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This mural was done by Oak Park artist Jessica Olinger, who also goes by olllyj. The woman portrayed is Dandara, a “warrior who fought for Black liberation” in Brazil in the colonial era and “defied all the stereotypes,” she says. Olinger was born in Brazil and raised in the United States. This was her first mural.
This mural was done by Oak Park artist Jessica Olinger, who also goes by olllyj. The woman portrayed is Dandara, a “warrior who fought for Black liberation” in Brazil in the colonial era and “defied all the stereotypes,” she says. Olinger was born in Brazil and raised in the United States. This was her first mural.
Robert Herguth / Sun-Times

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Once-gritty Pilsen rail viaduct transformed into an outdoor gallery

More than 30 artists converged on the Peoria Street underpass in October to create art, ‘visual healing’ — from portrait-style works and wildlife imagery to abstracts.

Chicago viaducts are notoriously dingy places, often dank and crumbling.

But not the railroad underpass on Peoria Street between 16th Street and 16th Place in Pilsen.

With more than 30 artists working in a variety of styles, its walls were transformed over one long weekend in October into a series of elaborate murals, becoming a colorful outdoor gallery:

This is what happens when you turn more than 30 artists loose on a Chicago viaduct and give them a long weekend to create.
  • There is a painting of a woman — with no mouth and no pupils but a lot of very blue hair.
This mural was done by South Side native Megan Kind, who lives in East Humboldt Park. She primarily paints “characters that don’t have noses or a mouth” because, she says, “I want to focus on the eyes and a body language or some sort of movement.”
This mural was done by South Side native Megan Kind, who lives in East Humboldt Park. She primarily paints “characters that don’t have noses or a mouth” because, she says, “I want to focus on the eyes and a body language or some sort of movement.”
Robert Herguth / Sun-Times
  • There’s a face with thick eyebrows and neon-outlined flowers in her hair, representing the 20th century Mexican artist Frida Kahlo.
This mural by East Humboldt Park artist Cecilio Garcia features a portion of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo’s face. “I just grew up knowing her [work] and seeing her paintings, so I wanted to capture her,” says Garcia, whose professional name is Pitiz. “I wanted to keep it super-colorful and more modern by adding the neon touch to it.”
This mural by East Humboldt Park artist Cecilio Garcia features a portion of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo’s face. “I just grew up knowing her [work] and seeing her paintings, so I wanted to capture her,” says Garcia, whose professional name is Pitiz. “I wanted to keep it super-colorful and more modern by adding the neon touch to it.”
Robert Herguth / Sun-Times
  • In another piece, reddish skulls are set against a green landscape that includes spaceships lifting off.
This mural was done by Gage Park artist Mario Mena, who sometimes paints under the name “Hyper Dimensional.” “I just tried to go for a little sci-fi look,” he says. “I showed up and just figured it out. I like painting and feeling the moment.” He says skulls are a “recurring theme” in his work as in Mexican culture — in which death is not necessarily “something to be afraid of.”
This mural was done by Gage Park artist Mario Mena, who sometimes paints under the name “Hyper Dimensional.” “I just tried to go for a little sci-fi look,” he says. “I showed up and just figured it out. I like painting and feeling the moment.” He says skulls are a “recurring theme” in his work as in Mexican culture — in which death is not necessarily “something to be afraid of.”
Robert Herguth / Sun-Times
  • One mural features the masked figure Fray Tormenta — a legendary Mexican priest and professional wrestler — in priestly garb, his hands outstretched, colorful birds flanking him.
A mural of legendary Mexican priest and professional wrestler Fray Tormenta, completed by Chicago artist CZR PRZ, who says: “He’d wrestle at night to make money” for the orphanage he ran. The bird on the right was painted by Mexican artist Senkoe.
A mural of legendary Mexican priest and professional wrestler Fray Tormenta, completed by Chicago artist CZR PRZ, who says: “He’d wrestle at night to make money” for the orphanage he ran. The bird on the right was painted by Mexican artist Senkoe.
Robert Herguth / Sun-Times
  • And there are blue- and purple-faced, cartoon-type characters surrounding a purple-bottomed shoe.
The South Side artist known as Dredske did this mural. “The piece was inspired by my interest in contemporary fashion and the popularity and influence of street art,” he says. “The shoe itself references the Converse brand, Virgil Abloh’s Nike collabs and the Comme des Garçons brand.” Artist “Radah the Champ” helped with the mural.
The South Side artist known as Dredske did this mural. “The piece was inspired by my interest in contemporary fashion and the popularity and influence of street art,” he says. “The shoe itself references the Converse brand, Virgil Abloh’s Nike collabs and the Comme des Garçons brand.” Artist “Radah the Champ” helped with the mural.
Robert Herguth / Sun-Times

The project was overseen by Delilah Martinez, owner of the Vault Gallerie in Pilsen and the force behind the “Mural Movement” that’s been creating “Black and Brown unity murals” across Chicago since racial unrest erupted this past summer.

Martinez says viaducts “connect communities” yet often “have a reputation as dark and scary.”

But, she says, “People want their communities to look good.”

The project was a collective effort, she says, between the artists volunteering their time, and neighbors, donors and city officials.

The Peoria Street viaduct where more than 30 murals were painted this fall.
The Peoria Street viaduct where more than 30 murals were painted this fall.
Robert Herguth / Sun-Times

The area already was exploding with street art. A long retaining wall along 16th Street has served as a concrete canvas for years, with dozens of paintings stretching for blocks and making the strip one of Chicago’s biggest expanses of public art — and one constantly changing and growing.

The artists on the viaduct project came from different places, but all “knew the history of Pilsen and the culture of 16th Street and the murals along that area,” Martinez says.

She says a second, similar project is being discussed.

Delilah Martinez, who owns the Vault Gallerie in Pilsen and curated the mural project at Peoria and 16th streets.
Delilah Martinez, who owns the Vault Gallerie in Pilsen and curated the mural project at Peoria and 16th streets.
Provided

Mario Mena, one of the artists who painted in the viaduct, says the project felt special given how much “crazy stuff” has been going on.

“It’s nice to have something nobody’s divided on,” he says. “Art unites people. It’s visual healing.”

Chicago artist Everett Reynolds says this mural was “originally designed to simply be a beautiful lady.” He made a late addition, putting the lightning bolts in the background, “to symbolize the beautiful energy felt while the viaduct was being painted.”
Chicago artist Everett Reynolds says this mural was “originally designed to simply be a beautiful lady.” He made a late addition, putting the lightning bolts in the background, “to symbolize the beautiful energy felt while the viaduct was being painted.”
Robert Herguth / Sun-Times
This mural, by Little Village artist Jasmina Cazacu, focuses on “La Chusa,” a “vengeful spirit from Northern Mexican folklore,” according to Cazacu, whose professional name is “Diosa.” A woman “was accused of witchcraft and unjustly murdered for it. Legend has it that, in the afterlife, she was enchanted with the form of an owl, so that she may roam the night and reveal herself as an omen of death to those reminiscent of her murders.”
This mural, by Little Village artist Jasmina Cazacu, focuses on “La Chusa,” a “vengeful spirit from Northern Mexican folklore,” according to Cazacu, whose professional name is “Diosa.” A woman “was accused of witchcraft and unjustly murdered for it. Legend has it that, in the afterlife, she was enchanted with the form of an owl, so that she may roam the night and reveal herself as an omen of death to those reminiscent of her murders.”
Robert Herguth / Sun-Times
This mural, by the Pilsen artist known as “Bird Milk,” shows an “older” boombox lifting up a younger, smaller one. The idea is of “having your voices heard and holding each other up” while helping “the younger generations get their voices out there.”
This mural, by the Pilsen artist known as “Bird Milk,” shows an “older” boombox lifting up a younger, smaller one. The idea is of “having your voices heard and holding each other up” while helping “the younger generations get their voices out there.”
Robert Herguth / Sun-Times
This mural by Avondale artist Jeff Pak features a character called “Default Face Guy.” Pak says he “added a third eye because I feel as if a lot of things leading to this mural had really been enlightening for me. Korean lettering was used to represent my nationality.”
This mural by Avondale artist Jeff Pak features a character called “Default Face Guy.” Pak says he “added a third eye because I feel as if a lot of things leading to this mural had really been enlightening for me. Korean lettering was used to represent my nationality.”
Robert Herguth / Sun-Times
Chicago artist Joey D. says this mural is “a direct reference to ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’ and the everlasting gobstopper. The colors and patterns I used are also vintage-inspired. There are also references to psychedelics and viewing the world and the self through another lens.”
Chicago artist Joey D. says this mural is “a direct reference to ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’ and the everlasting gobstopper. The colors and patterns I used are also vintage-inspired. There are also references to psychedelics and viewing the world and the self through another lens.”
Robert Herguth / Sun-Times
Chicago artist Oscar Joyo says he was trying to get across “the concept of being able to watch and protect one another. The extension of hair was an homage to ‘90s hair as well as a nod to pharaoh crowns and headpieces.” The artwork was “a cathartic moment, knowing that we can’t move forward alone. In the midst of what has been going on, we need to lean on each other.”
Chicago artist Oscar Joyo says he was trying to get across “the concept of being able to watch and protect one another. The extension of hair was an homage to ‘90s hair as well as a nod to pharaoh crowns and headpieces.” The artwork was “a cathartic moment, knowing that we can’t move forward alone. In the midst of what has been going on, we need to lean on each other.”
Robert Herguth / Sun-Times
Clearing artist Milton Coronado created a portrait of his mother, who died of a brain aneurysm in 1985 when he was 5. “I recently learned, when she immigrated here from Mexico in the 1970s, her first home was a block away from that location on Peoria,” Coronado says. “Makes the mural a lot more special.”
Clearing artist Milton Coronado created a portrait of his mother, who died of a brain aneurysm in 1985 when he was 5. “I recently learned, when she immigrated here from Mexico in the 1970s, her first home was a block away from that location on Peoria,” Coronado says. “Makes the mural a lot more special.”
Robert Herguth / Sun-Times
Logan Square artist Cristi Lopez says: “The mural is based on my experience in overcoming anxiety. I continually exhaust myself running from an imaginary predator. If I stop in my tracks and let it run through me, I realize it can’t kill me.”
Logan Square artist Cristi Lopez says: “The mural is based on my experience in overcoming anxiety. I continually exhaust myself running from an imaginary predator. If I stop in my tracks and let it run through me, I realize it can’t kill me.”
Robert Herguth / Sun-Times
McKinley Park artist Isamar Medina, also known as Kawaii Suga, says: “I painted that girl so women/girls can have something nice to look at in their walks. As a young teen, I always dreamed of seeing murals with cute girls having fun. I wanted that feeling of excitement and having a role model I can look up to.”
McKinley Park artist Isamar Medina, also known as Kawaii Suga, says: “I painted that girl so women/girls can have something nice to look at in their walks. As a young teen, I always dreamed of seeing murals with cute girls having fun. I wanted that feeling of excitement and having a role model I can look up to.”
Robert Herguth / Sun-Times
Pilsen artist Keith Smith, who goes by “Afrokilla,” says the images in this mural are meant to convey that good can come of bad, “storms don’t last forever,” and “we’re all connected.”
Pilsen artist Keith Smith, who goes by “Afrokilla,” says the images in this mural are meant to convey that good can come of bad, “storms don’t last forever,” and “we’re all connected.”
Robert Herguth / Sun-Times
This mural, by a Southeast Side artist who goes by Asteroid Lloyd, features a girl he says is “all for justice. She’s from Chicago. She’s a character on the quest for knowledge and finding herself.” Hieroglyphics also are part of this painting, as are a lotus flower and a frog.
This mural, by a Southeast Side artist who goes by Asteroid Lloyd, features a girl he says is “all for justice. She’s from Chicago. She’s a character on the quest for knowledge and finding herself.” Hieroglyphics also are part of this painting, as are a lotus flower and a frog.
Robert Herguth / Sun-Times
Chicago artist Sentrock features a character with his signature bird mask. “It represents freedom, you know, escape and, to a certain degree, empowerment,” he says. He wanted his art to help people “feel empowered, be encouraged, find your inner strength through it.” He lives on the North Lawndale-Little Village border, and his studio is in Pilsen.
Chicago artist Sentrock features a character with his signature bird mask. “It represents freedom, you know, escape and, to a certain degree, empowerment,” he says. He wanted his art to help people “feel empowered, be encouraged, find your inner strength through it.” He lives on the North Lawndale-Little Village border, and his studio is in Pilsen.
Robert Herguth / Sun-Times
Archer Heights artist Norma Ojeda, who goes by No Art, says that, “as a kid, I always had this inspiration of making a wish by blowing on a dandelion.” So she had her character in the painting do that. “The chains represent struggle — always remember where you came from and focusing on dreams, basically.” Her mural blends into an adjacent painting by Sentrock.
Archer Heights artist Norma Ojeda, who goes by No Art, says that, “as a kid, I always had this inspiration of making a wish by blowing on a dandelion.” So she had her character in the painting do that. “The chains represent struggle — always remember where you came from and focusing on dreams, basically.” Her mural blends into an adjacent painting by Sentrock.
Robert Herguth / Sun-Times
Little Village artist Jay Jasso featured a character he calls Warrior Princess, “an homage to women who struggled, overcame and things like that.” The girl has “a furious look on her face but with a very colorful background, vegetation — meaning life.” The skull is also a nod to his Mexican heritage and the Day of the Dead holiday.
Little Village artist Jay Jasso featured a character he calls Warrior Princess, “an homage to women who struggled, overcame and things like that.” The girl has “a furious look on her face but with a very colorful background, vegetation — meaning life.” The skull is also a nod to his Mexican heritage and the Day of the Dead holiday.
Robert Herguth / Sun-Times
This mural by the Little Village artist who goes by Clue features a character of the same name with question marks for eyes. “Clue represents just a kid wandering through life, questioning a lot of things,” he says. Here, the character is reaching for a heart, which he says symbolizes “don’t take my love away” — referring to “lives lost” in his neighborhood to violence.
This mural by the Little Village artist who goes by Clue features a character of the same name with question marks for eyes. “Clue represents just a kid wandering through life, questioning a lot of things,” he says. Here, the character is reaching for a heart, which he says symbolizes “don’t take my love away” — referring to “lives lost” in his neighborhood to violence.
Robert Herguth / Sun-Times
The Avondale artist who goes by Frillz features a “little brown puppy with cactus arms and a crown.” The artist says the character “is supposed to be something that people who come from similar backgrounds as me (Mexican) can hopefully relate to since there aren’t many representations of Mexican culture when it comes to character or cartoons.”
The Avondale artist who goes by Frillz features a “little brown puppy with cactus arms and a crown.” The artist says the character “is supposed to be something that people who come from similar backgrounds as me (Mexican) can hopefully relate to since there aren’t many representations of Mexican culture when it comes to character or cartoons.”
Robert Herguth / Sun-Times
Portage Park artist Shawnimals featured his signature shapes here, including images that represent “community” and “diversity” not just in people but also a “diversity of emotions.”
Portage Park artist Shawnimals featured his signature shapes here, including images that represent “community” and “diversity” not just in people but also a “diversity of emotions.”
Robert Herguth / Sun-Times
This mural by Edgewater artist Joesky includes a character that’s “supposed to be a futuristic Teddy bear” encouraging “kids to read more.” He says that, with the pandemic, “They’re just stuck in technology a lot and stuck at home,” and he wants them to “learn more things, not just video games.”
This mural by Edgewater artist Joesky includes a character that’s “supposed to be a futuristic Teddy bear” encouraging “kids to read more.” He says that, with the pandemic, “They’re just stuck in technology a lot and stuck at home,” and he wants them to “learn more things, not just video games.”
Robert Herguth / Sun-Times
Champaign native Langston Allston, who now lives in New Orleans, says of this mural: “It’s about hope and togetherness and compassion. But mostly I was just throwing up work from my sketch book.”
Champaign native Langston Allston, who now lives in New Orleans, says of this mural: “It’s about hope and togetherness and compassion. But mostly I was just throwing up work from my sketch book.”
Robert Herguth / Sun-Times
Berwyn artist Fernando “Fedz” Caldera says the owl in this mural is “more of a symbolic thing of being alert and aware of your surroundings, especially with what’s going on in the world with Black Lives Matter” and the challenges facing people of color.
Berwyn artist Fernando “Fedz” Caldera says the owl in this mural is “more of a symbolic thing of being alert and aware of your surroundings, especially with what’s going on in the world with Black Lives Matter” and the challenges facing people of color.
Robert Herguth / Sun-Times
Daniel Wilson says this mural is “based on a canvas that I did. I was doing a portrait and didn’t like the eyes.” So he decided to obscure them. He’s from Britain, lives in Humboldt Park and works in Pilsen.
Daniel Wilson says this mural is “based on a canvas that I did. I was doing a portrait and didn’t like the eyes.” So he decided to obscure them. He’s from Britain, lives in Humboldt Park and works in Pilsen.
Robert Herguth / Sun-Times
Palos Hills artist DOME says the images in this mural symbolized that “knowledge is power” and that his aim was to “speak to the children of the community, to push that message of study hard, and everything will kind of come together as long as you put the effort in.”
Palos Hills artist DOME says the images in this mural symbolized that “knowledge is power” and that his aim was to “speak to the children of the community, to push that message of study hard, and everything will kind of come together as long as you put the effort in.”
Robert Herguth / Sun-Times
Bronzeville artist Joe Nelson, who goes by Cujo and grew up in Englewood, says the image is of one of his cousins. “This particular piece was a tribute to not just that one cousin but all cousins, that I love them and am thinking about them,” he says. “As a family, we’ve been going through a lot, I lost two uncles this year. I lost friends, too. It’s been hard.” The owl “represents all of our combined wisdoms, the wisdoms passed down.”
Bronzeville artist Joe Nelson, who goes by Cujo and grew up in Englewood, says the image is of one of his cousins. “This particular piece was a tribute to not just that one cousin but all cousins, that I love them and am thinking about them,” he says. “As a family, we’ve been going through a lot, I lost two uncles this year. I lost friends, too. It’s been hard.” The owl “represents all of our combined wisdoms, the wisdoms passed down.”
Robert Herguth / Sun-Times
Pilsen artist Hailey Losselyong says this mural shows “two very powerful women, one a Black Panther and one a Brown Beret,” referring to social justice groups in the Black and Brown communities. “I wanted to feature them breastfeeding to highlight how women take up a lot of roles, not only raising children but protecting children,” and to de-stigmatize what’s a “normal thing.”
Pilsen artist Hailey Losselyong says this mural shows “two very powerful women, one a Black Panther and one a Brown Beret,” referring to social justice groups in the Black and Brown communities. “I wanted to feature them breastfeeding to highlight how women take up a lot of roles, not only raising children but protecting children,” and to de-stigmatize what’s a “normal thing.”
Robert Herguth / Sun-Times
Mexican artist Senkoe says the hummingbirds “represent the movement for many of the cultures in Mexico — for the Aztecs, it is a messenger god.”
Mexican artist Senkoe says the hummingbirds “represent the movement for many of the cultures in Mexico — for the Aztecs, it is a messenger god.”
Robert Herguth / Sun-Times
Click on the map below for a selection of Chicago-area murals
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