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Mural artist strikes (black and) gold at Metea Valley
By Justin Kmitch | Daily Herald Staff

Artist Eulojio Ortega of Sandwich expects to complete his Metea Mustangs mural in early September.


Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

Ortega works on his mural at Metea Valley with an early draft near his side. The actual mural will have several more horses in honor of the Mustangss. Ortega says he hopes the painting will inspire awe in visiting athletes.


Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

This image depicts Ortega's first draft of the mural he is painting in Metea Valley's gymnasium.


Mural Rendering courtesy of Artist Eulojio Ortega

Ortega says his work at Metea is the "coolest" mural he's ever painted.


Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer

Artist Eulojio Ortega hopes to have the mural finished by next month.


Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer

Sandwich-based muralist Eulojio Ortega is painting a giant mustang mural that will adorn one wall of the main gym at the new Metea Valley High School, which opens Thursday in Aurora. Ortega, shown here near the start of the project, says he hopes the mural will generate respect in the hearts of visiting athletes. He's scheduled to be finished early next month.


Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer

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Published: 8/18/2009 12:02 AM

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As a young boy growing up in Chicago, muralist Eulojio "Joe" Ortega spent endless hours watching his father draw horses.

Eventually he developed his own incredible eye for detail and before either of them knew it, his images of horses were better than his dad's.

This month, at the age of 32, the Sandwich-based artist's career has come full-circle as he creates the "coolest" mural he's ever painted. The mustang adorning a wall of the new Metea Valley High School's gymnasium will be a fiercely strong horse.

"A truly great mural can dictate what people feel about an area," Ortega said. "This mural will focus on the power and drama of competition and the Metea Valley Mustangs."

That's just what officials in Indian Prairie Unit District 204 are looking for as they prepare to open their third high school - joining Neuqua Valley and Waubonsie Valley - on an 87-acre campus at 1801 North Eola Road in Aurora.

The school will open Thursday with about 1,250 freshmen and sophomores. It's eventually designed to house 3,000 students in a district that covers portions of Naperville, Aurora, Plainfield and Bolingbrook.

A week into his roughly four-week project, Ortega still was mixing colors, trying to create the perfect combination for the fiery red sky he hoped to create as a backdrop for his 38-by-25-foot mural.

A painting that size normally would require an artist to work on a grid system and sketch it out on the wall, but Ortega said he can't work in a grid.

"Don't get me wrong. A lot of amazing artists have grid systems, but I pretty much just go freehand and step back to look at the wall every so often," he said. "Sometimes you get natural, beautiful things that just happen."

Ortega said he envisions the finished product to be a fierce black mustang standing on a rock ledge, flanked by several other horses. The fiery sky and red rolling clouds, he said, will provide the backdrop. Rock walls will line the mural's edges.

"I don't like murals to end with square borders," he said. "I like my pieces to feel more like part of the room, bringing the atmosphere and room together."

Assistant Principal Joy Ross began the search for a new muralist after she learned Timm Etters, who has painted several murals in the district's schools, had a two-year waiting list.

"We wanted to open the school with art on our walls so I took to the Internet and found Eulojio. I immediately thought his work on his Web site was stellar," Ross said. "Seeing his site just made me want to talk to him and after I talked to him and heard how passionate and descriptive he is, I had to meet him so we brought him in."

Ortega said during that first meeting, Principal Jim Schmid and Ross wanted the mural to be 15 feet tall and 25 feet wide. But Ortega said he wouldn't be comfortable working on such a small canvas.

"They brought me in and I walked into this huge gym and just shook my head," he said. "If I would have painted something that small on a wall that big, it would have looked like a postage stamp."

Once he convinced them to go bigger, Ortega said he spent countless hours sketching and tweaking and massaging the final image he wanted to portray.

"I love painting murals because every day there is a different problem to solve," he said. "This is fabulous mural. I'm so excited about this that I didn't sleep all last week. I love that this is going to be there maybe forever."

The project will take Ortega into early September, working several long hours. The mural will be his only focus during that time, minus a 12-hour overnight project he recently was awarded as part of the television show "Extreme Makeover Home Edition" that he will film Thursday.

Ortega said he couldn't discuss the television project, but promised it will not distract him from the Metea mural.

"With something like this. I only want to eat, sleep and dream this mural," he said. "I am committed 100 percent to this."

If that holds true, Ortega may have already secured his place on Metea's walls.

"We've got quite a few bare walls in this school and the aquatics area but let's let Eulojio get through this one first," Ross said. "But once he does, we're looking forward to him leaving his mark on the rest of Metea Valley."