Aurora mural encourages 'transcendence' along Fox River
To hear artist Martín Soto speak about the new "Transcendence" mural along the Fox River Trail in Aurora is to understand its meaning.
It's about hope, foremost. And humanity. Homelessness and action. Growth and progress. Jubilation and exuberance.
"It's all saying the same thing, but without words," Soto said about his piece that portrays a person's life flowing from homelessness to success along a river populated by fish, birds, geese and foxes and the Aurora skyline.
To hear project creator Charlie Zine speak about the mural is to understand its roots and connections to the community where it now stands, all 110 feet of it, along the back of the Hesed House Comprehensive Resource Center.
"My first impetus was basically trail beautification," said Zine, a longtime Aurora resident and Fox River advocate. "But the message has to do with the mission of the work they do here at Hesed House."
At Hesed House, they help homeless people.
Zine was surprised to discover that was the use of the building at 680 S. River St., which looks nice enough from the street, with a facade of stone and stucco, but left a lot to be desired from the side fronting the Fox River.
When he would ride his bike along the Fox River Trail and pass the back of the building, Zine said he thought it was a rundown factory, and he had visions of turning the city's code enforcers on its owners to get the stained concrete and patchwork brick up to a higher standard.
But when one day he rode his bike around to the front of the building and found it houses services that help homeless people, his visions changed into something much more artistic. Zine saw a mural.
He connected with Aurora artist Soto and a month ago the painting began. About two dozen volunteers from Aurora, Naperville and neighboring communities helped Soto paint the mural once he laid it out using a grid pattern created by the building's darkened windowpanes. Kane County family court Judge Rene Cruz was one of them.
"It was amazing just to watch the entire mural evolve from Day 1," Cruz said.
The mural was about 90 percent complete when volunteers and Aurora city officials gathered this week to celebrate its presence and a revitalization of the riverfront south of downtown. Cruz said the fact the mural wasn't quite complete actually heightened symbolism about the journey from homelessness to a better state in life.
"It's fitting because that path from poverty to prosperity is never really finished," Cruz said.
A second phase of the mural will incorporate mosses to make it a "living wall," Soto and Zine say. And Zine envisions further work to enliven the scrubby grassland and bushes that fill the 40 yards between the building and the trail.
Inside the Comprehensive Resource Center, a retired tradesman repairs unwanted bicycles and gives them to homeless people receiving Hesed House services. Zine said the same tools could be helpful to trail users if they pop a flat or need a minor repair.
Zine wants to make the Comprehensive Resource Center a destination -- even if only for its art -- to help people break down the assumptions they make about people who are homeless.
"Once you start talking to a homeless person, you realize it's just a regular person, there are just all these stereotypes between us," Zine said.
Soto says he had the same aim when he incorporated a downtrodden, darkened silhouette of a person sitting slumped on the floor on the left side of the mural, at the beginning of the progression from homelessness to hope to celebration. The fish in the river next to the downtrodden silhouette show one way the well-off can assist those who have fallen on hard times.
"It's for us to get the message not to give people fish, but to give them a fishing pole and teach them to fish and they'll eat for a lifetime," Soto said.
Zine called the mural "a great marriage of art and nature," and said the way it appeared almost magically with very little planning proves grass-roots actions can go far to enliven communities.
"Plans don't translate immediately into transformation," Zine said.
But this mural did.
"This was spontaneous," he said. "It's resonated with the community."