Graffiti artist adding new look to Orland nonprofit’s warehouse
BY MIKE NOLAN email@example.com March 9, 2013 1:16AM
Artist Christian Diaz-De Leon sprays on the colors of the "Cars" movie character Lightning McQueen at Toy Box Connection in Orland Park, Illinois, Friday, March 1, 2013. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 11, 2013 6:08AM
Nobody expects the inside of a warehouse to be anything other than drab and utilitarian.
Toy Box Connection in Orland Park wants to be an exception to that rule.
Tucked behind Jo-Ann Fabrics and Golf Galaxy on the north side of Lakeview Plaza, the warehouse is a cavernous way station for donated toys bound for needy kids in the region. The interior is getting decked out with colorful cartoon characters such as Scooby-Doo, Barney, Batman and Winnie the Pooh.
Working on the biggest canvas he’s ever tackled is a Chicago graffiti artist, Christian Diaz-De Leon, who has more than 300 cans of donated spray paint he’ll use to transform the 8,000-square-foot building in his spare time.
“I’ve given him a palette like no other,” Michelle Maxia, director of the nonprofit Toy Box Connection, said.
Diaz-De Leon works as a sales associate at The Home Depot in Bedford Park, where he’s painted murals featuring the White Sox and Bears. His talents have been loaned out to other Chicago-area Home Depot stores, and he’s created spray-painted artwork at stores in Broadview and Northlake.
Last year, volunteers from several Home Depot stores painted the walls inside Toy Box Connection’s warehouse, and it was through the home improvement retailer that Maxia was connected with Diaz-De Leon.
While the warehouse walls were painted bright, solid colors, “we had an opportunity to bring it (the warehouse) to life” with the help of Diaz-De Leon, Maxia said.
“It’s also an opportunity for him to display his art,” she said.
Art or ‘rubbish’?
On one wall of the warehouse, Diaz-De Leon has drawn outlines of some of the cartoons he’ll be painting, including Lightning McQueen from the Disney movie “Cars.” As he’s working, he occasionally glances at pictures in a children’s book based on the movie to make sure the colors match up.
“Not a lot of people are able to manipulate aerosol (paint) to get it where you want it,” he said in between quick bursts of spray.
Unlike oils or acrylics that can be controlled with a brush, “there is a limit of control you have with this media,” he said.
“With aerosol, what you got is what you got.”
At one point he leans in close and blows on one of McQueen’s freshly painted eyes.
“I want to catch a drip before it gets too out of control,” he explained.
Diaz-De Leon grew up in Chicago’s Brighton Park community and now lives in the city’s Scottsdale neighborhood. Childhood doodling evolved into a love of art, and inspiration to try his hand at graffiti came from the spray-painted displays on buildings in his neighborhood.
He knows that not everyone views graffiti in the same way he does.
“Some people do think it’s art and some people do think it’s rubbish,” the 22-year-old said. “It’s a hobby like anything else. Some people like to golf.”
For the Toy Box Connection project, Diaz-De Leon secured a donation of paint from the maker of Rust-Oleum, and completing the job is going to take some time. Along with working, he’s taking classes at Moraine Valley Community College but is trying to spend a couple of days each week at Toy Box.
“This is something I really wanted to do,” he said. “It’s for a good cause.”