GAGE PARK — Rafael “Rafa” Rojas sometimes could be found putting artwork or different graffiti on the corner of Rockwell and 51st streets in Gage Park. He always got approval from the building owner.
Alongside other artists, the 28-year-old Little Village resident would bring the wall to life.
Now, after his sudden passing from COVID-19 earlier this month, Rojas’ smiling face greets passersby at that same corner.
“When he passed, we wanted to make a memorial for him,” said artist and former teacher Miguel “Kane One” Aguilar.
The new mural, created within three days, was a collaboration between a dozen fellow artists, Aguilar said.
“He was well liked throughout the city. A ton of people are mourning his loss,” Aguilar said.
On Aug. 3, Rojas died from pneumonia related to COVID-19, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office.
The emerging artist grew up in Little Village and worked as a manager at a cellphone store in Back of the Yards. His family shared the news of his passing on a GoFundMe page.
“Rafa was a wonderful brother, son, uncle, and friend who touched the lives of those around him,” his family wrote.
With many murals around the city, Rojas was known as a “Chicago artist who dedicated his life to his artwork,” his family said. “We are all devastated by Rafa’s loss.”
Following the news, Yollocalli Arts Reach issued a message of support to friends and family of Rojas.
“Rafa … was the sweetest friend, an absolute inspiration, and a creative giant,” the organization wrote on Facebook.
“We will hold tightly to our memories of him growing at Yollo, helping us paint walls, and stopping by to say hi with his genuine smile and care. We will miss you deeply, Rafa.”
Aguilar recalls first meeting the 28-year-old when Rojas was a student at Yollocalli Arts Reach 13 years ago.
“I’ve seen him grow in the art scene since he was 15 years old,” Aguilar said.
After years of classes, Aguilar continued to guide and mentor him. “We became good friends over the years,” he said.
Aguilar described Rojas as a “really good graffiti and street artist,” who was known for an orange yeti character that he created.
Rojas was invited to create some work at Ruido Fest and North Coast Fest, Aguilar said.
Since his passing, Aguilar said there has been no shortage of support and condolences to family and friends.
The mural has become a site for people to process their emotions, Aguilar said.
“It’s helping people process their own grief,” he said.
Along with this Gage Park mural, Aguilar said they plan on creating more murals in Pilsen and Little Village dedicated to Rojas.
“This will become a site for people to visit, to honor him in their own way,” Aguilar said.
You can donate to Rafael “Rafa” Rojas’ GoFundMe here.
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