Shedd Aquarium splashes art across Chicago

By Katherine Savage

The Shedd Aquarium is inviting visitors to explore various exotic aquatic species in a unique exhibit, “Underwater Beauty,” which features 100 species and more than 1,000 animals.

“Underwater Beauty,” which opened May 25, focuses not on types of creatures, but rather on colors, patterns and rhythms or movements of the animals, said Johnny Ford, manager of Communication and Public Relations at the Shedd Aquarium.

“‘Underwater Beauty’ is a departure for Shedd. Typically we focused on a specific species or a class of animals to highlight,” Ford said. “This one is a bit different because we are looking at diversity of adaptation and highlighting unique things people would find beautiful underwater.”

To accompany the exhibit, the Shedd Aquarium had five murals painted in Forest Park, Logan Square, Edgewater, Bronzeville and Englewood. The murals are designed to highlight the exhibit and the animals. The exhibit is scheduled to run until the end of 2019, Ford said.

“We wanted to get into diverse neighborhoods … and touch as many people as we could,” Ford said. 

With art being a central theme in “Underwater Beauty,” the decision to create the murals was an easy fit, Ford said.

“With incredibly aesthetically-pleasing animals, and with the exhibit looking the way it did, art was an immediate parallel for us,” Ford said. “We were thinking murals might be a fun way to get into the community and showcase some of the more unusual or show-stopping species.”

Local artist Anthony Lewellen painted a mural in Forest Park featuring one of the more bizarre animals in the exhibit—the peacock mantis shrimp with rainbow coloring and big eyes.

“It’s playful and cartoony, and it lends itself to the way that I work in a lot of ways,” Lewellen said. “I might have felt a little bit of a connection to it because it’s a crazy, wacky-looking creature.”

Artist and muralist Jason Brammer painted the mural in Logan Square showcasing sea nettles. The mural was inspired by the vastness of nature and the movements of the animal, Brammer said.

“They look like these alien pulses floating through water. The very otherworldly creatures appealed to me,” Brammer said.

The goal of the murals was to get people interested in the different types of animals in the exhibit and the environment, Ford said.

“It does start a dialogue based on what you see. ‘Why am I looking at a giant mantis shrimp on the side of this bar?’” Ford said. “We wanted people to get curious and ask questions and then find us when they’re ready for their answers.”

The murals are helping people connect  with nature in unexpected ways, Ford said.

“Our goal is to bring people eye-to-eye with nature,” Ford said. “As you make connections with animals, as you come close to them, as you visit them here, you start to build a compassion for them.”