Artist Tia Etu has painted murals in Oak Park for over 25 years, and her most recent piece is at a newly constructed apartment building on North Avenue and Humphrey Avenue and is titled “The Birds, The Bees, Flowers, and The Trees.”
Some aspect of public art was built into the village approval process for this apartment project. Noah Properties, the developer, partnered with the Oak Park Area Arts Council – a non-profit aligned with the village government and which raises funds to support artists and arts organizations in Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park, said Executive Director Camille Wilson White. The arts council helped connect Etu and Noah Properties.
“This is probably the longest one I’ve done since it stretches from one end of the building to the other,” Etu said.
Etu said she painted her mural over two weeks, and for the first time she tried her hand at spray painting to complete the piece because it was a bigger than her others. She said it was a faster process, and it was the most fun project she’s done yet.
“I think it was the most fun project I did, because I did so many things differently,” she said.
Etu invited her student, who is also in her 60s, to help with the project for four days. Her student had been asking to join her on a project for a while, so for this mural she colored in everything Etu outlined the day prior.
Etu said after her student finished the solid color, she would comb over it to make sure it was as tight as she wanted inside the outline because her precise lines are her signature. She then added more color depth.
“I’m going back over that flower with some yellows and reds and things like that, that gives it its three dimensionality,” Etu said.
Noah Properties gave Etu complete freedom with the mural, she said. Originally, the drawing Noah selected pictured only flowers and the bee, but throughout the process Etu decided to add more characters such as birds, trees and insects.
“If you give me freedom, you’re really going to get my best piece,” Etu said.
White said there were three artists the arts council approached who had the capability and experience of painting large scale murals.
“That’s a talent in and of itself to do a really big project,” White said.
Once submissions were in, Noah loved what Etu said in her drawing for the mural and chose her.
Etu said she wanted the piece to be color therapy on the wall. Throughout the entire process children came by and watched, and they were fascinated by the mural, she said.
“I put the brightest, most beautiful colors on there, so that it would really make people feel happy when they came by and saw it,” Etu said.
With the location of the apartment in mind, Etu knows it can be loud, she said, with motorcycles and cars playing music across North Avenue, especially for tenants using their balcony. She said mental illness worries also plays a major part in lives today, and so she didn’t want the piece to be heavy or political – just something nice and calm to look at.
“I just want some beauty in the midst of chaos,” Etu said.