Minute with a Muralist is back with our fifth installment! In this series, we are happy to introduce you to some of the inspiring and talented muralists we have worked with as part of Art Encounter's public art initiative, the Evanston Mural Arts Program. We l aunched this program in 2017 to expand Art Encounter's mission by bringing art to all in our community. In our first three years we have worked with 13 artists to produce 15 murals in partnership with business districts, schools, and community groups across Evanston.
And we have more to come in 2020!

Today, we bring you this interview with the talented painter and illustrator behind our 2019 Grove Street Metra mural, Molly Zakrajsek, or Molly Z .

Art Encounter: How did you get started doing murals? How long have you been painting them?

Molly: For most of my career as an artist, I had been working as a digital illustrator for clients in the design and advertising industry. In 2009, the Shedd Aquarium hired me to create all the illustrations for the Polar Play Zone exhibit, which included multiple digital murals. Once I experienced how my art could transform a space, I started thinking about the value and power of art in public spaces and was compelled to find more ways to create large works of art.

I am interested in spaces that are big, blank and cheerless, and making art that uplifts and energizes those spaces. I believe artful murals enrich the daily lives of people and become backdrops for meaningful memories and life’s celebrations. I think that’s a meaningful mission for me as an artist.

Interview continues below.

Molly and a team of artists working on her mural at the Oxbow Hotel in Eau Claire, WI
Art Encounter: Can you tell us about your specific style? What influences are you pulling from, and what inspires your aesthetic?

Molly: I consider my artwork biomorphic abstraction, which basically means I work with organically occurring shapes reminiscent of rhythms and forms found in nature. I have always been interested in heightened visual experiences where vibrant colors interact with meticulously embellished worlds. Many of my murals incorporate intricate patterning, influenced from experimentations of the Pattern and Decoration Movement of the 1970’s. I am inspired by ancient and universal imagery that connects people and places to the past and present. I also have an irresistible inclination for saturation and curvature, and I am interested in how colorful forms can be used as a redemptive device. My process is about the exploration and discovery of pleasure through visual complexity.

Several artists have inspired my aesthetic, inlcuding: Joan Miro, my first introduction to biomorphic abstraction; Keith Haring, who created energetic black line drawings; Beatriz Milhazes, a Brazilian artist who exuberantly celebrates color and patterns; Elizabeth Murray, colorfully reshaping the canvas; and Yayoi Kusama, with her experiential art installations. I also enjoy many international muralists working today. Of course, my favorite muralists use lots of intense colors, patterns, and optimistic forms. Here’s a short list of some of my favorites: Speto, Sixe Paredes, Jessie and Katey, Mina Hamada, Ruben Sanchez, Jeroen Erosie, Sobekcis, and Morag Myerscough.

Interview continues below.

The completed mural on the Oxbow Hotel in Eau Claire, WI
Art Encounter: Of all the murals that you have painted, do you have a favorite? What is it and why?

Molly: Every mural opportunity starts out very exciting, and then it feels a bit overwhelming, and then it somehow turns out better than I expected. I think my favorite works are those where I get to work with a team and we spend a few weeks intensely painting together. Last year I did multiple 3-story murals, one at a mural festival in Rockford, IL and one in Eau Claire, WI. The whole experience, involving my team and the local community, was so meaningful. The murals became landmarks in their towns. When I get to work with other talented people and breathe new life into a community through a work of art, it’s really rewarding. I want every mural I make to become part of that community’s visual history, a landmark place where people gather, take photos and celebrate life’s moments together.

Interview continues below.

A mural project at the Target in Rogers Park, Chicago
Art Encounter: What is something you took from the project you did with us last year, working on the Grove Metra wall with students from Evanston high school?

Molly: I love working with students on murals. It’s such a great opportunity to connect young people to their surroundings and instill a sense of pride, service and identity. I enjoyed watching how painting a mural helped them grow in confidence as artists and activists in their hometown. I really loved how the students took their work very seriously and always wanted to stay late and keep painting. That’s when I know that what we’re doing together matters to them as much as it does to me. Painting a mural day after day is also a very therapeutic process. I think the students really enjoyed the process, being together each afternoon and relaxing while painting. We also heard so many words of encouragement from those who live in the area and passed by daily thanking us for making the area more beautiful. I think the work looks energetic, diverse and colorful. I love when you walk next to it, you can see the hand of each individual artist and when you drive by it, it looks so vibrant and bold from a distance.

Interview continues below.

Molly's 2019 Art Encounter-EMAP mural at the Metra underpass on Grove Street, created in collaboration with students from Evanston Township High School.
Art Encounter: What's next for you in your mural future?

Molly: My next big project is a bridge! Four sides of a viaduct on Lakeshore Drive in Chicago. It will be a very exciting challenge!

Thank you Molly!

Check out the video below to see Molly's 2018 project with the Cre8tiv Mural Festival in Rockford, IL come to life, and be sure to visit Molly's  website  to see more of her work.

We are grateful to Blick Art Materials for their support of our mural and outreach programs at Art Encounter.

Art Encounter  |  artencounter.org

At Art Encounter, we believe that art has the power to help us better understand ourselves and the world around us. Everyone should have access to art, so we take people to art and bring art to people. Our mission is to educate, empower, and connect people of all ages and backgrounds through interactive encounters with art. We take members into artists’ studios and private collections, leading conversations that connect them with the art and with one another. Our outreach programs bring enriching art experiences to ten times as many, in the public schools and in senior residences. And our murals transform the walls and the lives of the whole community.