Chicago Graphic Designer Transforms Gang Graffiti Into Public Art

artEpifanio Monarrez, a 28 year old Chicago graphic designer, is dedicating himself to painting murals of natural landscapes, comic characters, and important U.S. and Mexico figures over street art that’s been marred by street-gangs.

“Our community needs more art that reflects the culture of the area,” said Monarrez, who’s been reworking street art for the past nine years.

Monarrez, whose parents are Mexican immigrants, grew up in a neighborhood where gang like the Latin Kings would spray-paint their symbols on walls, garage doors, and any other free space they could find in order to mark their territory.

Now an adult, the work he does goes untouched by the street gangs interestingly. What’s more, he’s never received any threats for painting over their territory markers.

“Sometimes they find me painting and ask me for some of my paint, but I try not to play along with them because I don’t want them scribbling all over the neighborhood,” said Monarrez.

The city government usually tries to erase such graffiti, a task that costs millions of dollars each year. However, rather than simply expunging the gang symbols, Monarrez tries to transform them, and his efforts are all for free. The only money spent on his project comes from the owner of a wall he wants to transform, and it only covers some of the cost for the materials.

“The payment I receive is for the material,” he said. “The rest I do for the love of art.”

Chicago’s Hispanic community has acknowledged Monarrez’s talents and efforts, and even the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization has invited him to collaborate on a project.

“People don’t like graffiti, said Monarrez, “but if you transform them and give them some meaning, you give them something they can understand.”

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