An artist at work

  • Medill News Service
  • July 25, 2006 @ 1:59 AM
Jeff Zimmermann painted a giant Ring Pop on a wall in the Museum of Contemporary Art on Tuesday, but nobody tried to stop him.

A Chicago artist, Zimmermann, 36, was commissioned to paint a mural outside the MCA's theater at 220 E. Chicago Ave. as a summer artist-in-residence.

Zimmermann said he started painting last week and had put in about 30 hours of work so far. His unfinished mural, with the working title of "Thinking Out Loud," should be done by Aug. 4, when it will be officially unveiled at the museum's "First Fridays" party.

"Prospecting" is how Zimmermann describes his creative process. "I always work with what's going on around me."

Before he begins painting a mural, he get ideas by talking to the people who live nearby. As a result, many of his works include portraits of people he met while working on the art. So far, "Thinking Out Loud" includes the faces of two girls from the MCA's summer arts camp for children ages 6 to 12.

The Ring Pop idea also came from arts camp kids, Zimmermann said. A boy whose tongue, lips, hands and face were stained blue came up to Zimmermann flashing his plastic-and-candy jewelry as if it were real. Zimmermann described the Ring Pop as "starter bling," and added it to his mural.

He has been bouncing ideas off the MCA's roughly 300 art campers and found them to be very receptive. "There's so many of them and they're so excited," Zimmermann said.

Though his most well-known works are large-scale wall murals, Zimmermann dislikes the label of muralist. "Murals are rainbows and smiley faces and multicultural hands in a circle. I almost hate being called a muralist. I don't use that vocabulary. I paint on walls." He describes his own work as "pop art -- or popped art."

Zimmermann's paintings, such as "Tesoro Hundido" (Buried Treasure), across from the National Stadium in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and "The Next One," at 7173 W. Cermak Road in Berwyn, feature realistic representations of people and objects. The artist often works from photographs he takes of the people and, in this case, Ring Pops that he portrays.

Zimmermann said he would be working on the MCA painting on mostly Mondays and Tuesdays until Aug. 4. He and the mural-in-process are open to the public on the ground floor of the museum, just outside the MCA Theater entrance.

Zimmermann is also starting work this week on another mural in the Little Village neighborhood, at the Taqueria El Milagro restaurant at 26th Street and Albany Avenue.