Rogers Park’s Metra Murals

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Every time the UP North Metra line embankment crosses a street, there are two ready-made mural canvases in the form of the retaining walls under the bridges. And one of the more delightful outcomes of Rogers Park’s recent participatory budgeting has been the addition of some amazing and wonderful murals to the underpasses (though honestly, I might have given higher priority to a weekly power washing of the sidewalks, which are covered in pigeon droppings.)

I made a quick survey this evening of the murals in my neighborhood, most of which are less than two years old.

At Pratt, this work has just appeared within the last month, and is still in progress. The first photo shows it a week ago:
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Now its color palette has grown:
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Is it going to be 3D? I don’t know, but as a child of the 80s, I am pre-programmed to like this particular color palette.

The Pratt bridge itself bears some note. It is the only Metra bridge I know of that retains turn-of-the-century ornamentation:

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At Farwell, the northern underpass wall has a two-part mural by two different artists. West of the tracks, a surreal motor encounter, by Dan Bellini:

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On the east side, a similarly surreal scene by Jennifer Cronin:
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The two scenes are united as the road curves off onto a cliff overlooking the forest.
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Next up is my absolute favorite, at Morse, a colorful composition by Molly Zakrajsek and Ann Van Devender:
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Each of the large, simple figures is colored not by solid fields but by a delightful profusion of tiny colored figures:
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At Lunt, the Rogers Park Metra Station underpass is adorned with a themed pair of murals titled “Diverse Earth”.

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As underpass murals go, the Lunt Avenue one is getting on in age, and parts have been lost to recent concrete spalling.

At the other end of the Rogers Park station, a series of colored panels with cartoon Cubist faces, by Christopher Royal, decorates the Greenleaf underpass:
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On the other side of the same bridge, a stylized street scene by Zsofia Otvos:
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Last stop: the Rogers Avenue underpass. On the south side, an older and more traditional painting, without the strong-concept artistic styles of the more recent murals, seemingly done by school kids:
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On the north side,another strong-concept work – a series of colored panels, each with a slight pointer allowing the panel to be seen as a speech balloon spoken by a figure in the adjacent panel.

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At present, there are only three characters, so I improvised a couple more of my own.

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Is it incomplete? Are more figures coming? Or is it simply meant to evoke precisely this sort of interaction with the work?

All these works are somewhat ephemeral and transient. With luck, they may last five or ten years; however, they are doomed to a finite lifespan by both their medium and their setting. Paint fades and peels – but more than that, the concrete on which it sits spalls and crumbles.

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The bridges themselves won’t last forever, either – they’re a hundred years old, and their condition reflects that. These bridges are not part of Metra’s current bridge replacement plans (that project stops at Balmoral in Andersonville), but it’s a fair bet that once the current project is done (in 2018, according to plans), this batch will be on the table for replacement.

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