Alumna’s Work Part of the Public Art of Chicago

When the Chicago Public Art Group asked Renee Robbins to paint a public mural in a Lincoln Park neighborhood, it offered an exciting challenge for the 2005 Studio Art MFA alumna, who typically paints smaller works in her studio.

Robbins spent more than 16 weeks designing and painting the mural, which now appears on both sides of a pedestrian underpass at Fullerton and Lake Shore Drive in Chicago.

“To be able to work with the Chicago Public Art Group was really an amazing accomplishment for me as an artist,” Robbins said. “To be able to make a piece I was proud of and that represents my work in such a special spot in Chicago was pretty exciting. These are the moments when I’m pinching myself and thinking, ‘how did I get here?’ This has all been a dream come true.”

Renee Robbins in front of her Fullerton Street mural before it was complete.
(Image courtesy of Renee Robbins and photography by Shirley Nannini)

When designing the mural, Robbins wanted to feature the local ecology important to the Chicago area, including fish, vegetation, and microscopic organisms.

“I was trying to combine the concepts of my work with something that’s local to the site in Chicago,” she said. “In my work, I fragment bits and pieces of the microscopic and telescopic systems to create new systems. As humans, our access to those sources are hidden from view, which is why they fascinate and excite me.”

After finishing the design, Robbins worked seven to eight hours a day, with the help of six assistants, to paint the mural within seven weeks.

This was not Robbins’s first mural. In May 2016, she completed a public art piece at the Wabash Art Corridor, which is what led her to be chosen for the Fullerton mural. Both Chicago murals were completed using a combination of spray and acrylic paint, Robbins’s mediums of choice.

Renee Robbin's completed Fullerton Street mural 
(Image courtesy of Renee Robbins and photography by Shirley Nannini)

“I like doing public art because I like that this work is accessible to people that are just walking around and can stumble across it,” Robbins said. “Public art is exciting because it brings art to the people rather than the people having to go to the art.”

Robbins credits her education at Michigan State University for developing her skills, her experience, and her artistic voice.

“My time at MSU really pushed me to develop, contemplate, and change with each new body of work that I would create,” she said. “It was a very individualized program where I got to work closely with faculty and had a lot of personal feedback on my painting.”

When it comes to offering advice to young, aspiring artists, Robbins says the key to success includes: growing your community of fellow artists, being grateful for your creativity, measuring success by the quality of your work, and putting in your 10,000 hours to develop a vision.

With these tips in mind, Robbins continues her artistic journey. This coming summer her work will be featured at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Chicago, where she will display paintings on canvas as well as watercolors on paper.