There is certainly no shortage of artistic talent in the Windy City!
The consequence of a thriving artistic community is not just a plethora of museums and stunning art installations. Today the street art and graffiti scene in Chicago is alive and kicking more than ever before with new pieces popping up all over the city every week. Some of these are so esteemed that they’ve embedded themselves in the very fabric of Chicago and are now as much part of the Windy City’s identity as its iconic sculptures and landmarks.
With more formality and respect from the local community street art has thrived in Chicago over the last decade. Today murals do more than just provide an extraordinary spectacle for our eyes. They pay homage to icons, fight for equality, celebrate different heritages, and honor the heroes of society.
While coronavirus forces restrictions worldwide we have time to walk the streets and admire the many masterpieces in our great city created by both notable artists and up-and-coming talent. Here are our favorite, most unique murals in and around Chicago.
[Please note: Any artists, facilitators, or photographers who would like specific accreditation please get in touch.]
The Greetings from Chicago mural is without a doubt one of the most recognizable pieces of street art in Illinois. Situated in Logan Square, it was the first official on-the-road ‘postcard mural’ by NYC graffiti artist Victor Ving and Ohio-born photographer Lisa Beggs. The fantastically talented duo have traveled across 20 states in their 24’ ft RV unveiling over 40 different postcard murals along the way.
The couple spent days sleeping next to the Chicago mural in their RV, guarding the scaffolding at night while painting in the day. With the aim of utilizing their skills to bring colorful public murals to local communities their pieces often become highly Instagrammed and highly treasured parts of the city. The Greetings from Chicago mural is one of the most popular postcard murals to date and has brought hometown pride as well as a memorable landmark for visitors.
Where: 2226 North Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago
When Ving and Begg’s Greetings from Chicago mural first appeared in Logan Square you had to travel to other neighborhoods in Chicago to find murals of the same caliber. Since then stunning pieces of street art have popped up all over the neighborhood. The Robin Williams mural is one of these and shows the late actor and comedian surrounded by blue genies from the Disney movie Aladdin – the character voiced by Williams one of his most famous roles in cinema.
The piece is a collaboration between artistic duo Jerkface and Owen Dippie with Jerkface known for cartoon characters and Dippie for his detailed close-ups. They completed the mural in 10 days and wrote “we miss you Robin” when they unveiled it on Instagram. Some viewers say the mural was created to raise awareness for suicide prevention with one individual saying the piece resonates with him so much he’s been back multiple times. “It is pretty sad how they’re laughing at him and everyone perceives him as such a happy being, but deep down inside he’s not happy.”
Where: 2047 North Milwaukee Avenue (North Side), Chicago
A short walk down Milwaukee Ave and into Wicker Park lies another of Chicago’s most famed murals, the Vivian Maier mural. Painted in 2017 by São Paulo-born Eduardo Kobra, and facilitated by Beauty and Brawn, it depicts the late Chicago photographer Vivian Maier, whose work only gained notoriety after her death. Falling behind on payments Maier was forced to auction her negatives which years on would become a viral phenomenon and a much-sought-after collector’s item.
The Vivian Maier mural was vandalized in 2019 but residents of Wicker Park stepped in to fund its restoration, proving what an important part of the neighborhood it has become!
Curators and Producers: Beauty & Brawn
Where: 1651 West North Avenue, Chicago
Vivian Maier is not the only Chicago personality to be a subject of Kobra’s work. The renowned Brazilian’s work spans 3,000 different locations across the world and is known to create prismatic pieces of unique individuals such as Abraham Lincoln and Bob Marley. Another of these, and one of the most unique murals in Chicago, can be found in State and Washington on N State Street. The 100 ft mural is another piece born from the collaboration between Beauty & Brawn and Eduardo Kobra. The Muddy Waters mural was painted in Kobra’s typical colorful style during the Big Walls Festival in May of 2016 and celebrates the “father of modern Chicago blues” Muddy Waters.
Curators and Co-Producers: Beauty & Brawn
Where: 17 North State Street, Chicago
While Eduardo Kobra has painted local heroes on the streets of Chicago another renowned artist Jeffrey Zimmerman is the Chicago man behind a mural that depicts one of the most recognizable faces in the history of pop culture. High above the Magnificent Mile where Michigan Avenue meets Erie street a sensational recreation of Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe portrait spans a wall bigger than a basketball court 150 feet in the air.
The mural went up at the end of 2019 as part of the Chicago Institute of Art’s retrospective on the famed American artist Andy Warhol. One of his most notable works, the Marilyn Diptych from 1962 is a silkscreen painting combining the notorious Warhol themes of tragedy and celebrity culture. Warhol’s work is part of the reason Marilyn Monroe’s face is so recognizable today and the mural above the Magnificent Mile is living proof of that!
Where: 663 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago
Another instantly recognizable individual is the center of a piece over at the Korean American Perilla restaurant on N Milwaukee Avenue. The mural depicts Southside Chicago-born Michelle Obama standing in front of the moon. It was created by @royyaldog – a South-Korean artist known for his photorealistic murals of African American women in traditional Korean hanbok dresses.
The Michelle Obama mural stands beautifully over Perilla’s patio space and gained quite a bit of attention when it went up in 2019. In response, Perilla announced that they wanted a Chicago icon who resembled hope and determination. “We wanted a person who represented the City of Chicago, a place that gave us growth and opportunity. We wanted someone who represented hope, a powerful tool in our industry that pushes us to persevere and succeed.”
Where: 401 North Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago
The Moose Bubblegum Bubble mural might not have the same worldwide recognition as Marilyn Monroe or Michelle Obama but to residents of Chicago, especially those at Columbia College Chicago’s WAC campus, it is a more than familiar face.
The wonderful art piece is the result of a competition launched by Columbia College Chicago’s WAC Campus in the spring of 2014. Artist Jacob Watts beat off other competition from both students and alumni and was selected as the winner. An enormous recreation of his Moose Bubblegum Bubble was installed on the side of the campus building soon after and is now one of the most photographed murals in Chicago.
Where: 33 East Congress (South Wall), Chicago
The South Loop campus where the Bubblegum Moose is found is known as the Wabash Arts Corridor, and with good reason! Since Columbia College of Chicago began a community-driven project in 2013 it’s become one of the best places to see Chicago’s most talented street artists at work. Intricate life-size pieces and giant murals line the corridor on both huge buildings and small parking lots. Famous artists and young prodigies find their urban canvas in the Wabash corridor with regular new pieces appearing weekly.
One of the most remarkable pieces in the Wabash arts corridor is the ‘From Bloom to Doom’ mural by Dutch artist Collin van der Sluijs. The Netherlands-based street artist uses spray paint, acrylics, and ink to slowly build explosive images frequently showcasing elements of the natural world. His From Bloom to Doom piece in the Wabash Arts Corridor depicts two endangered Illinois birds from Illinois – the red-headed woodpecker and the yellow-headed blackbird. They are surrounded by colorful flowers in full bloom.
Where: 1006 South Michigan Avenue (North Wall), Chicago
The Native American Lost In Chicago… Dreamin’ mural is one of two large murals by the French duo Ella & Pitr. This incredibly talented combo paint enormous murals of sleeping characters against the sides of buildings, contoured between building blocks, or across rooftops. Their work is often best viewed from above and uses the colors of the French flag whilst often creating dreary monochromatic images and spotlighting social issues and politics. Ella & Pitr’s murals can be seen on buildings and urbanscapes in Scandinavia, South America, Eastern Europe, and now also here in Chicago.
Where: 527 S Wells Street, Chicago
A little way from the Wabash art corridor in the culturally diverse neighborhood of Pilsen an equally impressive array of murals can be found. Originally settled by Czech immigrants in the 1870’s the Mexican population flourished in Pilsen after many moved in to fill labor shortages in the area. Today Latin culture, art, and heritage are thriving in Pilsen. Beautiful, vibrant murals and street art dot the neighborhood decorating the sides of many bars and restaurants. One such restaurant El Popocatepetl Tortilleria boasts a stunning mural that pays homage to the family business and their Mexican heritage.
An original mural displaying the faces of several Pilsen residents, including the tortilla shop’s founder, Ernesto Avina was painted more than a decade ago for a film shooting in the neighborhood. After it had become damaged by tuckpointing work owner Julian Rodriguez and his family commissioned a brand new one in 2019. That’s when wife and husband duo Brenda Lopez and Manuel Macias entered to design the new mural depicting Cuauhtémoc, the last Aztec Emperor. Locals were at first horrified to see the original mural being covered until they saw the work of Lopez and Macias and it today is a treasured mural of Pilsen.
Where: 611 S Wells Street, Chicago
Another Pilsen masterpiece depicts perhaps one of the most famous Mexican icons of all time. Of all of the Pilsen art pieces, the Frida Kahlo with butterfly wings is certainly one of the most striking, so magnetic in fact that even Frida would have been proud. The mesmerizing image of Frida Kahlo with butterfly wings sits on the side of a Frida Room – a Frida-themed Mexican restaurant and bar due to open its doors soon. The bar commissioned Robert Valadez to paint a portrait of Frida Kahlo on the building’s exterior side with the assistance of Traz Juarez, artist, and owner of Art-O-Parts in that block. Once operating the bar will sell Frida-inspired cocktail drinks and tacos so keep a lookout!
Where: 1713 West 18th Street, Chicago
Most Chicago locals will recognize J.C. Rivera’s notorious Bear Champ. The mural of Bear Champ eating a slice of pizza in Wicker Park is a fantastic place to get a photo with something synonymous with the Chicago food scene and at the same time snap one of Chicago’s most renowned artists in J.C. Rivera.
Where: 1824 West Division Street, Wicker Park, Chicago.
Another artist whose artwork has long appeared in the city is that of Joseph Perez, who goes by Sentrock. His signature bird mask over a human figure is today seen all over the city. Resembling the Northern cardinal, Illinois’ state bird, Perez says that the bird mask is meant to evoke freedom and escape whilst also reminding people that “there is always somebody behind it.” This 240-by-24-feet mural pictured above is located at the Kennedy Expressway in River West on the side of an 11-story luxury apartment built next to a park last year. It is, however, one of several Sentrock murals that now adorn the building’s exterior.
Where: East side of the Westerly apartments, 740 North Aberdeen Street, Chicago.
While J.C. Rivera and Sentrock’s pieces have dotted Chicago for some time, Sam Kirk’s Fulton Market District mural is a lot more relevant to the here and now. In September of 2020, the National Workers Alliance funded the new mural that pays respects to the millions of domestic workers and essential workers in this country. The piece features four portraits of real-life workers in Chicago who continue to be essential to the thriving city in the midst of a pandemic.
The workers portrayed in the mural are Juan Burrell, a Chavez Elementary school lunchroom manager, Carilla Hayden, a USPS Postal Worker, Veronica Sanchez, Leader with the Latino Union of Chicago and Nanny, and Maggie Zylinska, a Domestic Worker.
Where: The B_Line, 1030-1044 West Hubbard Street, Chicago
The year 2020 has been jam-packed with events and obstacles. Consequently, the talented art scene in Chicago united on several occasions to use art as a means of sending a message. In the wake of the early protests that followed the murder of George Floyd, the Mural Movement set about illustrating an art piece that symbolized unity within communities. Artists came together to create the Black and Brown Unity Wall in Near West Side. The very next day, the mural was painted over. Months later, the Movement was able to recreate the message with a massive mural painted on the Pilsen Vintage and Thrift store. In response to the fate of the first mural, Delilah Martinez, who heads the Mural Movement, set up a Go Fund Me page that would go towards the creation of murals across the city of Chicago as well as beautifying neighborhood communities.
Where: On Pilsen Vintage and Thrift Store at 1430 West 18th Street, Chicago
The Black and Brown Unity Wall was by no means the only mural to go up as the country reckoned with racial injustice issues this year. A mural honoring the legacy of activist and revolutionary Fred Hampton was painted in Garfield Park by Bronx artist Andre Trenier in October.
It was painted over an original mural of the Illinois Black Panther Party chairman commissioned by Hampton’s son Fred Hampton Jr and the Chilean political hip hop duo Rebel Diaz back in 2010. Since the mural had deteriorated over the last decade, the same collaboration that organized the creation of the first Hampton mural 10 years ago felt it was the right time to breathe new life back into the iconic piece.
Fred Hampton was chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party and deputy chairman of the national Black Panther Party who was killed in an illegal FBI operation in 1967 at the age of 21. The mural faces westward, intentionally looking away from Downton to symbolize that Fred Hampton’s legacy belongs to the residents of West Side Chicago
Where: 2746 West Madison Street, Chicago
Just under the Brown Line tracks on Ashland and Roscoe lies one of Lakeview’s newest murals courtesy ofFelix Maldonado Jr. The Bears on Parade mural was funded by SSA 27 and is a tribute to Lakeview’s history as a Native American camp and migrant trail path for wildlife. The background colors were reportedly carefully chosen to represent the sky and water whilst the bears represent life and earth. Upon its unveiling, Felix Maldonado wrote “During turmoil, there are also triumphs.”
Where: 3409 North Ashland Avenue, Chicago
Talking of Bears, from a recent collaboration between the Chicago Truborn “anti” gallery and the Chicago Bears of the National Football League came this stunning new mural by Liz Flores. The Chicago painter’s work has popped up all across Illinois with the prismatic pieces using human forms an unmissable mark of her brilliant work.
This piece, in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, is said to represent the Bears’ connection to the fans, the community, and the city. “The mural features the Bears C in the middle with hands intertwining – a representation of Bears fans’ connection to the team” Liz Flores announced upon finishing the piece.
Where: 4637 North Clifton Avenue, Chicago
The New York-based Belarusian known as Key Detail created a phenomenal piece last year. The experienced artist has been around for years and an extensive portfolio that has been featured in books, magazines, and found on structures around Europe and the United States. His latest mural is an immediate classic. As a piece for Chicago’s Mural Festival, Titan Walls, Key Detail came out from New York City to cover the side of this Bucktown building with an incredible graphic mural. According to Titan Walls, “this wall has had ugly brown paint from the buff on it for over 10+ years. A tenant reached out about a mural and gave us the opportunity to add some beautiful artwork to the Bucktown neighborhood.”
Where: 1873 North Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago
The Malawian-born Chicago-based artist Oscar Joyo is recognized for his distinct electrifying portraiture with color and patterns that radiate outward. His latest mural is also his largest to date and it is another iconic Chicago street mural that can be found down in the B Line. The Turquoise Titan, like many of Joyo’s pieces, has each eye covered with an “X” creating an enigmatic and enchanting piece. Our gaze is averted from the windows of the subject and, like other Joyo artwork, there is something about it that we can never understand. In Oscar’s words, the message is that nobody can “colonize a vision.” This B Line masterpiece is as captivating and powerful as it is vibrant and dynamic.
Where: 426 N Peoria Street, Chicago
Up in Roger’s Park on Ravenswood and Farwell, there has been a phenomenal mural by Chicago-based artist Jennifer Cronin for over a decade. “In Dreams” was created by Cronin and artist Dan Bellini during the 2010 Mass Underpass Murals competition and is a must-see for mural hunters. Like much of her work this piece is an other-worldly mural of mesmerizing realism that pulls you in with its elegance and detail. According to Cronin, the piece resembles “the infinite capacity of the human mind and imagination to dream up something beautiful.”
Where: Ravenswood and Farwell, Chicago
The subject of this stunning mural by Nicole Salgar is Priya Shah – an artist, model, author, social entrepreneur, TEDx Speaker, and the founder of “The Simple Good.” As a non-profit organization The Simple Good runs programs that seek to bring positivity into communities through art and discussion while empowering youth to become change-makers and mindful leaders in the future. Nicole Salgar’s prismatic mural honors Priya Shah and the work she does for the local community.
Where: 401 North Racine, Chicago
Nestled within 30 shipping containers on a West Loop corner you will find Chicago’s unique Recess hideout, a cozy amalgamation of bars, food stands, and cabana houses within a 14,500 -square-foot space that holds the title of the largest patio in Chicago. Covering both the inside and outside of the shipping containers that define this snug sanctuary is an array of prismatic street art murals. If the truth be told there are many that could make the list, the fusion of plantlife, industrial canvases, and vibrant murals make for some fantastic views. The Colorful Crows piece that Czr Prz did for Titan Walls, however, is our pick of the bunch.
Where: 875 West Kinzie Street, Chicago.
Chris Devins’ Jennifer Hudson mural in Chatham honors one of Chicago’s most celebrated daughters. The successful and philanthropic actress and singer is, like Michelle Obama, today synonymous with our city. Devins’ work is known to focus on identity and “the role it plays in a neighborhood’s economic and social viability.” As an artist and urban planner, Devins takes part in local projects all over Chicago’s south side. The Hudson mural in Chatham is one of many shows of pride the neighborhood has for its most famous alumni.
Where: 79th and Evans in Chatham, Chicago
The newest mural on the list comes as part of a new range of murals at Pilsen Flats. Of all the new brilliant murals Mauricio Ramirez’ Sol Rise is, for us, the most breathtaking. Born in Illinois, Ramirez has painted dozens of colorful murals across the Midwest and the United States. His murals feature bold geometric shapes and colors with fragmented designs that often celebrate diversity and the intimacies of cultural characteristics within neighborhoods.
In Ramirez’s own words this mural is “visually, one BIPoC female individual is the central focus of the viewer, with a strong gaze. One looking off into the future – the imagined potential and beyond, and the other directly addressing the viewer as if to beckon an interaction – demanding both recognition and an emotional exchange. The woman, who is seemingly average, perhaps a sibling, neighbor, or teacher, are uplifted – elevated by not only her monumental scale, but by the halo surrounding her face.”
Curators and Producers: The Mural Movement
Where: 15th and Racine, Chicago
[Featured image Unsplash / @jkolpitcke]