This painting at 5100 S. California Ave. is part of the Gage Park Mural Project. It draws on influences of traditional Mexican art and music, according to Mario Mena, who worked on it.

This painting at 5100 S. California Ave. is part of the Gage Park Mural Project. It draws on influences of traditional Mexican art and music, according to Mario Mena, who worked on it.

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Gage Park parking lot, once plain, now a colorful gallery of murals

Over the last year, a series of murals have gone up in the Southwest Side neighborhood. Beauty is one aim. So are empowering young artists and celebrating Latino culture.

A few months ago, the parking lot at 55th Street and Fairfield Avenue in Gage Park was pretty barren.

Chicago’s murals and mosaics sidebar

Chicago’s murals & mosaics

Part of a series on public art in the city and suburbs. Know of a mural or mosaic? Tell us where and send a photo to murals@suntimes.com. We might do a story on it.

Now, it features a five-panel spread of murals that aim to bring some beauty to the Southwest Side neighborhood, celebrate the community’s largely Latino heritage and provide an outlet for young artists.

The Gage Park Latinx Council, founded in 2018, started the Gage Park Mural Project last August. Beside providing art, the idea was to “give the youth an opportunity to learn skills and create works of art in Gage Park,” says Antonio Santos, 30, the group’s co-founder and executive director.

This mural by Mario Mena — head of the Gage Park Mural Project — includes flowers, a butterfly and the welcoming words “Bienvenidos a Gage Park.”

This mural by Mario Mena — head of the Gage Park Mural Project — includes flowers, a butterfly and the welcoming words “Bienvenidos a Gage Park.”

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Santos calls the resulting mix of art and activism “artivism.”

So far, artists ranging from 15 to 24 years old have created six murals. At least four more are planned by the end of the year.

The largest piece in the parking lot gallery is a towering panel bearing the welcoming message: “Bienvenidos a Gage Park” in pink, purple and turquoise.

Artist Mario Mena, head of the Gage Park Mural Project.

Artist Mario Mena, head of the Gage Park Mural Project.

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The neighborhood hasn’t traditionally had much public art, says artist Mario Mena, 30, a Gage Park resident for 20 years who’s heading the mural project. There also wasn’t much to reflect Gage Park the community’s heavily Latino population.

“We created a landmark so people could remember: We have artwork here, too,” says Mena, whose work can be seen mostly on the Southwest Side and in Pilsen and Auburn Gresham. “It’s the unofficial entrance to Gage Park.”

Gage Park Mural Project artists in front of the murals at 55th Street and Fairfield Avenue (from left): Cauria Duarte, Nancy Gutierrez, Josémanuel Hernandez and Mario Mena.

Gage Park Mural Project artists in front of the murals at 55th Street and Fairfield Avenue (from left): Cauria Duarte, Nancy Gutierrez, Josémanuel Hernandez and Mario Mena.

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Among the art is an image of the Pokemon character Pikachu amid a field of flowers with bulbs as hearts. Inside each heart is a design or message from kids in the neighborhood, Mena says.

This work by Mario Mena, head of the Gage Park Mural Project, combines butterfly wings and traditional Mexican skull imagery in a display of reds and greens.

This work by Mario Mena, head of the Gage Park Mural Project, combines butterfly wings and traditional Mexican skull imagery in a display of reds and greens.

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Three panels share the same background and blend at their edges in a display of color with a message.

“Earth People,” designed by Josémanuel Hernandez, was inspired by a rally in Washington Park promoting trans Black lives.

“The demonstration of joy where it isn’t supposed to be is itself radical,” Hernandez says. “It turned into this idea of people being rooted in the earth, finding connection, joy and solidarity.”

Josémanuel Hernandez is seen here working on the mural “Earth People.” To the right is Hernandez’s friend Cauria Duarte, who helped paint it.

Josémanuel Hernandez is seen here working on the mural “Earth People.” To the right is Hernandez’s friend Cauria Duarte, who helped paint it.

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Two Black and Brown women are set against a yellow backdrop with roses wrapping around the panel in this piece, titled “Viva La Mujer,” by artist Nancy Gutierrez.

“Viva La Mujer” by Nancy Gutierrez celebrates Black and Brown women.

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At the end of the series of panels, Black and Brown women are seen in a mural with the words “Viva La Mujer.” It was inspired by the Chicano art-style of its creator, Nancy Gutierrez, who has worked off and on as an artist for two years and has lived in Gage Park for six years.

“I grew up with just my mom and sisters, for the most part,” she says. “Women empowerment for my first mural would be pretty cool.”

Gage Park Mural Project artists Artists Nancy Gutierrez, Josémanuel Hernandez and Mario Mena worked on this mural at 51st Street and California Avenue honoring Mexican farm workers.

Artists Nancy Gutierrez, Josémanuel Hernandez and Mario Mena worked on this mural at 51st Street and California Avenue honoring Mexican farm workers.

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Gutierrez, Hernandez and Mena also worked on a mural at 51st Street and California Avenue, in the parking lot of the restaurant La Quebrada, that features two masked workers, one with a raised fist, harvesting fruit against a backdrop of purple mountains on fire amid smoke that’s a reference to California’s devastating fires last year.

Mena says it celebrates the “immigrant communities who help put food on the table.”

Click on the map below for a selection of Chicago-area murals

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