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Four new murals are brightening our fair city, and the first was completed in early July at 1815 Norwood Court.
I had never heard of Norwood Court, but it is the short, dead-end street along the west side of the tracks, the one that runs from Lyons to Clark Street, accessible by turning east off Ridge Avenue on Clark Street or coming from the south via Oak Avenue.
The mural, titled Live Inspired, is by artist Molly Z, her mural moniker. (It’s Molly Zakrajsek, really.)
The composition is one of abstract shapes in bright colors – the only distraction is a huge, bright-red Coke Studio billboard behind the utility wires above the mural. (Who put that there, anyway?) The mural was financed by Trulee Co.
Trulee Evanston is the new senior living building that looks out on the Norwood Court mural. Like several other close-to-the-tracks residential buildings, a mural definitely does brighten the residents’ view.
Molly Z has another mural in Evanston, at the north side of the Grove Street viaduct at Elmwood Avenue called Fluent Foundations. The title is a sly reference to the efflorescence coming through viaduct walls all over the city. That mural was painted in 2019 with the help of teens from the Evanston Township High School Fine Arts department.
The Custer Oasis, the area around Custer Street, is getting a bright, new wrap-around-the-Metra-embankment mural. Financed by the Main-Dempster Mile, the mural starts under the viaduct on Main Street and moves around to the west, traveling up the exit ramp and ending about where the trees begin.
The artist, Brett Whitacre, lives in Rockford but has murals all over Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison, Rockford and 11 in Norwalk, Conn., where he was hired to enliven a “dying” shopping mall.
Here in Evanston, he is working with a college intern, also from Rockford, who needs 200 hours of “art-related anything“ this summer. Whitacre is even working at night, by the light of a large street lamp on Custer Street.
Whitacre says “I do stuff that’s likable. I’m not too deep – I want the majority of people to like my murals.”
He is accomplished with spray paint and uses an imported acrylic that is archival and high in pigment content. The paint is made in Barcelona, Spain, but is called Montana, of all things. He tapes his shapes before spraying them, in the manner of a stencil. A delightful flower garden alongside the mural has been planted by the Main-Dempster Mile.
Artist Max Sansing is painting a large mural in the Metra turnaround north of Davis Street. It has no name yet, but its theme came to him as he experienced, read and thought about the challenging last two years and about how many people have turned to nature to ease their anxieties. He researched plants native to Evanston and the painted plants will extend all the way to the bottom end of the Metra staircase. Downtown Evanston Is financing the mural.
Sansing started by painting graffiti murals with friends. Then he attended the American Academy of Art in Chicago. He’s been painting murals for more than 20 years, has worked with the Chicago Mural Arts Project and has traveled to Sweden, the Middle East and Puerto Rico to paint them. He says people there know him when he arrives, and that’s exciting for him.
His sketch was not projected onto the wall, a common way of laying out a mural (at night, of course). To enlarge the heads to such a huge size, Sansing uses a unique system of landmarks rather than a grid. He says it takes a lot of planning.
There will be a UV coating on the mural when it is finished, he told me, which helps sustain colors over time. Reds in particular can fade from the sun, he explained.
Sansing uses the same spray paints that Whitacre uses, although his Montanas are made in Germany, he says. He loves doing murals as “the artist has the advantage of doing something lasting.” And this one will last longer than usual as this is not a retaining wall with a potential effluence problem.
The Evanston Mural Arts Project (EMAP) is the brainchild of Evanston artists Lea Pinsky and Dustin Harris. They began painting murals together in 2005, forming a collaboration called Mix Masters.
As such, they led many large-scale mural projects around Chicago. They also managed the “Mile of Murals” in Rogers Park for seven years, along the CTA Red Line track from Estes Avenue to Pratt Boulevard.
In 2017, Pinsky and Harris created EMAP to beautify spaces in Evanston with murals. They have organized murals here for both commercial and private purposes – finding funding, sourcing artists and volunteers (sometimes even painting themselves) and supervising logistics such as legal permissions (often difficult to get, from Metra and CTA, but “not this time,” says Pinsky.) They also handle coordination with the community, traffic barricades and Arts Council communication.
Recently, EMAP became affiliated with Art Encounter, a 44-year-old organization founded by three Evanston artists of which Pinsky is now executive director. Art Encounter is a nonprofit dedicated to educating, empowering and connecting people through interactive encounters with visual art. They run events, studio visits, walks, tours and travel programs.
A new mural just went up on the east wall of the building housing Curt’s Café on Central Street, next to Swan Lake Cleaners on the corner of Lincolnwood Drive. The artist was Beverly Sholo, a mixed-media artist and experienced muralist living north of Chicago. The design is abstract, drawing inspiration from workshops with Curt’s students who expressed an interest in a surreal design that had the feeling of dreaming and journeying. Sholo recently completed an interior mural project at the Curt’s Café in Highland Park.
It is a pleasure to see new artwork going up in Evanston. It certainly has been a while.