A sea of faces stares out of Matthew Jesiolowski's abstract mural at the Chicago Auto Recon Body Shop, 1358 W. Cermak Rd.
Some seem to stare at passers-by through thick eyelashes. The others stared through one eyeball. Some were smiling coyly, others were grinning toothy, and some were showing fangs as if they had come out of a nightmare.
“I've always enjoyed chaos,” says Jesiolowski.
He says he drew inspiration for the chaos from the late artist Jackson Pollock and inspiration for the line work from Shel Silverstein, the late, Chicago-born author and artist who children may know from his books of nursery rhymes.
“Good old Shel Silverstein ‘Light in the Attack' or ‘Where the Sidewalk Ends,' those books had an impact on me when I was a kid,” says Jesiolowski.
He uses contour drawing, a style Silverstein uses in the black-and-white sketches that fill the pages of his children's books. Jesiolowski says he takes it even further, doing “blind” contour drawing — creating an image without looking at a piece of paper.
“When I drive, I only have a small book,” he said. “I will not look at the book. I'd say, ‘I'm going to draw a hand,' and do it while I was driving and then look at it, and it was different, I like the abstraction.
The mural occupies four face-filled squares on the outer wall of the auto body shop.
This is his first mural and also his first time using spray paint in its entirety. He usually works on glass or canvas with acrylic paints.
“Approaching that first block I was a little anxious,” said Jesiolowski, 45, of Joliet.
While working on construction work after dropping out of college, Jesiolowski said he came across a “beautiful window” that was discarded by the crew. He took it home and reused it as a work of art.
The square mural images are similar to his signature style and are inspired by other works in Pilsen, though more abstract.
“Some of the street artists that are in town, it's amazing how lifelike they can be,” says Jesiolowski. “I'm not one of them. I don't strive for perfection. I'm definitely more abstract and contemporary.”
Jesiolowski said the mural's proximity to Benito Juarez High School and Little Village High Schools meant that children often stopped to stare at the art while he was working on it.
“That was neat because, with the school right down the street, there would be kids walking by, like, ‘What a cool guy,'” says Jesiolowski.
Anthony Vula owns the Chicago Auto Recon Body Shop, which has an internship program with the school. He said a friend told him that graffiti artists might be less likely to mark an already painted wall with a mural. So he sent feelers to the art community in Pilsen and put on events for artists, eventually connecting with Jesiolowski.
Says Vula, “We just told him what we think is most helpful for the community, and he finds what he comes up with, and we love it.”
He said, just as he worked with students interested in cars, he now allows artists to use his space to showcase their work and helps them connect with other business owners who may want to bring in an artist.
He saw parallels between restoring cars and creating works of art.
“We go through grueling 1,000-hour projects, sometimes 3,000 hours,” says Vula. “We see cars for their beauty. That's our creativity that went into that project.