What 50 gallons of paint on a Kennedy Expressway underpass looks like in Tony Passero’s hands
He has a knack for turning dark spaces around Chicago into something bright and inviting — like these bulls, rams, gazelles and totems in Avondale, near where he grew up.
Chicago’s murals & mosaics
Part of a series on public art in the city and suburbs. More murals are added every week.
Tony Passero is an artist, not an engineer or construction foreman. So he couldn’t do anything about the roadway layout.
But Passero has spent a big part of his artistic career bringing creativity and color to stretches of Chicago, often viaducts, that are ignored or ugly.
So he was tapped by an Avondale group to do murals at Belmont and Kedzie in 2017.
It turned out to be a massive job. The viaduct walls there take up roughly 2,400 square feet.
A lot of paint went into the effort — about 50 gallons, including primer, brushed across the gritty surface over 12 days to create related murals that face each other across Kedzie Avenue.
One of the pair, titled “Toro Totem,” features four bulls and 13 totems, symbols of indigenous art used to portray family lineages, legends and spirituality.
The other, “RamZelle,” includes images of two rams, two gazelles and 15 totems.
For Passero, the bulls represent courage and justice. The gazelles are meant to convey grace.
He says, in creating these murals, he took into account that many people seeing them would be driving quickly past or zooming by on a train.
“If you get too detailed” with the paintings, people are “not going to catch everything,” he says.
Passero, 54, moved to Florida after completing the project but still maintains a studio in Chicago.
He grew up on the Northwest Side not far from where the murals are in a neighborhood where he remembers how much people really cared about where they lived and about their neighbors.
Passero says he’s of Italian and Irish heritage and grew up with neighbors who were Russian, Polish, Mexican, Guatemalan, Chinese and Korean.
“That’s just the way I thought the world was — everybody was mixed together,” he says. “Everybody got along. Everybody was expected to keep their own culture.”
Passero had done other murals for the Avondale Neighborhood Association, which enlisted him again to do the underpasses because he did good work and was from the area, says Emily Taylor, former president of the group.
Last year, Passero returned to Chicago to do two murals on the South Side near the Orange Line L — another area he says that needed “love and attention.”