I have been sidetracked recently by changes in my professional life. To celebrate those changes and the fact that I’m finally back to blogging, I am sharing my one and only mural find in Oak Park, a suburb directly west of Chicago.
Compass Rose was painted by one of my favorite muralists, Hector Duarte, in 2007 and covers part of the viaduct at Lake and Ridgeland. I went to find it this spring with my friends A and S — and S turned out to have quite a talent for mural interpretation.
In the center of the mural, four figures point in different directions forming the compass rose of the title. A map of the Americas stretches behind them with footprints migrating across the land.
If you look closely at the blue figure, you can see that s/he is grasping a child who is struggling to swim.
Duarte’s work often considers themes of identity and immigration. But I was surprised to find this mural in Oak Park which, as far as I know, is not home to a large Latino community. I’m looking forward to asking around in Oak Park and learning how the mural came to be.
On Memorial Day weekend, I went down to the Back of the Yards neighborhood in Chicago for the first time. The area takes its name from the infamous Chicago Stockyards that used to be located just a short distance to the east. The neighborhood was immortalized by Uptown Sinclair in The Jungle. Back of the Yards is still a mix of industrial and residential areas, now predominantly Mexican-American. It is also home to the enormous Swap-O-Rama flea market at 42nd and Ashland.
Between 1993-1994 Hector Duarte and Mariah de Forest created Lotería, a 425-foot mural on the side of the Swap-O-Rama building. The mural depicts game cards from lotería, a Mexican game similar to bingo. The pictures on the game cards have become Mexican cultural icons.
You might recall from an earlier post that Hector Duarte trained in David Alfaro Siqueiros’ workshop in Cuernavaca. Lotería reflects Siqueiors’ influence in its three dimensional feeling and the way the architectural features of the building are incorporated into the mural.
I’m so glad I finally made it down to Back of the Yards to see this mural on a day when the parking lot wasn’t filled with the flea market. It took my breath away. I think Duarte is becoming my favorite Chicago muralist.
After that trip to Mexico City, I started spending time in Pilsen hunting for murals. I had lived in Chicago for about a year at that point and had stumbled across a few. But in 2006 I began to actively explore the tradition of murals in Pilsen (and neighboring Little Village) which had arisen directly from Mexican muralism.
One of the big names that bridges mural work in Mexico and Chicago is Hector Duarte. You can’t miss his studio at Cullerton and Wolcott:
The 2005 mural is entitled “Gulliver en el pais de las Maravillas” / “Gulliver in Wonderland” and shows a giant human figure stretched out (across the border?) and tied down with barbed wire a la Jonathan Swift.
Duarte was born in Michoacán in 1952 and studied mural painting at David Alfaro Siqueiros’ workshop in 1977. He moved to Chicago in 1985. He has painted more than 50 murals around Chicagoland, including commissions for the Chicago Transit Authority and work at the Ashland Swap-O-Rama that stretches more than 400 feet in length. From Duarte’s artist statement on the Chicago Public Art Group website: “I prefer murals because more people are able to enjoy my work; I am not painting for the privileged or for museums.”
I also really like what’s left of “Alto al desplazamiento urbano en Pilsen” / “Stop the gentrification of Pilsen” at 18th and Bishop:
Duarte teamed up with other members of Taller Mestizarte to created this mural in 1997. Photos of the intact mural show people organizing and marching to protect their neighborhood, with a huge United Farm Workers eagle behind them. The face that still peers out of the crumbling piece is Emiliano Zapata, the Mexican revolutionary.