Muralist Dorian Sylvain has been an artist for 40 years. Born in South Shore, she is a Kenwood graduate and mom as well, having raised three sons, Kahari, Kari, and Katon Black. For the past 10 years the family have lived in Hyde Park.
Her three sons helped Sylvain with her work as they grew up, and eventually took up artistic lives themselves.
When the COVID-19 pandemic changed everybody’s lives, the family responded in its natural way. They made art, and they did it together.
Recently, the four completed the mural “Stay Home Make Art – I Miss Hugs” on the north side of the Hyde Park Art Center, 5020 S. Cornell Ave. It was designed by Sylvain’s middle son Kari Black and painted by all four.
“Kari [who is a graduate of the Chicago High School for the Arts] loves animation,” said Sylvain, “and while working at the Medici, developed a huge series of funny characters.”
“I think this mural actually started from a political poster campaign we were working on,” said Kari. “My mom suggested we use this phrase ‘I miss hugs,’ just because of what was going on.”
“We started working on those, on political posters that we just took out of the street, like those ones for like senators and stuff like that they stick in the ground. We took like a hundred of those out and started working on those, making designs for them.
“But when we saw there was just a blank wall here, we figured, why not go for it.”
“On March 14 the Art Center had to close down following CPS,” said Sylvain. “They had prepared the wall for another artist to come in and do a mural, but they had to cancel … or postpone it. So, the wall was just sitting there.
“We don’t live far from here and we all love the Hyde Park Art Center. We just thought ‘Let’s do something on the white wall. Let’s just paint, we can paint over it whenever they are ready for the new artist to come.’
“So, we kind of approached it sort of informally, kind of gangster even (laughs). We didn’t really go through any process.”
“No proper channels,” interjected Kari
Sylvain who has been a teaching artist and an artist-in-residence at the Hyde Park Art Center (HPAC) approached HPAC staffers Mike Nourse and Michelle Nordmeyer about the project.
“[Michelle] and I had originally kind of talked and, and you know we kind of felt like it’s pretty benign. You know, let’s go ahead and do it,” said Sylvain.
Currently, Sylvain and her sons are in the process of painting a mural on a wall of the old South Shore bank on South 71st Street and East Jeffrey Boulevard. They have base painted it with the same pink used at the Hyde Park Art Center.
“We are going to do something similar but try to reinforce the idea of stay home and stay safe,” said Sylvain. “You know, we are used to seeing people in our landscape.
“And so, I think that public art is probably more important than ever, in terms of trying to communicate, connect, influence, inspire, educate. And people love it. I tell ya.”
“People, as we were painting [the HPAC mural] came up, and said, ‘That just brings a smile to my face.’ The playful characters, so yeah. It was just a gift to the neighborhood.”
Dorian Sylvain’s murals can be seen around the city, including works at Dyett High School, Harper and Kenwood High Schools and two on the Bronzeville Mariano’s walls. One dedicated to images of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) and one a community wall.
It’s a “positive message to the community,” added Kari. “With all this negativity in the media going around, want to uplift people and just brighten their day.”