Backstory and Context
Chicago is home to many Mexican muralists and works of art. Chicago and neighborhoods like Pilsen and Humboldt Park more specifically are often considered homes to many artists, especially those with a political agenda. Murals, just like Chicago, are deeply rooted in politics and artists often explicitly and implicitly send political messages to their viewer. One such artist is Hector Duarte. Based in Pilsen, Hector is a Mexican born muralist who utilizes perspective, bright colors, and symmetry to express a political agenda that is both historical yet modern. Hector Duarte was born in 1952 in Caurio, Michoacan, Mexico and studied mural painting at the workshop of David Alfaro Siqueiros in 1977 before moving to Pilsen, Chicago in 1985. In more than 30 years, Duarte has created more than 50 public murals and works of art in Chicago most of which deal with stories of latinx migration and culture.
Duarte’s vision for the mural was to honor Humboldt Park’s majority Puerto Rican background. The name Honor Boricua comes from the honoring of Borinquen, Puerto Rico’s original native name. Inspiration from this painting come from his work done at his time at the Siqueiros Workshop in Cuernavaca, Mexico. Here is where he learned how to paint and was inspired greatly by Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros. Duarte also works closely with his assistant Alejandro Esquiliano who assisted him with the painting. When discussing recent renovations, Duarte discussed some of the challenges with recreating the same idea given such a large gap between who he was as an artist. Because of this, Honor Boricua is full of “brighter and bolder” paint that will really capture the eye of the viewer. Duarte said that “In time, I’ve changed a little bit in style. I simplify more. I can repeat exactly, but I don’t like to do exactly the same. It’s a different time. It’s why the artists who copy have a special way to copy, to restore. It’s another talent, a different talent. I like to restore, but I’m feeling the freedom to change something…The last time, we didn’t have brilliant colors because we had a commercial paint. Now we have acrylic, with more brilliant colors.” Duarte’s change in artstyle and use of colors is apparent if one were to compare and earlier work such as Lotería to a later work like Ice Cream Dream. With the renovation, Duarte added so the mural wraps around the corner with the credits so viewers take notice from every angle of the intersection.
Humboldt Park has a deep history in migration of many different types of people not just the Latinx community. At one point predominantly composed of Danish, Germans, and Scandinavians, Humboldt Park has now become a Mecca for the Puerto Rican and Mexican immigrants. Humboldt Park is also deeply rooted in politics and tragedy that has inspired Chicago artists. Factories and many businesses began to close as industry moved elsewhere causing Humboldt Park great economic uncertainty. This economic uncertainty let to a spike in crime in the 1970’s. There was even an arson epidemic that devastated the community. As crime rates began to go up, more businesses began to leave which has lead to what some believe to be the “downfall” of the neighborhood. This “downfall” however has led itself into a new artistic world where artists now feel as though the neighborhood is worth having its’ story shared.
The rise in popularity of Murals in Mexico began with the start of the Mexican Revolution. The murals of Mexican artists tend to portray the overarching feelings of the country at a given time and were very politicized. Because of this, there are many political works of art created right after the Mexican revolution in the 1920’s. Famous artists at this time included Diego Rivera and Jose Clemente Orozco. These artists were influential in recreating the mural artform by making it much more political and story driven which is an inspiration to many muralists including Duarte.
Hector Duarte considers himself a part of the Barrio Mural Movement in the US. The Barrio Mural Movement refers to the rise in muralists in Chicago neighborhoods that honor and build off of the great Mexican muralists such as Diego Rivera and Jose Clemente Orozco. Hector himself has states that he is particularly interested in murals because people believe them to be “static” and “outdated” which makes him want to revolutionize murals and make them into a more interactive art form. A lot of Duarte’s work utilizes angles and space in order to create artwork that causes the viewer to walk around and explore the art, not just look at it. Duarte believes that murals and art in general are ways to bring communities together which is why he even lets children make a couple of strokes to make the art a collaborative effort of the people in the neighborhood.
Many of Duarte's works are in collaboration with the Chicago Public Art Group. This group is designed to provide finacial and artistic support to artists in the Chicago area. Their mission includes designing public art projects, introducing creative skills to children and adults, train and educate professional artsits, as well as education broader communities through art work which is very similar to the motivation in Hector Duarte's work.