Behold, The Ultimate Chicago Outdoor Mural Crawl

Museums are closed. A citywide art walk very much is not.

June 17, 2020 1:56 pm
The "Greetings from Chicago" is one of the city's most popular murals
The "Greetings from Chicago" is one of the city's most popular murals
Jay Gentile

Painted in 1967 at 43rd and Langley on Grand Boulevard, Chicago’s Wall of Respect is largely considered America’s first community mural project. While the Black Arts Movement classic is long gone, Chicago’s role as a leader in community-based street art has only grown stronger over the years — particularly in recent decades as new mural hotspots have emerged in neighborhoods like Logan Square and Rogers Park in addition to traditional street-art strongholds such as Pilsen and Humboldt Park.

Some murals depict serious themes like race relations and gun violence. Some pay homage to famous faces throughout Chicago history, from Robin Williams to Barack Obama. Others are just silly and fun to look at. While Pilsen remains a great place to start and is still considered the city’s most mural-centric neighborhood, you’ll find plenty of walls to explore wherever you are in the city.

While many Chicago museums hope to reopen to the public soon following months of virus-induced lockdown, you don’t have to be cooped up indoors to get a taste of the city’s vibrant arts scene. Take a self-guided walking tour around various neighborhoods and you’ll find some of the most visually stunning works that call the city home.

Here are a dozen of the best, starting from south to north. Whichever path you choose, you’re going to want to open up Instagram for this tour.

1. The Great Wall of Chicago

Sponsored by the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, this extensive 20×900 foot mural project was created in 2018 by South Side native and prolific Chicago muralist Rahmaan Statik. According to the artist, it depicts local community leaders and “images that represent love, self reflection, better mental health, and becoming your higher self.”

87th & Vincennes, Auburn Gresham

2. Hector Duarte Studio/Home

This massive 3,000-square-foot mural covering three sides of the Pilsen home and studio of Chicago artist Hector Duarte is one of Chicago’s most photographed murals. Known as Gulliver in Wonderland, the vibrant work is a personal commentary on immigration from the Mexico-born artist and an absolutely stunning sight to behold in person.

1900 W. Cullerton, Pilsen

Photo courtesy of Jay Gentile

3. Declaration of Immigration

Another of Chicago’s more well-known murals is also one of its most overtly political, leaving little room for interpretation. While its message seems tailor-made for the age of Trump, the two-story-high, 30-foot-wide piece was actually unveiled in 2009 as a collaboration between local artist Salvador Jimenez-Flores and students from the National Museum of Mexican American Art.

18th & Blue Island, Pilsen

Photo courtesy of Jay Gentile

4. Moose Bubblegum Bubble

Who says mural art needs to have a deep political message? Certainly not this lighthearted portrayal of a gum-chewing moose blowing a bubble on Columbia College’s South Loop campus, also known as the Wabash Arts Corridor. One of several more whimsical murals in the area, the work was created by Jacob Watts in 2014 during a student and alumni mural competition hosted by the college.

33 E. Congress, South Loop

Photo courtesy of Jay Gentile

5. Rushmore

This towering 100-foot mural covering the west side of the Chicago Cultural Center building depicts a whose-who of leading female Chicago cultural leaders who have made their mark over the years, including Oprah Winfrey, Gwendolyn Brooks, Maggie Daley and others. Painted by high-profile local contemporary artist Kerry James Marshall, the work was commissioned by the City of Chicago in 2017 as part of its “Year of Public Art.” 

78 E. Washington, Loop

Photo courtesy of Jay Gentile

6. The Bear Champ

If you’ve spent any time investigating murals in Chicago, you’ve likely stumbled upon one of J.C. Rivera’s many iconic images of “The Bear Champ,” which have popped up in various locations around the city. This large mural on the east side of Wicker Park’s Parlor Pizza Bar location depicts Rivera’s trademark yellow bear taking his boxing gloves off long enough to (naturally) take down a slice of pizza.

1824 W. Division, Wicker Park

Photo courtesy of Jay Gentile

7. Sea of Flags

One of a number of colorful nationalist-style murals lined along Humboldt Park’s main drag of Division Street, Sea of Flags was painted in 2004 by the late Chicago artist Gamaliel Ramirez. Depicting the neighborhood’s annual street festival Fiesta Boricua, the mural features a number of prominent figures from the Puerto Rican independence movement.

2500 W. Division, Humboldt Park

Photo courtesy of Jay Gentile

8. Robin Williams Mural

This gigantic mural painted on the side of Concord Music Hall depicts the face (from the nose up) of legendary actor and Chicago native Robin Williams, who passed away from suicide in 2014. Memorialized in 2018 by New York street artist Jerkface in collaboration with New Zealand-based artist Owen Dippie, the popular photo-op spot is surrounded by images of the Williams-voiced Genie character from Aladdin.

2047 N. Milwaukee Ave., Logan Square

Photo courtesy of Jay Gentile

9. Greetings From Chicago

One of more than 40 “postcard murals” dotted across the country, this welcoming mural was the first road piece unveiled by NYC muralist Victor Ving and photographer Lisa Beggs on their “Greetings Tour” across the America in 2015. It’s one of the most popular Instagram backdrops for wall chasers in the city, and it’s not hard to see why.

Milwaukee & Prindiville, Logan Square 

Photo courtesy of Jay Gentile

10. Quincy Jones Mural

This massive 30-foot-high, 40-foot-wide mural of South Side native and 87-year-old music industry legend Quincy Jones is located right next to the Greetings From Chicago mural, so it makes an easy 1-2 punch for those seeking a quick introduction to Chicago’s mural scene. The portrait was created in 2019 by traveling Argentinian street artist Cobre.

2226 N. Milwaukee, Logan Square

Photo courtesy of Jay Gentile

11. Community Leaders

As one section of a 13-panel mural depicting community leaders throughout Chicago history, this 2010 work created by Michelle Scott serves as an homage to Barack Obama launching his U.S. Senate campaign at a nearby restaurant (now defunct) in 2005. The mural is part of Rogers Park’s extensive “Mile of Murals” project, which runs along the CTA Red Line track on Glenwood Avenue from Estes Avenue to Pratt Boulevard.

Glenwood & Lunt, Rogers Park

Photo courtesy of Jay Gentile

12. Artists of the Wall

Members of the Rogers Park community replaced gang graffiti with their own works of art in 1993, and haven’t stopped since. Every year, the 600-foot seawall at Tobey Prinz Beach Park along the lakefront from Farwell to Morse is repainted by local artists and families during the annual Artists Off the Wall festival (postponed for 2020). With 160 different artist spaces, the color-coated seawall is heavy on good vibes and uplifting messaging.

Tobey Prinz Beach Park, Rogers Park

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