Chicago artist Brendan Cooney’s emoji-filled mural on the Northwest Side.

Chicago artist Brendan Cooney’s emoji-filled mural on the Northwest Side.

Robert Herguth / Sun-Times

Brendan Cooney’s emoji-filled mural on the Northwest Side is meant to make you smile

The Portage Park artist says the mural, painted in the early stages of the pandemic, was about making “something fun” and “something fun to take pictures with as well.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic in full steam, dread in the air and access to a building with bare brick walls, Brendan Cooney knew what he had to do.

In that situation, the artist from the Northwest Side says, you paint.

So Cooney did, taking on the job in 2020 of bringing a little fun to a commercial building at Kilbourn and Patterson avenues. He painted emoji-like faces, more than 40 of them, nearly all smiling, even the one that looks like a devil.

A friend had an auto body shop there and told him: “I have this huge building, all this space. Let’s do some murals.”

Brendan Cooney in front of one of his other murals, also on the Northwest Side.

Brendan Cooney in front of one of his other murals, also on the Northwest Side.

Provided

So Cooney, who grew up in Beverly and now lives in Portage Park, went to work. One mural featured a face mask. Another bore “different messages of love.” The third, with the emoji faces, wraps around the corner of the building.

“The smiley-face one, he gave me an example of something he’d seen before, so I elaborated on it,” Cooney says. “I started out just doing circles and colors, and it evolved into this wacky, crazy piece.”

He found himself painting faces “that were smiling, ones that were laughing, and I went with the idea of putting emojis in there, like the ones on your phone.

“People use emojis for how they feel or react to a text message,” he says. “Whether you’re happy or sad, however you want to feel, you can get a certain kind of feeling off the wall. There are tons of moods.”

He says his aim was just “to make something fun” and “something fun to take pictures with as well. A lot of people take pictures with their kids, which is great.

“That was the first one I did in that style. I’m more of a photo-realistic painter. But I have roots in graffiti and street art.”

Cooney says he’s hoping to return to the building this summer and expand on the work there.

Murals and Mosaics Newsletter
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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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