In a year marked by societal upheaval and isolation, local artists CJ Williams and Kristianna Jacques sought to provide levity for the Rogers Park community through artwork.
Encompassing an exterior wall of Honeybear Cafe (7036 N. Clark St.), their mural, “Color Through Chaos,” is a vibrant landmark for locals. The eclectic mix of bold, spray-painted colors and designs stands as a representation of unity.
“After George Floyd was murdered and Chicago protests started, we were talking that next day and [Williams] was like, ‘I need to do something. Let’s go do something,’” Jacques, 31, said.
Earlier this year, the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by Minneapolis police, sparked protests across the nation against racial inequality and police brutality.
Having grown up on Chicago’s North Side, Williams said he wanted to bring positivity to his community, while also addressing the “Black Lives Matter” movement and general social unrest.
Completed over the summer, the mural incorporates many smaller designs into an interconnected piece. Loud, exuberant colors splash the densely packed mural, with meaningful words and phrases woven between the abstract design.
With the piece, Jacques wanted to send the message that “smaller pieces are integral to working together.” The mural’s use of abstract designs that coalesce into the grand piece signifies unity in society. The two decided to lean into boisterous colors, not despite the gloomy year, but in direct response to it.
“Everything is not black and white,” Williams, 37, said. “When we come together, we can create something beautiful. That’s the representation of the wall and I really think the people of the community have embraced that.”
After reaching out to 49th Ward Alderman Maria Hadden, the artists were connected with the Rogers Park Business Alliance and the Honeybear Cafe. With new ownership at the restaurant, Williams said the owners wanted the wall to pop.
The artists were commissioned to create a mural on the wall in concordance with the Vision Clark Street mission.
The design stems from a years-old sketch of Jacques’. The two “curated” this initial sketch, adding the key words and phrases to the design. Phrases including “Black Lives Matter” and “inspire” can be found interspersed through the wall as part of the mural’s social justice message.
The two artists said they have different styles that were unified to create the piece. Jacques said she has a looser style, contrasting Williams’ more precise artwork.
In addressing the social justice issues at the forefront of society, they decided to go for an inclusive approach in order to reach all the members of the community.
“I want to make it palatable for people,” Williams said. “I don’t want someone to look at my art and be like, “Oh, a Democrat did this, so I’m not looking at that. … Even if they don’t necessarily like the work, the message behind it can still be relatable to anybody.”
Williams, a professional breakdancer, said he’s graffitied many walls in the past, but none as grand as this project. Despite his passion for the craft, Williams often saw art as “secondary,” citing his blue-collar background ingraining the importance of having a steady, paying job.
Williams said work on the mural has boosted his confidence in his artistry, leading him to take on more projects as a result of the experience.
Jacques, a social worker, was new to the spray paint medium and the two long-time friends initially practiced on a local viaduct. This led to their work on “Color Through Chaos,” the duo’s first official artistic collaboration.
Jacques has lived in Rogers Park for three years and while art isn’t her full-time job, she said she keeps her passion alive by painting for at least 15 minutes a day.
After deciding against studying art, Jacques pursued a degree in psychology. She then moved to Chicago for graduate school, continuing to sow her passion for art on the side. In the last year, she took a post-grad program on sex therapy, which she said has influenced her paintings.
Williams said it was a “phenomenal” experience to be able to interact with the Rogers Park community amid many months of social isolation. Locals would provide chips and water, and a photographer even took their picture and brought them prints the next day, Jacques said.
The mural’s colorful palette was a hit with the community, Jacques said.
“Once we started adding the color, people’s faces would just light up,” Jacques said. “People would tell us, ‘It’s really nice to see something bright this year.’”
Inscribed within the mural are the names of the Honeybear Cafe’s owner Prudence Faklaris’ children as a tribute to the family. Faklaris couldn’t be reached for comment.
Not only are their names featured, but they snuck in the name of another resident. Jacques said a local pre-teen named Angel would frequently accompany the artists, even helping paint the finished product. The artists formed a bond with Angel, who was even inspired to paint his skateboard as a result.
Williams, who has a background in teaching, said the relationship he built with Angel was a highlight of his experience. He said he made a point to include him in the process to mentor him on helping others, hoping he retains more than “learning how to paint.”
“Who knows if little Angel will become an artist someday, but even if he doesn’t, maybe this experience will help him become a better person,” Williams said.
The artistic partnership between Jacques and Williams isn’t slowing down any time soon. They’re currently gearing up to start painting the back wall of the Honeybear Cafe and are committed to continued teamwork going forward.
“I’m open to any kind of art that’s coming into my life,” Jacques said. “I would love to do … social work part time or therapy part time, and art part time, so I can really get a chance to do both things that I love to do the most.”