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Southwest Side mental health clinic’s walls bear testament to the healing power of art

The murals that decorate the Greater Lawn Mental Health Center are titled ‘Health, Wealth and Knowledge of Self’ and bear visual messages of hope for those seeking help.

“Health, Wealth and Knowledge of Self” at the Greater Lawn Mental Health Center, 4150 W. 55th St. was the product of five artists.
“Health, Wealth and Knowledge of Self” at the Greater Lawn Mental Health Center, 4150 W. 55th St. was the product of five artists.
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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.

James Allen — an artist who had also been a client and volunteer art therapy teacher at a Chicago mental health center — adds a coat to the background of the murals at a Southwest Side clinic.
James Allen — an artist who had also been a client and volunteer art therapy teacher at a Chicago mental health center — adds a coat to the background of the murals at a Southwest Side clinic.
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“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.

The cornucopia was painted by Damien Perdue, a 44-year-old Logan Square artist. The lines around those images are the work of James Jankowiak, a 51-year-old artist from the Southwest Side who specializes in abstract art.
The cornucopia was painted by Damien Perdue, a 44-year-old Logan Square artist. The lines around those images are the work of James Jankowiak, a 51-year-old artist from the Southwest Side who specializes in abstract art.
Provided

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.

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.

“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.”

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