Teresa Parod knows how to make an ugly place into something beautiful. An artist and art history teacher at Oakton Community College, she is passionate about the transformative power of public art and has helped bring the magic of color to the squalor of poor neighborhoods in Havana and New Orleans.
Recently, she turned her talents to the alley behind her Evanston home.
This summer, she made the garage doors on the alley in the 2300 block of Thayer (between Thayer and Isabella streets) her canvases. When her neighbors saw how her first mural lit up the nondescript alley, they began asking Ms. Parod to paint their garages, too.
The enthusiasm was contagious. Eight garages now pulse with the lively scenes and vibrant colors that are Ms. Parod’s signature. They are testaments to her belief that public art should always be positive.
She began with a portrait of her house. “I thought it would be fun to have the front of the house on the garage,” she says. In a palette more vivid than authentic, she painted a fairy-tale dwelling – pink trees framing a cozy home, its windows aglow, set against a star-spangled sky.
Each commission begins with Ms. Parod’s asking what the client has in mind. She sends them to her website, teresaparod.com, for ideas. Then she makes two or more sketches, refining their wishes with her artistic sensibility. Sometimes, she says, she just goes with her own imagination. One door takes between two and 10 days to complete, depending on factors like the weather and whether she is working alone. Her niece, also an artist, frequently joins her.
Ms. Parod says when she paints someone’s garage door, she is conscious of “coming into [that person’s] space” and is wary of bringing to it anything negative. Her work is cheerful and uplifting. For the family who wanted flowers, Ms. Parod painted giant “Sunflowers” against a cobalt blue sky. In “Bali,” a tree with a blue trunk and arm-like pink branches reaches toward the mural’s edge. On another door, three cheerful purple “Elephants” gambol along a rose-colored path. And in “Trianon,” pastel tables and chairs sit helter-skelter beneath the arches of a remembered Egyptian café.
With cold weather looming, Ms. Parod moved on to a nearby alley to create one more mural before calling it quits for the season. A friend of her now-grown daughter used to tell Ms. Parod that she had a carnival in her bedroom at night. The dazzling “My Yard is Magical at Midnight” is the artist’s rendering of that childhood fantasy.
While Ms. Parod is wielding a paintbrush, her husband, Bill, is fingering his computer keyboard, creating an Augmented Reality Mobile app that brings her murals to life. When the app recognizes the café in “Trianon,” for instance, the café floor, set with virtual tables and chairs, extends out toward the viewer, and the room appears three-dimensional. With just a click, a parrot squawks and then, joined by others, swoops and glides in and out of the café. This is Mr. Parod’s work in progress – animating his wife’s art.
Ms. Parod is accustomed to making public art on a budget. She likes the fact that she can use latex house paint on the garages. “It is much cheaper than oil paint,” she says, which facilitates the broad strokes and generous size of the murals. She charges for materials only.
Having come to a project with donated and recycled materials and little preparation, Ms. Parod has learned the value of flexibility. She went to Cuba knowing little about the plan, carrying 300 pounds of tiles donated just days before her journey. There she joined the crew at work on Jose Fuster’s huge mosaic wall, which she says has already transformed a dilapidated Havana neighborhood.
Now Mr. Fuster is aiming to stretch the wall to a Guinness record length. In New Orleans, Ms. Parod worked with people with disabilities on a mural studded with discarded Mardi Gras beads. She plans to return.
For now, she is working closer to home, filling her front yard with symbols of Mexico’s Day of the Dead. She painted colorful skulls on screens recovered from the Rebuilding Warehouse and cut, folded and painted plastic milk jugs to create flowers.
She recalls her favorite Halloween compliment. As two trick-or-treaters approached, one said, “This is one of the best houses.” The other said, “No, this is the best house.”
For the second year, the Parods will be greeting people drawn to their home at 2319 Thayer St. by the Parod’s Day of the Dead display. Between the hours of 3 and 6 on Nov. 2, the artist and her husband are looking forward to one of the returns on public art – meeting the people who stop to admire it.