Thomas Melvin pays homage to Louis Sullivan with 2 murals in Fulton Market
The Albany Park artist echoed Sullivan’s ornamental style, for instance with an eye through which you view the city’s skyline — in effect seeing through the architect’s eyes.
Chicago’s murals & mosaics
Part of a series on public art. More murals added every week.
Sullivan is renowned for his work during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, designing buildings including the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Ida B. Wells Dr., and the former Carson Pirie Scott department store building at 9 E. Madison St., now known as the Sullivan Center.
In one of Melvin’s two untitled murals, at 205 N. Peoria St. next to the Fulton East building, he offers a glimpse of the Chicago skyline through an eye-shaped lens. Melvin says that was inspired by the Sullivan Center and that the aim was to give the effect of seeing the city through the renowned architect’s eyes.
The design incorporates greenery, paying tribute to nature and, according to Melvin, giving another nod to Sullivan, whose work often drew on the connection between architecture and growth.
“He had a beautiful sense for proportion,” Melvin says. “It can be traced to organic, plant and geologic forms, which are the building blocks of our world. Painters recognize that as well in the way that they compose their paintings.”
Melvin, 69, who lives in Albany Park, did another new mural nearby. It features larger-than-life ivy vines that appear to be crawling up the west side of the building at 220 N. Green St.
Both murals, painted in 2020, were commissioned by Bob Wislow, chairman and chief executive officer of Parkside Realty, who developed the 12-story Fulton East building, 215 N. Peoria St.
“We built the building around the thought of health and wellness well before the pandemic,” Wislow says, “on the principles of biophilic design — bringing the outdoors in. So we thought, ‘Let’s do something that helps do even more.’ ”
Melvin got his start as a sign painter. He says he draws inspiration from early American folk art and the painted scenic backdrops that often were used in early photography.
“I became attracted to decorative attempts by everybody,” Melvin says. “Those were my original inspirations. Some of those things were very naive and self-taught, and I love the spirit of that.”
Melvin takes some of his technique from what he learned from Richard Haas, a muralist who specializes in the trompe-l’oeil style that aims to “deceive the eye” by making an object appear in three dimensions.
Melvin, who grew up in New York City, says he started doing more pictorial work in the 1980s, working with developers to create canvases in his Albany Park studio for malls and food courts across the country.
Throughout his more than 40-year career, Melvin says he’s seen public art become more political but says that’s not his style.
“I, for one, was never involved in it as a political movement,” he says. “I was much more involved in it for the architectural, decorative, graphic aspects of it, the addition that it could make to the livability of our world and, dare I say, beauty of certain structures.”