Evanston’s DIY murals, or what is DIY?
In the arts, DIY is the construction or creation of a work from a wide array of available things, or a work constructed using mixed media.. DIY is often seen as a hallmark postmodern artistic practice. It has been compared to the concept of conservation and has also been described as the remixing, reconstruction, and reuse of separate materials or artifacts to produce new meanings and ideas.
Anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss coined this word in French in 1960, deriving it from the verb “tinker” which means “tinker”. who does DIY is therefore a DIY enthusiast.
I suspect it’s somehow related to the term bric-a-brac, first used in the Victorian era, referring to lesser objects of art forming collections of curiosities, such as richly decorated tea cups and small vases, etc. This term, to go back even further, still comes from French, from the middle of the 19th century, âÃ bric et Ã bracâ, meaning âat randomâ.
In the 1980s, Julian Schnabel, an American painter and filmmaker, gained international media attention for his âplate paintingsâ using broken ceramic plates laid on his large-scale canvases. Still, they weren’t called DIY and they were definitely not a joke although some thought so at the time. (The exploration of different types of surfaces is central to Schnabel’s work.)
The DIY technique has been used successfully in wall paintings for centuries, as tiles and chunks of other ceramic materials can create an indestructible surface. The town of Evanston has three DIY murals. The first, and oldest, is on the west wall of the Main Street Metra Embankment. There, crafts are combined with paint and paper in the form of poster-like paintings.
Main street metro
This mural dates from 2009 and has a somewhat unsightly title: âArt opens up horizons: nature, culture, diversity. ” The artist / handyman in charge of this project was Sonata Kazimieraitiene, a Chicago artist of Lithuanian descent and professional muralist who was commissioned by the Evanston Open Studio Project to design and install this mural.
The mission of Open Studio Project (OSP), a non-profit organization since 1993 (and in Evanston since 2000) is to provide a welcoming environment to create art for personal growth, social and emotional learning and the well-being of the community. OSP is located at 903 Sherman Ave., where it offers classes and gallery space, Gallery 901. OSP also recently started classes in a new modern studio space at the city’s new Robert Crown Center.
Kazimieraitieine came to the Main Street Mural through the Chicago Public Art Group (CPAG), a non-profit organization bringing together âartists and communities to produce high quality public art,â an organization with a record of many successes around Chicago and its suburbs.
The subject of the tiled portion of the Main Street mural is an Evanston map, beautifully outlined with hand-made square tiles suggesting individual blocks of buildings. The blue tiles represent Lake Michigan, and mirror fragments form the water for the sanitary canal along McCormick Boulevard.
The project was funded by the Evanston Public Art Program at a time when it was much more active and better funded than it is today. OSP and CPAG were the lead organizations for the project, providing project managers, Sarah Laing, also an artist, and Brenda Vega from CPAG.
Participants who worked on the ceramic tiles were from Connections for the Homeless, District 65 21st Century Program, Main Street Merchants Association, Open Studio, PEER Services, Willpower, and Youth Organizations Umbrella (YOU) . At least 30 other people participated in the preparation of the mural, the paintings and the installation.
The painted portion of the mural was repaired once, at city expense, as efflorescence is a persistent problem on the retaining walls. Note that it is the responsibility of the Evanston Arts Council to maintain the city’s public art, especially city commissioned works of art. And note that efflorescence is already an issue on this mural again.
After the Main Street mural was completed, Kazimieraitiene and Laing teamed up to create a work in Chicago’s former Bowmanville neighborhood of Laing. There, they created a mural on a pedestrian underpass under the Metra near Andersonville.
The two larger and very impressive Evanston murals do not belong to the town of Evanston but, instead, to School District 65 and Lincoln School, as they adorn two exterior walls of the school at 910 Forest Ave.
The two large triptychs were planned with a major architectural renovation of the school in 2011. Laing, who is an artist-activist, art therapist and parent of a Lincoln School student, suggested filling in the old round windows at the exterior with crafts. murals.
Eduardo Blanc of TMP Architecture, the company chosen for the renovation, supported Laing’s idea and, when contacted, Kazimieraitiene was also enthusiastic. Laing campaigned for the project and won the combined financial support of the Lincoln School PTA, the 65 Foundation, and the Illinois Arts Council through grants.
Laing and Kazimieraitiene also designed and directed the creation of the Lincoln School tiled amphitheater bench. The renovation construction team had accidentally removed the Warren Cherry Memorial tree, so the district needed to redesign the garden. Laing argued for the bench as part of the redesign. The tiles were created at various festivals at Lincoln School from 2013 to 2015. Festival tile sales helped raise funds for larger projects.
On the east wall of Lincoln School, facing Forest Avenue and to the left of the main entrance is the first mural, “Lakescape, ” a superb DIY triptych (a three-panel mural) that tells the story of Lake Michigan, from its origins to the present day, and in all weather.
On the south side of Lincoln School there is another beautiful triptych titled “Biodiversity” and done in a mandala format.. This fresco celebrates (from left to right) flora and fauna, human diversity, outer space and oceanic. (There is a tree-like bush growing in front of the center of the mural. I hope it will be removed before it gets bigger and obscures the mural even more.)
Again, artist Kazimieraitiene was the main handyman on these two projects. Well-known Chicago artist Corinne Peterson was called in to help when the premiere was sidelined with a wrist injury.
According to Laing, after-school fresco clubs were very productive at the time. It can certainly be seen from the two triptychs, the amphitheater and the smaller concrete benches outside, all dating from the same period.
Laing and Peterson worked on the arrangement of the murals in Laing’s basement. ETHS students helped out there and at school as part of their graduate class. The murals were even kept in the nearby garage of Laing’s in-laws for a while. And with the help of Amanda Taggart, an art teacher at Lincoln School, Lincoln students and their families were also involved in the creation and assembly of the murals.
Each year of Lincoln School contributed a different part of each section of “Biodiversity” during the 2014-15 school year. Close examination reveals pieces of stone, stained glass and porcelain in addition to the mosaic and the mirror.
âThe murals took a long time, three years actually, due to various weather issues, Sonata’s injury, and fundraising needed,â Laing said. The time and thought required is evident to a viewer standing in front of these works of art.
A dedication and celebration took place on October 1, 2015, after all the murals were completed.
There was drum music with audience participation by Soul Creations. Members of the Lincoln School community attended, along with all of the artists and administrators. (I hope the Evanston Arts Council and in particular the Public Art Committee have also been invited.)
âMy favorite part of the murals was working with the kids in art classes and the kids in our after-school mural club, who really worked on it,â admits Laing, who is now the CEO of OSP. .
âWe had a great time integrating cultures at Lincoln. One mom gave the kids a talk on Diwali, another mom, an archaeologist, gave a talk on the history of murals and the kids learned all about international architecture, the local ecosystem. It was quite an experience of artistic integration.
Lincoln School’s DIY murals are worth a visit. They are not only beautiful from a distance, but also up close. They are both fascinating and rewarding to study.
Hopefully more remarkable and participatory works of art like this can be planned and consolidated in the buildings and sites of Evanston. The Lincoln School and its leaders have set the bar high for the rest of us.