Vibrant murals abound on Milwaukee Avenue. They range from the material and Instagram-able (looking at you, “Greetings from Chicago” mural) to the metaphorical and mystical. Some cycle in and out with the season and others have become neighborhood fixtures. In many ways, the murals reflect the ever-changing landscape of the neighborhood itself, serving as the connective tissue between trendy new restaurants and small businesses around long enough to be declared institutions.
One of the neighborhood’s newest murals is a surreal and severe depiction of a whale that adorns the brewing incubator and coffee shop Pilot Project. The whale is as imaginative as it is massive, with a sunset pink underbelly, feathery flames coming out of its flippers, and a foreboding black background. The mural is at once majestic and experimental, and it’s also the quintessential example of Logan Square murals: it links together the old and the new, the hip and the sincere, the original and the legacy.
It’s the creation of the Chicago-based artist Czr Prz, whose work reaches across the country and world—and who is also a Logan Square native who has painted in the community before. Prz, whose real name is Caezar Perez, grew up in Logan Square and the Western suburb of Stone Park and says the local culture present during his childhood influenced his worldview and style as an artist.
He now lives in Pilsen and co-founded Ava Grey Designs in 2013, a creative agency and production house. A multi-faceted artist, Prz also creates paintings, fabrication work, digital illustrations, and sculptures—including a multi-layered acrylic plexiglass sculpture style that he says not many artists do at his capacity.
Prz, who has work inside Concord Music Hall you’ve probably seen, returned to Logan Square to create the whale mural during a weeklong span in October (accompanied by horrific, Chicago-style weather). He shared his experience working on the Pilot Project mural, his artistic style and his purview as an artist with LoganSquarist. The interview below has been edited for clarity and brevity.
LoganSquarist: How did growing up in the Logan Square area affect your view as an artist?
Prz: [Growing up] in Logan Square, there were a lot of Latinx people. I’m half Cuban, so there were a lot of people my same national personality group. If you look at a lot of my work, it’s very much that—it has this Caribbean/Latin feel to it. Back in the day, that whole area was Cuban, Colombian, Puerto Rican.
With neighborhood changes, did your view change when you came back to paint this mural?
Yeah, it’s changed a bit. A lot of my own signature style still shows in the piece and it doesn’t necessarily take it away from anything that I was doing before—it’s not as though it was different from what I normally do. It coincides with a lot of nature, a lot of mysticism that I try to portray in my work.
When did your career as an artist begin?
When I was 18 years old, I first started working in the arts. From that point on, that’s all I’ve ever really done. I’ve had some odd jobs here and there, working construction and whatnot. But for the most part, I’d say about 80 percent of my adult life was [spent working] in art.
I saw on your website you’ve done pieces all over the world. What are a few of your favorite international projects you’ve worked on?
One of them is a wraparound mural in Carrara, Italy, the place where marble is from. And then in Germany it was mainly painting Meeting Of Styles in Weisbaden, which is a big street art event. I had to stop traveling for a while; I had gotten cancer so I wasn’t able to do much. Since then, I’ve built up my own art and then my partner and I started our own agency so we really needed to buckle down.
How would you describe your signature style?
It’s a combination of things. I like to say it’s a combination of illustrative, graphic novel, with some parts of impressionism and surrealism. A lot of my work stems from comic books and anime, but, at the same time, keeping my look where it’s not forced into the same area.
Are there any comic books in particular that have been a source of inspiration?
Not necessarily comic books, but artists… Ashley Wood is probably one of the biggest ones. So was Jamie Hewlett, the guy who founded the Gorillaz.
What was the inspiration behind the mural at Pilot Project?
The people at Pilot [Project] really liked what I did for the Pow Wow Worcester in Massachusetts. It was a big huge enormous wall so I was like, “This would look good if it was a big huge enormous animal” and I figured a whale would look really cool.
Do you have any future plans for murals in the Logan Square area?
I’m hoping so. I’m trying to get more out there. Right now there’s nothing available, but I’m hoping more people see this [mural] and want my work around there. For people walking down the street and seeing your mural for the first time. I want it to have a positive impact. I would really like for it to captivate people—for people to see the depth of it, to go in there and check out the detail work.
Featured photo: Ariel Parrella-Aureli