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A mural of a pigeon done by the artist who goes by MATR in 2016 on the 16th Street railroad retaining wall on the edge of Pilsen with a message about “resilience” — for people and pigeons.
A mural of a pigeon done by the artist who goes by MATR in 2016 on the 16th Street railroad retaining wall on the edge of Pilsen with a message about “resilience” — for people and pigeons.
Robert Herguth / Sun-Times

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In a city filled with pigeons, artists find the oft-maligned birds worth celebrating in murals

One artist says a pigeon mural in Pilsen speaks to the resilience of the birds ‘and our resilience’ and ‘city life and how we’re tough yet ready for whatever comes next.’

Pigeons are often maligned as flying vermin. But local muralist Fernando Caldera doesn’t view them that way.

Caldera, who goes by the moniker FEDZ, has a pigeon mural he painted a couple of years ago near 15th and Wood streets on the Near West Side.

“I feel we kind of just view them as rodents, so I thought it’d be nice to see them as something other than that,” says Caldera, 29, who lives in Berwyn and says he was happy to give the unpopular birds “a little more respect.”

A pigeon mural near 15th and Wood streets by the artist who goes by FEDZ. “I feel we kind of just view them as rodents, so I thought it’d be nice to see them as something other than that,” he says.
A pigeon mural near 15th and Wood streets by the artist who goes by FEDZ. “I feel we kind of just view them as rodents, so I thought it’d be nice to see them as something other than that,” he says.
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Another mural celebrating the humble pigeon can be found along the art-filled 16th Street railroad retaining wall on the edge of Pilsen. It features one in hues of gray, black and green with a halo-like ring around its upper body and, next to it, the words: “God has made me fruitful through my afflictions.”

That painting was by the artist known as MATR, who added the phrase because of a conversation with his wife’s grandmother.

His wife, an artist who goes by the professional name KOZMO, says: “He did paint it in 2016, and he just had a good talk with my grandma about life and what we give and receive from it.

“He had that quote in his head for a good month. And, at that moment, after he painted the pigeon, he just hung back with me, looking at the mural, and he repeated it out loud, and he just went and wrote it on there.”

The mural speaks to the resilience of pigeons “and our resilience” and “city life and how we’re tough yet ready for whatever comes next,” according to KOZMO.

Another artist, Belgium-based Adele Renault, often features pigeons in her work, including some showcased at a Chicago exhibition in 2015.

“I have painted over 30 murals of pigeons and well over 100 pigeon portraits on canvas,” Renault says, including an indoor mural in Chicago. “One cannot live and walk the streets of any city of the world without seeing pigeons. It’s the abundance of them everywhere and the fact that they are very ‘expressive’ creatures that drew me to them.

“Also the fact that they are kind of underdogs, not much liked by the general public made me want to paint them in glorious portraits,” Renault says. “Showing beauty where you don’t expect it.

“I then started zooming in and painting only the iridescent feathers of pigeon necks in a series called ‘Gutter Paradise.’ But I never set out to be obsessed with pigeons. The subject matter found me, and the more I dug into it, the more fascinating it became.”

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