Murals have a long and tumultuous history as an art form. They are often political, and can serve as catalysts for change or protest. They can also be important tools for establishing the identity and artistic lineage of a place. Murals are visual stories, and in Chicago, you can glimpse the rich history, diversity, and resolve of the city through the art that adorns it’s buildings and walls.
These 7 Chicago murals are some of the most important local landmarks of the art form. It’s by no means a definitive list, as new murals are painted almost daily, but they are a robust jumping off point. These seven pieces would make a fantastic bike or car tour, and even a great way to explore Chicago’s train and bus lines, once COVID is under control, that is.
The Four Seasons mural is a fixture of public art in Chicago’s downtown area. Located in the Chase Tower Plaza, the 70 foot long mural is a gorgeous and dream-like interlude to the grind of the city. Depicting scenes of the city’s skyline, wildlife, and Surrealist motifs, the mosaic represents the centrality of the seasons to Chicago residents. If you live in the Windy City, you know how impactful the weather changes are.
Marc Chagall is a world-famous artist who worked in the modernist movement in the early 20th century. He is Jewish and Belarusian, but settled in America right before WWII. His work spanned several mediums, including painting, mosaics, stained glass, and textile. Chagall is famous for his dreamy style full of soft lines, natural imagery, and active, present colors. This Chicago mural is a necessary stop for any fan of art history, Chicago’s unique relationship with art, or murals in general!
The Mile of Murals is an ongoing community arts project in Rogers Park, on the far North side of Chicago. Beginning in 2007, the Roger’s Park Business Alliance has commissioned 14 different mural works along the Glenwood Avenue train line between Estes Avenue and Pratt Boulevard. It’s still in process, with the eventual end goal of completing 19 murals. These Chicago murals span several styles, themes, and artists! They’re all incredible examples of how vibrant and innovative Chicago’s art scene is.
The Declaration of Immigration is an iconic mural in Pilsen. Driving down the central 18th Street corridor, you cannot miss this piece and its explicit political message. It says, in no uncertain terms, that no human being is illegal, to tear down walls, and to embrace America’s history as a nation of immigrants. This message is one of particular importance to the neighborhood and its historical status as a hearth for Mexican and Latin American immigrants living in Chicago. Painted in 2009 by Salvador Jimenez, a Mexican-American Chicago-based mural artist and the Yollocalli youth council, a youth program of the National Museum of Mexican Art, this mural is intergenerational and still just as fresh.
The artists borrowed the tools of advertising, using bold and emphasized typography and recognizable symbols. The barbed wire in the background references the US.-Mexico border, and the symbols of freedom, such as butterflies and banners fly through the gaps. They are painted with the flags from Latin American and South American countries, displaying the pride and dignity of the immigrants who come to this country. The history of Mexcan muralism is long and rich, and this Chicago mural deserves to be established as part of that canon.
Hebru Brantley is one of the most famous Chicago-born contemporary artists working. His distinct style has graced buildings all over the world, as well as Nike and Adidas sneakers, and homes of celebrities like Jay-Z and Beyonce. Although there are many fantastic Brantley murals throughout the city, this mural in the Wicker Park neighborhood features his most iconic characters, Flyboy and Lil Mama in all their glory.
Brantley’s Flyboy character is based off of comic book style art, graffiti, and by the mythology surrounding the Tuskegee airmen, the first all-black unit of airmen serving in the American Military during World War II. Lil Mama is the female character that makes up the other half of the duo, and together, they encourage the black and brown youth of Chicago to dream big and embrace their creativity. Hebru Brantley works in a vein specific to Chicago, tapping into the wishes, hopes, fears, and imaginations of the young people of color who live here. If you enjoy this Chicago mural, it truly is the tip of the iceberg! Check out so much more from this incredible artist scattered all over the city.
The street photographer Vivian Maier is really part of the life and soul of Chicago. She took thousands of photos throughout her life, of the city, of the people who lived here, and the daily movement that animates Chicago. She was a nanny for most of her life, working on the Northshore from the 1950s to the 1990s. Maier’s photographs were discovered in 2007 by three Chicago collectors, and became fast favorites of the art world. Her candid and narrative photography showcased the inner-workings of the city, and its character. In her work, the city is beautiful, dramatic, intense, and most of all, deeply illuminated by the folks that live there.
This Chicago mural was executed by the Brazilian street artist Eduardo Kobra on the facade of a Wicker Park house in 2017. The mural recreates one of Maier’s most famous self-portraits, where she captures her stern face in the reflection of a store window with her large camera. Although Maier worked exclusively in black and white film, her figure is animated in a swirling rainbow of colors in this mural. It represents the way that this woman was able to see Chicago so powerfully and so perceptively through the lens of an unnoticed camera.
This mural is a work in progress in the Pilsen neighborhood honoring the Mexican-American superstar Selena Quintanilla. It’s being painted on the side of the local butcher shop, Carniceria Maribel, which has been owned by the Banda family since 1990. Pilsen is primarily a neighborhood populated by Mexican and Latin American immigrants, but has been gentrified in recent years. This mural is meant to strengthen and honor the identity of the neighborhood, and to show the resilience of its residents, who are vigilantly fighting being priced out of their homes.
The Selena mural is hot pink and shows the singer in some of her most iconic outfits. Beyond being a fashion icon, incredible musician, and almost mythological figure, Selena is a connection to Pilsen inhabitants’ roots. The owner of the store that the mural is painted on believes that it will benefit Latinx store owners in the neighborhood. He says that it will attract other Latinx folks to frequent their stores, and help to combat the cultural whitewashing of the area. La Calle de Selena means the Street of Selena and is a perfect example of how murals can have political meaning and lead to cultural shifts.
These two murals are a diptych, enclosing them boundaries of a formerly vacant lot on 79th Street in a new holding pattern, revived and exuberant. These two artists were born and raised on the South Side, and they came to this spot in the Calumet Heights/Avalon neighborhood to breath the spark of art back into the systematically disinvested area. The murals both reflect a kind of fantastical superhero theme, invoking protection and imagination. Both artists hoped that by painting these walls, the lots would become a space for folks to gather, hold community events, and appreciate their neighborhood.
Max Sansing is originally from the area, and his piece, New Frontiers, Same Old Nine, attempts to honor the place he came from and to simultaneously open up new paths, frontiers, and ways of being. The central figure of his mural is a young black girl in a bulls jersey, helmet, cape, and staff with hanging keys, staring into the distance. Colorful flame drips off of her, representing passion and drive, and she seems to stand guard over the area. In Kayla Mahaffrey’s piece, Joined As One, her comic book characters defend and protect each other as a team, unified and strong. She hoped that her mural would inspire local residents to feel protected and hopeful in their day to day travels as they looked at her work.
Murals are a strong, visual part of Chicago’s identity. We hope that you’ll take the time to check the Chicago murals on this list, and maybe discover some more!
And if you are interested in a mural of your very own, check out our mural program, where you can commission a mural for your office or workspace.
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