Caroline Liu’s Argyle Street mural serves up a carp, a dragon and a little soup, too
She took her inspiration from a Chinese myth that tells the story of a persistent carp’s journey to becoming a dragon.
At the bottom of a river, a carp swims, hoping to get to the top. But first it must navigate the strong current and rise past a waterfall.
Chicago’s murals & mosaics
Part of a series on public art. More murals added every week.
There’s a great reward if it succeeds, an empress says: It will become a beautiful dragon.
That’s the Chinese myth that artist Caroline Liu tapped in creating a mural on West Argyle Street in Uptown by the CTA’s Argyle Street Red Line station.
Liu, 34, the daughter of a Chinese immigrant, says it’s often told to encourage kids to keep striving. She says she wanted to pay homage to her culture and create something to uplift spirits during the coronavirus pandemic, particularly for Asian Americans.
“This is representation for little Asian girls to see their culture so widely represented,” the artist says. “Being able to see your culture and to see an Asian face so widely painted, so colorful in a way they maybe haven’t seen before — that part was definitely the most important.”
She painted the mural last August and titled it “Resilience.”
It features a carp and a dragon, both significant in Chinese culture. Dragons signify “high praise,” the artist says, representing power and, to her, persistence and the need to stay strong.
“To be able to highlight really important or significant stories that people kind of shy away from, I like to make myths as loud and colorful as possible,” she says. “This could be a hard time. But it can also be beautiful.”
Its bursts of turquoise and reds and pink and orange can be seen on a wall next to Hon Kee BBQ & Seafood Restaurant.
Between the carp and the dragon, a woman whose lined face and shadows stand out amid the cartoon colors sips from a bowl of soup — the artist’s own choice of comfort food.
“Life isn’t so black-and-white,” Liu says. “It’s not just realism and then fantasy. There should be more of a combination of that in everyday life. And so my work is definitely an exploration of bridging the two.”
She says that, as a kid, she’d draw still-life portraits of her stuffed animals. She brings that childhood sensibility to the mural.
“We tend to grow up and lose part of that special essence of childhood,” she says, “when I think it’d benefit adults the most.”
Thick raindrops seem to trickle across the piece. The dragon’s scales reveal flowers.
Liu says she used small details to keep giving people seeing it “little areas to get lost in and find a meditative state.”
The woman has “wet blue” eyes — a staple of Liu’s work, an entry to the woman’s world.
Liu grew up in Naperville, left to study art at the University of New Mexico and now lives in Albuquerque.
The mural is along the “Asia on Argyle” strip also known as Little Vietnam.
Liu painted it during last summer’s Uptown Art Week, when artists created more than 40 works of public art, several of them along the bases of CTA columns, says Justin Weidl, who helped run the event.
Across from Liu’s mural is one depicting the history of West Argyle Street on the side of the now-closed Hoa Nam market.