NORTH PARK — Artist Kieran O'Connell has lived in North Park her entire life, so she was a natural choice to design the neighborhood's community mural, "What North Park Means to Me," which was unveiled over the weekend.
Oh, did we mention O'Connell is just 16 years old?
"This is the first mural I've ever done," said the Von Steuben High School student. "It's way bigger than you think it's going to be."
The teen's proposal was "far and away the favorite" of the North Park Art Center's Mural Committee, capturing the "interest, energy and beauty of our community," said committee member Judie Simpson.
Located at the corner of Bryn Mawr and Spaulding avenues, the mural occupies a wall donated by the Chicago Korean Chamber of Commerce.
"It's an area that frankly gets a lot of graffiti," said Simpson.
The committee's hope is that the mural will earn the respect of taggers and discourage future vandalism, she added.
"This says that we care about our neighborhood," said Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th), who was on hand for the unveiling.
O'Connell's design incorporates a number of what the teen called "nature-y" elements — deer, squirrels, the Chicago River — drawn in a "trippy style" reminiscent of the psychedelic images of Peter Max, one of her favorite artists, she said.
"It's a very diverse neighborhood, it definitely has a lot of personality," said O'Connell. "I think this place is just cute — there's more to it than meets the eye."
O'Connell has been drawing since she was old enough to hold a crayon, said her father Mitch, himself a professional artist whose work has appeared in Rolling Stone, The New Yorker and GQ among other publications.
"She was always around my table with a sketchpad," said Mitch O'Connell.
Public art like his daughter's mural "puts a bow" on the neighborhood, he said, similar to the community's trees, flowers and gardens.
"It's taking the extra effort," he said, "to make the city look beautiful."