The Man behind the Mural: Jeff Zimmermann

Chicagoans are busy these days, rushing down the streets of Chicago, hardly paying due attention to details. But Jeff Zimmermann’s artwork has Chicagoans slowing down to pose questions.

Zimmermann, 39, is a local artist and Chicago native, whose work is instantly recognizable for his use of photo-realistic images of people. His murals featuring contemporary pop culture images and sensitively rendered portraits are found throughout the city. Zimmermann’s work is known for political themes that reflect the issues of surrounding neighborhoods.

During October, Chicago Artist Month, Zimmermann publicly painted his newest piece, “The God Particle,” in the Michigan Avenue Galleries of the Chicago Cultural Center. Zimmermann explained during the Nov. 5 opening reception that he uses a combination of wet and dry brushing techniques, while using acrylic paint to create images-of what he calls “real people” a diversity of community members living and working in the area and faces not known from media, history, or politics.

At the Cultural Center, a large rainbow in dirty yellows and browns drips over an open mouth, whose tongue appears to reach toward a metal drinking fountain a few feet away. Another mural portrays a deck of cards held in larger- than life size pair of hands; spilling onto the floor below the mural is a huge pile of lottery tickets.

“In general I want the work to be attractive so people look, engaging through the color and imagery, usually the imagery,” said Zimmermann. “Hopefully then they want to investigate and find out [what his work means]. So it creates dialogue.”

Zimmermann has achieved international recognition for projects. Including helping Nike Inc. to create the well-known NBA player, LeBron James VII tennis shoes. Zimmermann was an Artist in Residence for Chicago and Chicago Transit Authority.

The first of Zimmermann’s murals was in the late 1990s; Zimmermann was volunteering in Pilsen helping give guidance to local children while training in graphic design, when a priest at St. Pius V parish asked him to paint a mural of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Today, he has a total of four large-scale murals in the blocks surrounding St. Pius V parish.

Zimmerman referred to the lifestyle of an artist, “Survival is number one and taking it to another level is number two.” Even with his widespread acclaim, Zimmermann said he is living from paycheck to paycheck, however, Zimmerman said, “never give up.”

Chicagoans can expect to see more of Zimmermann’s work, “I am not going to fly away in my helicopter.”

Jeff Zimmermann’s newest exhibit is open to the public at the Chicago Cultural Center from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m through out November.