s always someone behind” it, to give a sense of humanity.
The bird — reminiscent of the Northern cardinal — also adds a pop of color to catch the eyes of passersby.
“Seeing a cardinal is like seeing a butterfly,” says Perez, who has a studio in Pilsen. “You don’t see a bright red bird every day, and you don’t see bright red walls every day, either.”
He started painting murals in 2012 while attending Columbia College Chicago.
Some of his other murals can be seen on the facade of the Little Village branch of the Chicago Public Library, 2311 S. Kedzie Ave., and near Hoyne Avenue and 18th Street by the National Museum of Mexican Art.