Tia Etu is an artist from Oak Park, who works in many different media, including painted murals. She received her first Forest Park commission when the owner of 810 Beloit asked her to paint a mural on the alley side of his building. She is currently creating a striking 11-by-22-foot work titled “Imagine.”
The owner requested something colorful and fun, with movement. “Imagine” captures that vision. It depicts goldfish swimming through clouds. The joy in Tia’s work is in direct contrast to her troubled childhood.
She grew up in the South Side neighborhood of Chatham. It was a comfortable close-knit neighborhood, but her mother’s mental illness made Tia’s home life unstable. She attended the local Chicago Public School. She was an indifferent student, but teachers could see her potential.
They encouraged her to take art classes, join the yearbook staff and play in the band. Tia, however, continued to get into trouble. In seventh grade, she found herself in the principal’s office. She was asked to draw a picture of Mickey Mouse. When she displayed it on the bulletin board, her drawing drew great praise. “I’ve been creating art and staying out of trouble ever since,” she said.
Etu’s teachers not only mentored her, one of them secured a scholarship for her to attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). She was there for three years before taking time off to see the masterpieces she had been studying. She spent six months in Europe visiting Paris and London.
After returning from Europe, she gave birth to her son, Skylar. She then landed a job as a loader at UPS. It was not only hard work, but dangerous. Tia lost a finger on her right hand but, thankfully, it did not hamper her artwork.
She completed her degree at SAIC and switched from loading trucks to teaching art classes and selling artwork. Etu was among the first artists to occupy a live-work place in the Oak Park Arts District on Harrison St. She has operated galleries in the district for 32 years. Her business is called Whatever Comes to Mind Studio, 27 Harrison Street.
Her studio displays paintings, drawings and jewelry. She also paints indoor and outdoor murals, including seven in Oak Park. Many of her murals “strive to capture social inequities in powerful and unique ways,” she said.
Etu has also participated in the Oak Park Sculpture Walk and worked with teens on art projects through the summer teen program at the Oak Park Public Library. Those completed projects can be seen on the wall of the teen study room at the Main Library, 834 Lake St., and outside the Dole branch – a large peace sign mosaic sculpture stands outside the side entrance at 255 Augusta St.
Etu has retained her adventurous spirit, traveling around the country and tooling through the city on her motorcycle. Her adventures over the years include teaching art in some of Chicago’s most impoverished neighborhoods. Many of the students are lost, like she was. She has a heart for her students and knows how to motivate them.
She recruited Skylar’s best friend, Ed Palasz, of Melrose Park, to help on “Imagine.” Ed is a house painter by trade, so he is handy with a brush. Tia hopes the work might lead to more commissions. She also hopes to own a warehouse, where she can install workstations for every kind of art she practices.