Behind the Turbo Tacos restaurant located at 2050 North Milwaukee stands a boy wearing a cardinal mask along the wall with a flower growing out of his body who says “Water is life” in the middle of a rain storm. This is not a real person but the latest artwork entitled ‘Boy Little Water’ from Joseph Perez,30, better known through his art as SentRock, as he spreads the message of what’s happening with the North Dakota pipeline as construction can impact residents water supply. Emanuel Silva, a fan of his artwork, came out to witness the piece receive its finishing touches and says this is the first time he’s seen Perez work up close.
“I follow him on Instagram and I like how his work is colorful and bright. He also has artwork on like hats, socks, shirts and everything. But this is the first one I actually got to see so this means a lot,” said Silva.
The story behind his artwork is it’s Perez wearing the cardinal mask as it represents him and Phoenix Arizona where he is from. Perez uses street art to convey different meanings that can send a message to the community, but there is still misconceptions that street art is still considered to be graffiti no matter how much time and detail has gone into it.
“Legally or illegally it’s art because we risked our freedom for it, but it falls onto the person. Some people see vandalism as art because it’s individual. It depends on the person and what they feel is art,” said Perez.
His predecessor, who wants to go by the name Awdest, 17, have been working with Perez for the past three years and says that it depends on the person, but no matter if they see it as art or vandalism people are going to judge. He says there is one way to distinguish the difference between the two:
“Just look at it. Take the time to look at all the detail that goes into it and try to find the message in the piece. Don’t just walk by, look at it and continue to walk. Stop and look at it for 30 seconds at least then you can decide whether it’s art or something else,” he said.
According to the city of Chicago’s website, vandals who are caught defacing property can face fines from $750 to $2,500 for each offense following an approved city council amendment in 2014 where Mayor Rahm Emanuel invested $1 million into graffiti clean up.
After 20 murals, hundreds of dollars in paint cans, and the city washing away his hard work, Perez says he continues to do street art because he likes the challenge that comes with it. Unlike working on a canvas, street art ensures that people will see it. Other street artists do their work in abandoned buildings and factories, but people and business owners such as the ones at Turbo Taco reach out to him through his Instagram.
“I’ve been paid good money to do what you see on the streets because people appreciate it. It might not fit in a gallery but it fits on the streets and people want a piece of that because they appreciate the expression of it.”
Awdest goes on to say that he and Perez even had legal walls that have been washed away by the city or the owners because it’s not the type of art they want to see. Their first mural together depicting three characters wearing hoodies holding spray cans was washed away because the owners didn’t understand the meaning behind it.
“It wasn’t safe for them because they didn’t get it, but the purpose of street art is to put a message out there. There’s no challenge it if it was a safe pretty image, it’s like what’s the point of doing it? I want to say something with my art,” Perez said.
‘Boy Little Water’ took two days and cost over $200 to create, but he did it for free just for people to be able to marvel at his work. Besides doing murals outside, some of his work is featured at Galerie F located in Logan Square where they showcase a lot of street art from artist across the city. “I still do studio work too and if I have a canvas work of that art people want. That’s how it will pay off,” he said.
Perez has painted in cities including Miami, New York, and Detroit. Until he gets ready to hit the street and paint his next project, he will go back to sketching on a canvas and paper until one piece sticks out to him and he grabs his paint cans. He and his predecessor will be hitting the streets in no time to create art for people to stop their day and see the beauty in their creations.
“It feels good when you walk by and you see it and go “I did that.” It’s self-inspiring but then you know people in the neighborhood is going to see it so it’s like giving back to your community,” Perez said.