You might not know Asend’s name, but you have almost certainly seen his biggest work: the 4 1/2–story high, 180-foot wide mural titled “Love Always Wins” that blooms on the side of Carnivale Restaurant facing the Kennedy Expressway.
Asend, who started out as a graffiti artist, said the theme was chosen to be as universal and uplifting as possible because of the mural’s prominent placement.
“We’re in an area of downtown, West Loop, where there are a ton of restaurants, you get a lot of foot traffic here, you got the highway, you got about 400,000, 500,000 cars a day,” the artist said. “‘Love always wins’ is just a message for everyone that passes by here and something that includes everyone in the city.”
Starting in the fall of 2020 made creating the mural a bit of an endurance challenge, the artist said.
“We started the mural on October 6, 2020, and we ended it December 30, 2020. It was just another artist and I, his name is Lex, he assisted me during the whole process,” said Asend. “I think we took three or four days off. We went through snow, sleet, rain, even hot days — randomly October has some hot days, also. And once you’re out here, the sounds of the highway, the sounds of the cars, it’s extremely loud 24/7.”
Coupled with Chicago’s windy weather, it presented some technical challenges he had not faced before.
“We had a swing stage that was about 30 feet wide. A few times we were out there, the wind moved the swing stage back a couple of feet from the wall,” he said. “So you’re over there just kind of swinging.”
And the scale of the towering wall – 4 1/2 stories high, 80 feet wide – meant capturing depth and detail in the design was incredibly important.
“Each of those blue petals are … about 7 feet tall and from here they look tiny,” Asend said. “I didn’t want to cut any corners. Every petal, every fade, every shade highlight. It had to be there exactly how I designed it. I think every flower has at least seven, eight layers of spray paint.”
As the mural was being painted, members of the community and residents from nearby buildings stopped by to ask about progress and even offered the artists food and drinks, Asend recalled.
“I’ve got to say a big thank you to everybody that came by, dropped off food, dropped off water, dropped off hot chocolate. Just came to say hello,” he said. “It was a big, big support system from people I didn’t even know. Strangers came to support and that shows how much it meant for the community too. Especially the building across the street, all the residents of the building would come by and drop off food and we became friends and now we know each other by first name and it’s great.”
Gazing out over an expressway lined with unadorned walls, Asend reflected on his own history as an artist.
“I was a kid that would look at walls and get inspired all the time and that’s how my love for murals started, because that’s how my love for graffiti started. The graffiti community that existed in Chicago since the ‘80s, it’s saved a lot of us from a lot of trouble, saved a lot of us from gangs, and a lot of us made careers out of it. It really turned into something that meant a lot for us in our lives,” he said. “I feel very grateful to be able to create something that people respond to in that way because the artwork is not about me, it’s about creating something that people appreciate. Give art and show what we can do with our ability, with our talent for people.”