Chicago murals: Architect’s Lake View East, Wicker Park works feature imagery unique to neighborhoods

By day, Lisa Wronski is an architect who designs affordable housing for a Chicago firm.

After work, she says, her artsy side comes out. She’s finishing her second public mural, this one in Lake View East after brightening the side of the Walgreens on Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park last year. She also can be found sketching outside Cubs games and painting house portraits, among other endeavors.

“I’ve always tried to find this balance between the right brain and left brain, and balance both architecture and art,” Wronski says. “My job is architecture, and then at night I find ways to let loose and be a bit more creative.”

Her latest project spans a building’s length in the 3100 block of North Broadway, just south of Belmont Avenue, where a two-story building was torn down to make way for a new, mixed-use development. The plywood wall erected to block the demolition and the dust was an eyesore and ripe for tagging, Wronski says. So a local business owner invited her to cover it with a mural.

“This street is very active, in the summer especially,” Wronski says. This month alone it will close to car traffic on separate weekends for a restaurant dine-out event and Chicago’s Pride parade. It also sees a lot of foot traffic.

“I want a way to make this more beautiful for the next year. Which in the grand scheme isn’t super long, but it’s going to be a thing people walk by every day,” she says.

Wronski, 32, lives in Lake View East and chose images unique to the neighborhood: sailboats, to represent Lake Michigan views; a graystone apartment building; and balloons carrying wine bottles as a nod to neighboring business BottlesUp!

Wronski painted her first mural during the pandemic, she says, when a local brick manufacturer she knew from her work asked if she would brighten one of the company’s walls.

From there she won a competition to paint the Wicker Park mural, which was sponsored through a neighborhood community group and the Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber of Commerce.

Shifting from architecture to murals has had its surprises, Wronski says. “They’re very different mediums. I went into it a little bit naive.”

She learned how to rent a scissor lift to paint 20 feet in the air. And she realized she feels “a little bit vulnerable” as passersby see her work evolve from start to finish.

“When things are half baked, I want to be like, ‘Don’t look yet.’ But it’s kind of a unique thing, that challenge to open up and show people and be OK with the fact that someone’s going to see the in-progress rather than just the perfect end product.”

Wronski’s Wicker Park mural also showcases the architecture of the neighborhood, along with its bicycles, pizza slices, the L sign for the Division stop, newspaper boxes and fluttering parking tickets.

Both murals showcase black-eyed Susans, the native flower ubiquitous to Chicago.

“It’s fun to meet with people, and people have a good response when they know there’s a blank wall in their neighborhood that gets tagged or is not great to look at,” Wronski says of painting murals. “It’s a lot of good energy and positivity.”

Chicago artist Laura Junge says she was taking a lighthearted approach to make a serious point that people need to do a better job protecting the planet.

Jerry Rugg’s public art begs to be looked at. But the artist who goes by ‘birdO’ prefers anonymity, allowing himself to be photographed only in a bird helmet to hide his face.

The Roscoe Village artist thought there should be more images of children of color and finds satisfaction “watching people come by and being, like, ‘That’s me.’ ”

As a child, Louise ‘Ouizi’ Jones learned to paint flowers using watercolors. Now, she paints murals filled with her signature giant bouquets around Chicago.

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