Pablo Serrano stands in front of his mural “Creative Cultural Chemistry of Democracy” at Ashland Avenue and Hubbard Street in the West Loop.

Pablo Serrano stands in front of his mural “Creative Cultural Chemistry of Democracy” at Ashland Avenue and Hubbard Street in the West Loop.

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Pablo Serrano wants you to get closer to this West Loop mural

If you do, you’ll see the tiny parts that make up his ‘Creative Cultural Chemistry of Democracy,’ the fine lines and brushstrokes that form shapes meant to represent atoms.

What’s a mural made of? Paint obviously. But Pablo Serrano wants people viewing his “Creative Cultural Chemistry of Democracy” mural to get up close to his sprawling work at Ashland Avenue and Hubbard Street in the West Loop so they can see there’s more to it than that.

When they do, the fine lines come into sharper view. You can see how they connect and form hexagons and circles.

Those, Serrano says, are meant to represent the atoms that make up . . . everything.

“It’s very beautiful to see those structures and the geometry and just the elegance in that simplistic notion,” says Serrano, 43, a lifelong Chicagoan who painted the mural in December.

The artist says he took inspiration from the neighborhood’s industrial past. PortionPac, a chemical company, previously occupied the now-vacant building on which he painted the mural at the request of the property manager, who wanted him to “offer something unique.”

“I wanted to connect to that history of industry and development and use that as a metaphor for democracy,” Serrano says.

The main features of the mural, which covers a 100-feet-wide span, are three sets of hands. Each, Serrano says, is meant to represent a different type of human interaction.

Two hands grip each other in “Creative Cultural Chemistry of Democracy,” which artist Pablo Serrano says was meant to represent “collective power and an embrace of solidarity.”

Two hands grip each other in “Creative Cultural Chemistry of Democracy,” which artist Pablo Serrano says was meant to represent “collective power and an embrace of solidarity.”

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At left, two hands grip each other in an “expression of collective power and an embrace of solidarity,” Serrano says.

In the center: a handshake, for a welcome greeting.

The last pair of hands come together softly in a loving gesture, Serrano says.

“I view them as more romantic,” he says. “Of how it is that we share love across different cultural perspectives that we have in the city.”

Like the tiny shapes that can be seen only up close, the hands also feature details that can’t be seen from a distance. Between the brushstrokes of skintone-colored paint are pops of blues, greens and reds.

Those celebrate “the very act of painting,” Serrano says.

Up close, it’s easy to see the brushstrokes in Pablo Serrano’s “Creative Cultural Chemistry of Democracy” mural in the West Loop.

Up close, it’s easy to see the brushstrokes in Pablo Serrano’s “Creative Cultural Chemistry of Democracy” mural in the West Loop.

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“It’s a mural about details,” he says. “Very, very minor details like little brushstrokes and chemical bonds. Or a fingernail. But it’s also a mural about how those details come together to create a very complex and layered image.”

Osiel Meza, an artist who assisted Serrano, says the details add dimension to the massive piece.

“From afar, it looks nice,” says Meza, 25. “But coming up to it, touching the wall, it feels even more breathtaking.”

The brushstrokes are carried through into the background of the mural, which combines natural imagery with things that people have created — meant to represent the physical and digital realms of society.

This pulled-back view gives a wider view of the Ashland Avenue and Hubbard Street location of Pablo Serrano’s mural “Creative Cultural Chemistry of Democracy.”

This pulled-back view gives a wider view of the Ashland Avenue and Hubbard Street location of Pablo Serrano’s mural “Creative Cultural Chemistry of Democracy.”

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“The background is this combination of air, water, concrete, some references to wood, cement, mortar, all in movement, transitioning to circuitry and to chips, conductors and all these other things that are influencing our present and our future in very significant ways,” Serrano says.

“I wanted a simple but also complex reference to our environment. What Bob Marley would call the concrete jungle of the city.”

Zooming farther away, Serrano hopes people will see how he meant to speak to the larger struggles Chicago faces.

“Chicago is known to be stereotyped in pretty horrendous ways,” Serrano says. “We’re so much more than that. It’s in our hands to help us move forward and appreciate the beauty of the struggle and our resiliency.”

Like the artful atoms that make up the mural, he sees each Chicagoan as a moving part in the bigger picture of the city.

“Everything’s in movement,” he says. “Nothing is fixed. We’re either coming together or falling apart.”

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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.

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

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