Latinx artist transforms blank building walls into beautiful murals

CICERO, Ill. — Our celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month continues with a look at a modern-day Picasso.

Mauricio Ramirez designs work on a scale few artists are capable of. His vision always includes an amazing mix of color and geometric shapes and in many cases community participation plays a key role in making neighborhoods all over the country more beautiful.

Ramirez is good at seeing the big picture — quite literally. His murals transform the sides of buildings all over the country turning brick and concrete into canvas. And for him, the bigger canvas the better.

“A lot of people think the bigger you go, the harder it is,” he said. “For me, it’s easier because you can take each section detail by detail as you get closer to the mural.”

Ramirez grew up in Berwyn and Cicero. At 33 years old, he’s fast become one of Chicago’s most successful Latino muralists. 

A beautiful example of his work can be seen at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Pilsen — a mural of the Virgin of Guadalupe, 35 feet tall and about 20 feet wide. 

“I think it’s important to kind of mix these styles together to pay homage to the traditional image as well as focusing on the future,” he said.

He’s done murals all over the county. In Milwaukee, one called “Frontline Heroes” was completed in 2020. Also in Milwaukee, the city’s biggest sports star Giannis Antetokounmpo. He’s done murals in Portland, Ventura, California and one titled “Altogether” in the state of Vermont.

In his home studio in Cicero, Ramirez works on a canvas that will be one of five panels of a larger piece. He says a lot of planning has to go into his work to accommodate the space accurately. 

“Before I go and paint anything on the wall or canvasses, I already have it planned in my head, focus on the tightness of the work,” he said.

In many cases, he also has people in the local community come out and help spray paint, assigning different sections of the mural to people of all ages.

“Yeah, we have people from four to five years old to seniors? And they see your vision and get inspired? not every day they can throw some paint on the wall legally and call it their own,” he said.

He says he draws strength from the work ethic of the Latino community. 

“Coming from a Mexican background, I pride myself in that we have one of the hardest work ethics, you look at the labor force, construction sites for example. it shows how hard we’re willing to work for our families,” Ramirez said.

During winter months he’ll work on new designs and research new public art projects he can apply for. He says he hopes he’ll be designing murals the rest of his life. 

“You know it’s hard to find a space where you can actually paint a mural, so hopefully those things open up doors for future generations.

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