The 10-story mural of Muddy Waters on the Chicago high-rise at State and Washington by famed Brazilian muralist Kobra is hard to miss.
The mural, along with countless others throughout the city, were made possible with spray paint purchased in Oak Park.
The store, Momentum Art Technologies, Inc., has been open at 958 S. Oak Park Ave., for about three years, supplying the entire Midwest with high-quality paint at affordable prices, according to co-owner Hiram Villa.
He said Kobra comes to the store to purchase his paints a few days before the works of art go up.
Villa said he moved the store from a warehouse in Pilsen about three years ago, because of a Chicago ordinance from the early 1990s that forbids the sale of spray paint in the city.
"Oak Park has always been a very friendly location for us," Villa said during a recent tour of the store. "They accept things easier than other cities like our neighbor city, the bigger one – I don't want to mention them. They have a situation where they don't want aerosol being sold inside the city area, so we found that Oak Park was more accepting, more liberal."
Villa, who started out as a graffiti artist, said he also runs a mural business on the side, painting large murals for corporate clients like Adidas, Jack Daniels, FX Channel and the Brookfield Zoo, among many others.
"Because of our background when we started painting graffiti, we had to do everything kind of quick, so when we went legal and professional we still have that quickness when we paint," Villa said. "So we'll bring two or three guys in there and we're just like printers; we'll knock it out. We're not your regular muralists who go in there with a brush and take 30 hours to paint one little section."
Villa said cans of paint at Momentum sell for between $3 and $6, a price that makes it affordable for professional muralists but likely too expensive for graffiti artists.
"I always tell people that graffiti artists that are going to go out and write on something are not going to pay $5 a can. He's going to find the cheap stuff probably at Home Depot and pay a couple of dollars for it," Villa said.
"They're not going to spend $100 on a bunch of cans and then go write on someone's building. I don't think my clients do that."
He noted that the city considered softening its ban on spray-paint sales last year, but the proposal by Ald. Matthew O'Shea (19th Ward) and Ald. Ed Burke (14th), never went anywhere. That proposal would have created an age limit of 18 for purchasing and increased penalties for adults purchasing spray paint for minors.
Villa noted that the ordinance blocking spray-paint sales was passed prior to the era of online sales, which makes it easy for anyone to purchase the paint.
"In the early 90s, it made it a bit difficult for the graffiti artists that needed the paint. You would have to come out to a Home Depot or a Menard's, that type of place, and buy the paint," he said. "But when the internet came on in the 2000s when people started selling things on line, it made it easier and it wasn't as much of a problem anymore, so you were able to order it online and have it shipped to the city."
* This story was updated to correct information concerning a mural of Vivian Maier in Wicker Park.
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