It’s street art that combines a young boy’s hopes for the future and new beginnings with the Mexican cultural tradition of masks in new works by Joseph Perez, better known as “Sentrock,” opening a new exhibition and programs at Elmhurst Art Museum now through January. 15 of next year.
“Sentrock: The Boy Who Wanted to Fly” is the first solo museum show of Pilsen-based Sentrock, “who seeks to uplift and empower youth through his murals and educational projects,” according to the Museum’s website.
The art in the museum’s show features his Bird City Saint character in individual paintings, a mural painted with house paint and spray paint directly on a gallery wall at the start of the exhibit, and a large sculpture of the character beneath a floral arrangement representing the bird . he is often photographed with.
There is also a larger-than-life birdhouse.
The artist said that when he started painting he painted a lot of birds, which represented freedom and escape. In Mexican culture, he said, masks can be used to represent an alter ego as well as a superhero.
The 36-year-old grew up in Phoenix, which he and his friends called the “Bird City,” and came to Chicago about 12 years ago to study at Columbia College.
Sentrock, who has painted many large outdoor murals around Chicago, recently spoke with the Pioneer Press about his development as an artist.
“How it started, a muralist came to my school when I was in first grade,” he said. “I was a shy kid – I discovered art and loved it. When I was 14 or 15 (years old) in high school, I decided to try it myself so that the high school muralist would make a big impression.”
Sentrock aims to make a similar impression on other young people with his accessible and public art, including the Elmhurst Art Museum exhibit.
“I think it’s very family friendly,” he said. “I wanted to make it lightly inspirational – not conceptual – more like a visual narrative. I thought about a family that can get away from museums and galleries.”
These visual narratives include paintings, murals, prints and commissioned works.
In the tradition of street art, he still uses house paint and spray paint and other “covering materials” along with paintings on canvas using mixed media of oils, pastels and acrylics.
The richly illustrated brochure for the Elmhurst Museum of Art exhibit lists a dozen murals in Chicago for those interested in a self-guided tour of some of his works. The booklet also includes a coloring page designed by the artist.
The artist said that the name Sentrock is a combination of nicknames – Sent from what his friends called him in Arizona and rock, a general nickname from break dancing.
While most of his public work has been in the Chicago area, Sentrock sees a broader horizon. He is convinced that his art will be welcomed in France, Spain and Japan.
“My goal is to make my story global,” he said. “I think (those countries) will love me. So, like my character, I want to fly.”
The Elmhurst Art Museum exhibit opened on September 9. Special events around the exhibition include a family day workshop led by Sentrock on Saturday 17 September from 1pm to 4pm; a conversation with Sentrock on Saturday, October 1, from 1.30pm to 2.30pm; and a Sentrock pop-up shop on Saturday afternoon, December 3.
The museum, 150 Cottage Hill Ave., is generally open Wednesdays and Thursdays from noon to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday, hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The museum is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
More information on the exhibition and related programs is available at: Sentrock: The Boy Who Wanted to Fly | Elmhurst Museum of Art.
Graydon Megan is a freelance reporter for the Pioneer Press.