Back of the Yards mural’s message for kids: ‘Don’t be afraid to fly’
Tired of the gang graffiti there, Arielle Acevedo came up with the idea of painting the viaduct walls at 49th Street and Damen Avenue.
So she got in touch with the 20-year-old artist known as Clue? — real name Manny Gomez — with the idea for a mural at 49th Street and Damen Avenue.
Chicago’s murals & mosaics
Part of a series on public art. More murals added every week.
Gomez’s signature character is an alien figure who seems to be flying — meant, he says, to represent flying away from all the negativity in the world with the message spelled out in words: “The only way is up.”
Another alien figure stands and points at a message written by a Back of the Yards poet who goes by the name Kewl. It reads, “So don’t be afraid 2 fly. You’ve lived on your feet too long.”
A South Side native who has lived in Back of the Yards for two years, Acevedo, 29, says she used to see city crews painting the viaduct white day after day when she left for work, covering up gang graffiti.
That inspired her to put a mural there because she knows there are plenty of families with kids who walk past there.
“After school, they probably hear gunshots and all that stuff,” Acevedo says. “And it’s just, like, they don’t need to see it on the way to school.”
She got city approval and contacted artists whose work she admires, among them Gomez.
His part of the viaduct mural, done last December, took him days to paint.
He says he uses bold, contrasting colors and graffiti-like outlines to give his work some pop.
“The environment around me inspires me a lot,” says Gomez, who works full-time as an artist. “The things I’ve gone through in the past, growing up in Little Village and as Mexican as well.”
Gomez got into art in seventh grade and later took a street art class in Little Village. Inspired by a friend, he developed his signature character since many of the artists he hung around with had their own.
“I’m Mexican, and a lot of people refer to Mexicans as illegal aliens,” he says. “And I was, like, ‘I guess I can get some inspiration behind that.’ ”
He says his question-mark eyes signify a lost child questioning everything.
Gomez says he was nervous at first because this was his first big, solo mural, but the positive message he was trying to get across “took my nervousness away.”
On the opposite wall of the viaduct, the artist known as FRILLZ painted a mural with a similar message. There was space left over on Gomez’s side that Acevedo didn’t want to leave undone, fearing people would deface it, so she included the phrase from Kewl.
Acevedo works full-time as a private investigator but says she studied photography at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She says art offers her an outlet from the stress of her job.