James Allen says a city of Chicago-run mental health clinic saved his life. So, when he had the chance, he was happy to give back through his art.
That’s how he ended up helping with a series of murals at another clinic.
After a suicide attempt in 2001, Allen says he went for treatment to the Lawndale Mental Health Center on the West Side, and that helped him deal with his despair over the death of his sister and a breakup with his fiancée.
An ex-con and recovering addict, Allen, now 69 and living in the South Loop, says he had learned to paint in prison, where an art teacher assured him he had talent.
He says he couldn’t see that, though, until after his treatment, which he says helped him embrace the healing power of art.
He ended up volunteering for three years in the Lawndale center’s art therapy program. Then, in 2019, he got involved helping a mural project at another city clinic, the Greater Lawn Mental Health Center, 4150 W. 55th St.
“When you surround yourself with positive things, your life changes,” says Allen, who did setup work and touch-ups for the project. “It can’t help but make you better.”
Damien Perdue, 44, of Logan Square, was hired by the city to lead the project. Perdue — who paints under the name DMNOLOGY — had another artist, James Jankowiak, create a “visual structure” to keep the different parts of the murals separate.
At the center, Perdue, a vegetarian, painted a cornucopia, including an avocado — his favorite — to symbolize the role a good diet plays in mental health.
Collectively, the murals are titled “Health, Wealth and Knowledge of Self.” They’re heavy on symbolism, each section containing a message for people who come to the clinic for help.
Terence Byas, a 39-year-old Auburn Gresham artist who goes by the name Dredske, painted a mural including a man in a wheelchair shooting a basketball — “the human spirit triumphing” over adversity, he says.
- Terence Byas, who works under the artist name Dredske, paints a globe that a man in a wheelchair is poising to shoot like a basketball. Provided
- This mural, depicting a goddess, was painted by Terence Byas, a 39-year-old Auburn Gresham artist who goes by Dredske. Provided
- A finished look at the mural of a man in a wheelchair shooting a globe like a basketball. Artist Terence Byas said the image represents “the human spirit triumphing.” Provided
Irene Zuniga, 33, of Avondale, who goes by the name Zeye One, painted a geometric butterfly and grasping hands — a representation, she says, of growth and the bridging of generational gaps.
- Artist Irene Zuniga, who goes by Zeye One, said her depiction of two pairs of hands grasping each other is meant to represent the bridging of a generational gap. Provided
- A butterfly was included in “Health, Wealth and Knowledge of Self” to represent a metamorphosis of those who seek help for their health. Provided
“Before, when you would walk in to the building, it looked so depressing by itself,” Zuniga says. “We needed that mural so people can feel safe.”