“A beautiful painting is beautiful to look at,” says Chicago artist Sergio Maciel.
“But I don’t want to just create a beautiful painting,” says Maciel, who completed his latest mural, titled “Ice Cream Break,” in August at 2100 W. Cermak Rd. in Pilsen. “I want to create something with a powerful message that can start a conversation.”
Maciel, 40, was born and raised on the Northwest Side and after leaving the company to pursue an arts degree, he retired in 2018 and eventually met Sam Kirk, creative director at agency Provoke Culture. Maciel worked with Provoke Culture on the four Chicago murals he did.
Kirk says she tries to help artists “how to tell the story and what to include,” but leaves it up to them to develop the design to “present their style.”
Maciel says growing up in Chicago sparked his interest in looking at the “differences between people and the similarities between them.”
His latest work’s title, “Ice Cream Break,” plays with hip-hop dance and an actual break for a frozen treat.
According to Dre Rodriguez, founder and CEO, Maciel painted it for the nonprofit Luv City, which provides digital media and film production programs and mentorship for at-risk youth.
Maciel says he asked the kids there, “What influences you? What does your neighborhood represent?”
From this he came up with the use of masks to convey the diversity of Pilsen.
“It’s a really powerful way of celebrating culture,” says Kirk, who is also a board member of Luv City.
One child in the mural wears an African Goli mask, another a Puerto Rican vejigante Mask, both used for celebrations.
To represent the “elders of culture,” Maciel added a man wearing an Aztec warrior mask.
And there is also a boy in a more “modern” Mexican luchador Mask.
“It was a reflection of the people involved in the project and the neighborhood,” says Rodriguez.
Flanking both sides are huge palletsmexican frozen treats.
Last November, Maciel was selected by the Little Village Foundation to paint a mural of Manuel Perez Jr. — an Army paratrooper during World War II who lived and worked near Little Village — for the space dedicated to his bears his name, at 4345 W. 26th St .
The mural shows the sun from the flag of the Philippines – where Perez was killed in action in 1945. He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, which can be seen in the mural.
In the background is what Maciel describes as “a portion of the Aztec calendar that represents his Mexican culture and the culture of the rest of the neighborhood.”
Kirk says details like these help the mural “tell a story beyond a portrait.”
In June, Maciel completed a mural for the British International School of Chicago at 161 W. Ninth St. It includes three birds perched on the “Tree of Knowledge,” a dove representing the city, a cardinal as the state bird of Illinois, and another bird, a Puerto Rican toy, to represent the artist’s background. Maciel has Mexican and Puerto Rican roots.
In August 2021, Maciel painted a mural near 47th Street and Archer Avenue in Brighton Park to “highlight a rebuild”. It shows a man and boy working to build the neighborhood, with the boy using building blocks. The artist says it shows “the elders teaching the young how to build and maintain a community.”
Maciel says that in all of his work he aims to include something that is a part of himself.
“It’s probably one of the bigger things – representing my voice – because that’s the only thing I have control over,” he says. “It’s just about translating that in a way that’s understandable for the masses and beautiful for the people to look at.”