As a child, Felix Maldonado Jr. remembers being reprimanded for drawing on the walls. Now he is paid to decorate them with his murals.
Among his works: “Bears On Parade”, a mural in the 3400 block of North Ashland Avenue which he completed in October 2020 with the help of assistants Lisa Jones and Omar Marin after more than a year of delays due to nearby constructions and the coronavirus pandemic.
Maldonado, 50, of East Chicago, Indiana, was one of six artists chosen from 200 applicants to help beautify the “Low Line” – a small park and trail under CTA’s Paulina Street Brown Line L stop .
Maldonado – who sometimes works under the name “Flex” – says he chose bears for the nearly 1,300-square-foot-wide project in part as a nod to bears and Cubs, but also because that he sought to represent what the region was. like in pre-colonial times, when black bears could be found around Chicago.
But he made his bears red because he wanted to feature only the colors you’ll find on the Chicago city flag: blue, white, and red.
The spray painted mural was Maldonado’s first after the death of his mother Teresa Fuentes Maldonado from COVID-19, and he sees it as inextricably linked to his memory.
Maldonado remembers trying his hand at art for the first time when he was 5 years old. He liked to draw on the walls. He says his mother had another idea of what makes a suitable canvas and got him some art supplies, including a sketchbook.
After earning a degree in advertising from the American Academy of Art in Chicago, he worked for several years in the industry until he was laid off in 2001 – what he now calls a “miracle” because it brought him back to his true art.
“I had this God-given talent that I didn’t even use,” he says.
Over the next 20 years, Maldonado worked as a freelance artist, with exhibitions from San Francisco to Manhattan.
He also painted murals, including a towering Jackson 5 in their hometown of Gary – painted on a building that has since been demolished.
During the pandemic, Maldonado says he has stayed afloat financially by painting murals in offices and restaurants whose operators have used time during COVID-related shutdowns for renovations.
“While everyone was locked up, I was redecorating and renovating restaurants and corporate offices,” he says.
In addition to his mother, he says he has also lost an uncle and a cousin to COVID-19 and has fallen ill himself.
Maldonado says “Bears On Parade” is dedicated to his mother, who passed away in August 2020, not only because of the time of her death, but also because of the family spirit he tried to show between the cubs and the cubs. mothers.
Jones said she could see that working on the mural was “very emotional” for Maldonado because his mother had been his “biggest fan”.
“You can’t help but want somehow to bring that love and connection that you have for someone who is no longer here in the body,” Jones says.
Maldonado says the mural reminds him not only of his mother, but also of how far her art has come with her encouragement.
“When I finished I got so emotional,” he says. “I just knew I had to keep going. This fresco will always remind me of my mother.