Artist Works Through Extreme Heat to Meet Deadline for Chicago's Chinatown Mural Project

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A local artist is working in the extreme heat to meet a deadline to finish a mural project in Chicago’s Chinatown.

Despite coping with the record-breaking temperatures and humidity, Richard Lo told NBC 5 his work is a “labor of love.”

“The mural is for the neighborhood,” he said. “It’s for them.”

Lo has been painting for six weeks, and for the past two days, he's been working in the extreme heat.

“The weather right now with a breeze is kinda tolerable,” he said. “But I think once the sun move pass some of the buildings, it starts to get hot and I often take breaks, water breaks. Sometimes I don’t mind painting, I don’t notice [the heat].”

The professional artist, who now lives in Naperville, moved to Chicago from China as a young boy. His father was a rising star for the Chinese Opera and Lo remembers watching his father perform on the big stage.

“I think understanding what its like to be a professional artist at an early stage -- to see commitment and excellence -- I think that’s an imprint,” he said. “But there’s no guarantee in life.”

He pursued a career in art, grew up in the neighborhood and even went to grammar school right across the street from the site of the mural.

“Now from the school, you can see the artwork,” he said. “I’ve always been an artist even in grammar school. I think my classmates are not surprised that I became a professional artist.”

Lo was given the special opportunity to design the massive mural by a local design firm and the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community.

“I think I used all my abilities, all the experience through the years to get to this stage and I’m very happy with the outcome,” he said. “There’s so much unknown painting on such a scale and to represent the culture as fair, as accuracy of the characters and the costumes. I make sure it's not a documentary, so there’s an artistic license in some of the patterns, but they are Chinese influence patterns.”

The Chinese American Museum of Chicago donated the wall.

“We primed the wall, created a grid and from the grid, I was able to draw in large scale,” Lo said. “So it starts with the drawing and just starts coloring literally, one character at a time.”

Lo said the characters are legendary warriors in the Chinese opera. Their stories have been passed down from generation to generation.

“I think the recognizable images is important, but I think this is the first mural of its kind in our Chinatown neighborhood,” he said. “I want to make sure that they understand quality art can be done and can beautify the neighborhood -- it’s not graffiti. I think a lot of the locals think that we don’t want that stuff on our wall, but when they see this, it validates we can do it good and have more of it represent our culture.”

He’s hoping the mural will bring more awareness to the Chinese culture, more attention to the museum, and attract more people to the neighborhood. Lo said it’s an honor to take part in a project that has been a full circle moment.

“I’m good with having something represent my family’s legacy, but to represent the museum, anything out of this mural would connect to the museum is very important for the Chinese culture,” he said.

The deadline to get everything done was Wednesday. Lo said community groups plan to hold an unveiling ceremony sometime next week.

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