Brenda ‘Kozmo’ Lopez is a Chicago street artist making a name for herself by combining two unconventional pieces to make magic
Some of the most brilliant pieces of art are a combination of ideas and images that should not work together but somehow do. An artist only needs to have the vision and the will to produce their own version.
Chicago street artist Brenda ‘Kozmo’ Lopez not only has that vision and will, but she has the work to prove it. Take a trip down to Little Village and you might be privileged enough to see her signature burger flowers – an intriguing blend of a caricature burger and vibrant flower – plastered across an underpass or an abandoned building.
Kozmo plays with different facial expressions and personalities for the burger. Some of them resemble sweet smiling faces while others appear more devious and cunning. She even includes fangs in a few, giving off a sinister vibe. But a brightly pink petaled flower encompasses the burger adding another layer of eye-catching imagery.
Splitting her childhood between Chicago and Puerto Rico, Kozmo received an even mix of city and farm life. Kozmo’s father was 16 years old when she was born, and he had the help of his parents to raise his daughter.
“I got to experience the culture in Puerto Rico, which is completely different from the culture here in Chicago. So, I grew up around a lot of constant change but also around a rich culture,” Kozmo said.
It’s no wonder she’s based most of her art around the theme of contradictions. She’s been dealing with juxtapositions her whole life. Compared to Puerto Rico, Kozmo found Chicago filled with noise and people.
“It’s very loud compared to where I lived in Puerto Rico,” Kozmo said. “I lived in a secluded, mountainous area, and I lived with my grandparents, so I was raised on very old-school values.”
Living with her grandparents gave her a nature-based environment. She and her sister helped with feeding chickens and roosters and tending to their grandparents’ land. Chicago didn’t offer those same opportunities, but the city gave her a different set of lessons.
“I come from a family of people that own their own businesses … they have that hustle mentality like okay, you have to have a job that really lets you be independent in the city without having to rely on a lot of things,” Kozmo said.
She never set out to study art in school in hopes of making a real career out of it. It was more of a way to express herself on the side. She would carve out time on her breaks or days off to work on her art but never made it a full priority.
“And one day a friend just noticed my artwork when they visited my house, and they just told me, ‘You should really do something with it,’” she said.
Kozmo’s friend was not the only person to recognize her greatness. Her husband, Matr, also nudged her to pursue her art more. Matr is a fellow Chicago street and tattoo artist who assists Kozmo with some of her murals. He even made the suggestion for them to start painting outside together. Her take on surrealism with the “burger flower” left a serious impression on him.
“I honestly was taken aback by it because it’s something no one has ever done before. And I really liked it from the start. It was creative. It was simple. But more importantly, it said a lot about her, and I really liked that,” Matr said.
Surrealism releases the creative potential of the unconscious mind. Kozmo interprets that as a combination of being awake and in a dream-like state. For her, it means being hyper.
Like most young children, Kozmo and her sister jumped on the Disney bandwagon. Traveling to and from Chicago and Puerto Rico so often made it difficult for her to make friends, and she even endured some bullying. Not having anyone to talk to about it led her to draw. Disney and Tim Burton were a huge source of inspiration for her.
“I just started kind of drawing what I saw in an abstract form. So, the burger flower kind of has that cartoon feel to something that doesn’t really make sense for it to be together, kind of like [a surreal] burger with a face. And it’s also a flower. And that has its own story that I’ve dedicated to my parents,” Kozmo said.
She was instructed to do something for a Mother Nature art show and figured people would be expecting some sort of flower, but instead, she decided to find inspiration from her two favorite childhood memories and combine them. Seeing as her father was young and single, most of their meals consisted of burgers.
“I think we lived off of burgers for years. And then my last memory with my mom, I was about four and she takes me to this field to pick dandelions in the summertime. And I remember her running through the field with me,” she said.
Both her parents have dabbled in the arts through photography and music and have inspired her. Her following on Instagram clearly indicates that her work matters to so many others. But people close to her know she is more than an artist.
“She most definitely inspires me. Not only as an artist but as a mother now, too. But she’s always just inspired me to be myself,” said Tyenia Robles, Kozmo’s long-time friend.
Robles and Kozmo have been friends for fifteen years and counting. They met through Kozmo’s sister and immediately hit it off. Over the years, they have bonded through laughter, creativity and motherhood. Robles considers her “more of a sister.”
Kozmo’s husband holds a lot of admiration for his wife, too.
“She inspires me a lot. She motivates me to work harder and focus,” Matr said. “She just really does drive me.”
Being two creatives has granted them several opportunities to collaborate on work together. As a tattoo artist, Matr even uses his wife as a canvas from time to time, designing a collection of tattoos for her.
“Because he’s an artist, I feel like we’re just constantly talking shop. We’re constantly just getting this idea, that idea, and some of those ideas turn into tattoo ideas,” Kozmo said.
Often, she comes up with one idea and then Matr adds his creative spin to the vision, adding a second layer.
The couple recently curated their first art show together, which took place on May 6, at 329 W. 18th St. The show centered around surrealism and featured a heavy lineup of artists.
“So far, it’s been really great. Everyone’s excited. It’s been a really fun process to dream about how we want the location to look like, how we want it to feel, to be for the audience,” Kozmo said. “It’s just another opportunity to create and give back to the community. And when I say community, I mean every person, child, no matter what your background. It’s not just for artists to come. And we want it to be for everybody.”