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Surrealist Mural Takes Over Former Tecalitlan Space In West Town As Barcocina Restaurant Plans To Move In

Artist Joseph Renda Jr. painted a large mural outside the Mexican restaurant's former location. Lakeview restaurant Barcocina is expanding into the space.

A new mural in West Town by local artist Joesph Renda Jr.
Quinn Myers/Block Club Chicago
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WEST TOWN — A mural featuring a massive fish has popped up outside the former Tecalitlan space in West Town ahead of another restaurant moving in this year.

Tecalitlan, formerly at 1814 W. Chicago Ave., closed in 2020 after 47 years of selling tacos and margaritas in the neighborhood. After trying to find a new spot in West Town, owners reopened the restaurant in Lincoln Park in 2021.

Now, Lakeview Mexican restaurant Barcocina is moving into the Chicago Avenue store, according to a banner hung outside the building. A Barcocina representative said the owners would have more details closer to the restaurant’s opening.

In the meantime, local artist Joseph Renda Jr. has partnered with the West Town Chamber of Commerce to paint the temporary mural outside the store.

Titled “I Swear It Was This Big!,” the mural is an enlarged version of one of Renda’s paintings, which will be featured in a show in Ukrainian Village next month. The show, Larger Than Life, runs June 4-25 at Vertical Gallery, 1016 N. Western Ave.

Credit: Quinn Myers/Block Club Chicago
Detail of a new mural in West Town outside the the former Tecalitlan space by local artist Joseph Renda Jr.

Renda said the West Town mural was inspired by memories of fishing with his grandfather and by classic fisherman boasts about how big the catch is — or would have been.

“It’s always that story of like, ‘I swear this fish was this big,'” he said.

But the mural also ties into larger themes present in Renda’s paintings about nature and humanity’s connection to it, he said.

“We can view it in a way that is positive to where we have a positive connection with nature. Or we can do it in a way that we’re using nature for our benefit. That’s deforestation, oil spills and stuff like that are stripping resources off the earth,” Renda said. “I want the viewer to look at the paintings and choose what their path is and what they want to take in the future.”

Since graduating from art school in 2018, Renda has combined street art with more traditional practices, working on murals and smaller oil paintings.

Renda said he’s inspired by famous surrealist painters, including Salvador Dalí, René Magritte and André Breton.

“When I got out [of school], I was like, I want to make surrealism work that fits into urban art and also still use my my knowledge that I just learned for four years of school, learning how to oil paint,” he said. “I think [surrealism] is just a way to conceptualize an idea and not just hit someone over the head with it, and have them think about it in a weird and unique way. So, that’s what I tried to do with this project.”

Renda, who works out of a studio in West Town, said he connected with the chamber this year to paint the mural.

Renda expects the mural to be on display at its current location for the next four to six months, he said. After that, he’s hoping to find a permanent location for the work.

Credit: Provided
A flyer for an upcoming art show by muralist and painter Joseph Renda Jr. in Ukrainian Village

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