Chicago murals: Logan Square mural by Matthew Mederer offers a nod to Puerto Rico with a 3D touch


Matthew Mederer, also known as Cool Disco Rich, completed this Logan Square mural in 2019.

Katie Anthony / Sun-Times

The bricks on the facade of the building at 2600 W. Fullerton Ave. in Logan Square seem to almost fall away to reveal the sprawling beachscape mural they’d otherwise conceal.

It’s not your usual beach scene, though, with two frogs jumping toward a three-dimensional black-and-white cube.

This isn’t meant to be sci-fi but a subtle homage to Puerto Rico.

Artist Matthew Mederer, 39, who signs his art under the name Cool Disco Rich, says he drew inspiration for the work from the building owner’s Puerto Rican roots, also incorporating his signature optical illusions.

He wasn’t too obvious. There’s no Puerto Rican flag there. But the sunny setting and his particular choice of hoppy amphibians were rooted in the island.

“I wanted to subtly give a nod to the owner of the building’s culture but still make it cool, fun and interactive,” Mederer says.

The frogs were inspired by the coquís in Puerto Rico — named after the “co-kee” sound these frogs make, a call that echoes through Puerto Rico.

He titled the mural “Canción de Rana,” or “Frog’s Song,” after that croak.

The coquí, a common Puerto Rican frog, is featured in Matthew Mederer’s mural at 2600 W. Fullerton Ave. in Logan Square.

Katie Anthony / Sun-Times

Will Gonzalez, whose parents own the property, talked to Mederer about doing the mural, which was completed in 2019, after the building got tagged with graffiti.

“That side right there, before all the yuppies came and whatnot, that was pretty heavily graffitied,” Gonzalez says, so his father Jorge Gonzalez “was always calling the city to have it sandblasted.

“He thought, ‘Well, maybe they’d leave it alone if there was a mural or they had a painting drawn on there.’ ”

The father wasn’t having much luck finding an artist in his price range to take on the job. And then the son met Mederer at a neighborhood festival, where he offered to do it for free.

Jorge Gonzalez, 74, told his son stories of the coquís keeping him up at night as a kid in Puerto Rico.

“When my dad was a kid, they didn’t have windows really,” Will Gonzales says. “They just had partitions in the window and a hole in a wall. So the coquís would jump in the house and roam around the room.”

When the mural went up, neighbors from Puerto Rico recognized the frogs.

“A guy across the street, he was Puerto Rican, he came out and recognized the Puerto Rican elements even though they’re subtle,” Mederer says. “I learned a lot about Puerto Rican culture when I was doing this mural.”

Mederer says he used lines and shadows to give the mural its three-dimensional appearance, making it seem as if people looking at it could step past the bricks of the building right onto a Puerto Rican beach.

“I used a piece of string to measure the vanishing point, to measure all the angles, so it really tricks the eye,” Mederer says.

He knew he wanted the frogs jumping at something, so he used the black-and-white box as a callback to other murals he’s done that have included similar optical illusions.

Growing up in New Jersey, Mederer says he’d get in trouble for tagging mailboxes with graffiti. He studied math in college and moved to Chicago, where he combines art and math to create reality-bending works of public art.

He says “Canción de Rana” was a “rocket” for his career. After doing that piece, he says he traveled to places including Italy, New York, Memphis and St. Louis to do murals.

One of his other murals, titled “Home Sweet Home,” painted on a house in Logan Square, blurs the lines between the home and the rest of the world, tricking the eye into believing the brick has made room for a meadow at sunset.

Matthew Mederer’s “Home Sweet Home” tricks the eye and blurs the lines between the house it’s painted on and a meadow.

Provided

Mederer’s sprawling piece at Hermitage Avenue and Division Street in Ukrainian Village, titled “Get Your Ducks in a Row,” features a floating figure with ducks that seem like they could fly into the neighborhood.

“Get Your Ducks in a Row” in Ukrainian Village.

Provided

Mederer says he learns something new with every mural he does — like the sound of the frogs in Puerto Rico.

“One of the things I really love about doing public art is getting to learn about the places the art is going in and what’s important to the people there,” he says.

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