Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Great American Loserdom

Conrad Freiburg
Artist, musician, & carpenter
Forest Preserve District of Cook County

There is no romance in artists studios.  There is a loser rolling off his couch next to his pick up truck. There is cold pizza and coffee for breakfast.    There is homelessness and shitting in buckets because what meager space can be afforded on the margins is a garage on the west side without a toilet.  In addition to forays into what might be the greatest failure in sculpture since that cargo ship filled with baby doll parts capsized on the shore of eighties art schools, you begin to innovate and take pleasure in finding solutions for civilizing the life of the loser in the 21st century.

The artist in process of vacating his studio.

One finds kinship with homesteaders and the make-do spirit of desperate Americans of the civil war era foraging their circumstance for what joy and pleasure and steadiness might be found in the open and dangerous beautiful places of the Open Western Skies.  You get a membership at the YMCA so you have a place to shower, shit, and exercise with machines.  Your open western skies, your expansive becoming, your brief unutterable pleasures are found in those strange objects produced under such circumstances, shown publicly, and then put into the storage pile, or, if you are lucky, on a collector's wall.

The artist's toilet paper holder.

In these sideways situations there is a perpetual uncertainty.  When the hammer falls it is traumatic.  You can be turned out when your landlord's ragtag unpermitted electrical schemes are finally discovered because there was a shooting across the hall.  In addition to the .45 callibre bullet hole in your wall, you  get the subsequent city inspectors, city lawyers, and city Orders to Vacate.  You spent all your spare money on building the space for unknown unfoldings, and your 2 month deposit is forfeit due to your landlord's bankruptcy.  I for one wish this were not my truth- these unfortunate and sickening vapors of burnt normalcy.  To not take it personally, I bathe myself in the Waters of Odd, play music, sing songs, make art, make friends.  With all these refined pleasures of loserdom, Henry Miller was right “genuine needs are met.”

A delicate sculpture destroyed.

You find that you have friends who bring food from their kitchen to you on the sidewalk as you set your panhandling art machine in motion.  When you and your love call it quits and its not dark yet you find that sofa surfing is a delicate art of washing dishes and singing for your supper.  You find that you cannot do this alone; this anything alone.  You find that friendship is the most valuable thing when you are poor and some people are surprisingly kind.  It can break you open to be allowed to be cared for, to be given gifts not asked for.  The unplanned special offer of free space inside a small institution's walls can begin to make you feel that maybe all these terribly inexplicable choices are adding up to something someone else might be interested in engaging with deeply over a period of time.  That the HPAC is offering a physical place for work to unfold in a community that might care about such things as harmony, formalism, cosmology, phenomenology, demolition, entropy, dissonance, absence, and the unknown blossoms of the VOID might make you think that there may be a place to bury what can't be carried.  Maybe life is easy after all.

-Conrad Freiburg
from the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, 2010

Conrad Freiburg is an artist, musician, and carpenter who grew up on the Mississippi River. Last Summer he recorded an experimental folk album, and also made drawing charcoal from pieces of his bowling ball roller coaster called the Slipping Glimpser. This Fall and Wnter he plans on singing sad songs on his happy little ukulele, making drawings, and building the most fantastic Nothing the Hyde Park Art Center has ever not seen. His acheivements are beginning to exceed his wishes.

All images courtesy of the artist.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Studio Soiree

Chad Kouri
Artist & Curator
The Post Family

Over the past couple years I have become infatuated with the artist studio and its role in our vastly diverse creative community in Chicago and elsewhere. Some of this obsession can be tracked through The Post Family’s studio tours. I'm a strong believer in process being part of the product. Not only is it interesting to see how other artists work but it puts the general audience in a better position to start a more informed dialog about the work beyond "Oh my god, I love/hate it!" So you can imagine my excitement when the Studio Chicago theme was announced. In the following two interviews I attempt to shed a little more light on the creative process while asking two artist with drastically different styles and processes about their work flow with only five questions! I know it's a big task, but I have to say I learned a thing or two and was inspired to get down to work after reading. I hope it has the same impact on you.

The first is Nancy Rosen; A Chicago-based painter and stuff-maker focusing mostly on portrait work with dashes of pattern and tons of texture. Nancy has been painting longer than anyone else I know so I assumed that this would be an appropriate place to dig a little deeper into her process and workspace which she has been tweaking for decades. Also, in the spirit of collaboration, I have asked Margot Harrington of Pitch Design Union to drop in and ask a few questions as well. Let's dive into a shorthand look at Nancy's wonderful spirit and unwavering dedication to creation.

Chad Kouri: So you have been in your studio for a while now… how many years? I always have a hard time staying inspired in the same place. Do you feel like the only way you can really get down to work is if you are in a more "permanent" space?

Nancy Rosen: I've been in my studio for 12 years or so. I LOVE MY STUDIO. I was in another for 6 years. Did I ever tell that wonderful story of my husband, for an anniversary gift, gave me keys to a studio? All mine. The kids will not touch any thing. Everything will be just as I left it if for an hour or 3 weeks. Benny (my youngest son) was 2 years old and I had just started drawing again at the Evanston Art Center.

INSPIRED... When I gave myself the permission to paint what I loved (people) and not care what anyone else thought, it became an endless volcano of work. So it's not about the space as much as whom I'm painting or what I'm painting or where the painting has led me. I'm not big on change. I like getting up and going to my studio. I love the permanence of my studio; I love the way it evolves. The piles of paintings that grow, shelves filled with treasures I gather (and now, treasures people gather for me). I love the photos of my family. They make me smile. When people come to my studio, that's what they seem to love the most. When my soul sister from Art school came into town and we spent some time there after wandering around for a while she looked at me and said, "Its like being inside your head." Of course I wrote that on the wall along with everything else.

Storage in Nancy Rosen's Studio

Margot Harrington: How has your studio practice changed throughout your life? For example, your husband said you stopped painting for several years while your boys were small. What was it like to pick up a brush again and how did you get back into the habit of it?

NR: Actually I stopped painting in the early 80s and had a business painting fabrics and designing and manufacturing clothing and upholstery fabric. So not making paintings but was certainly painting and making stuff. Ever since I was 5 I've been doing that. I've never stopped. I'm pretty driven that way. it’s what wakes me up in the morning.

CK: What do you use your studio for? Some people say they just use if for conception of ideas, sometimes it's just the creation of the work. Some say they use it start to finish. I actually really like people in my space while working so the social aspect is really important to me.

NR: I use my studio. It's my other home. It’s where I work and reinvent myself and, as of recent, it’s become a classroom for others. I some times go to other studios to draw. I'll bring that info back to my studio and work on it until it's done. Could take moments or years, but it does get done. I have to finish what I started, but also work on what came to me in the middle of the night or while walking down the street or perhaps what my model might be talking about. The paintings create a conversation for me and my studio is a place to get back and work on them until the conversation is resolved.

Nancy Rosen working in her studio

CK: I've recently been thinking about seeking out a mentor for my "fine art" work. I feel like I have hit a spot where I can't go much farther without some expert knowledge on a more regular basis from someone I admire. Someone who can help me set goals and get out of ruts. Can you tell us a little bit about one of your mentors and what kind of impact they had?

NR: When I started drawing again I took some classes with Eleanor Spiess-Ferris (an amazing Chicago artist). I was perfectly happy just drawing with my 2B pencil on my bristle paper but after a bit she would look at me and suggest I experiment with charcoal. I would say I hate charcoal and she would demand that I get some. I ended up loved it.  A few weeks later she suggested conte crayon. My responses was something like  "oh my god I hate conte crayons” but like a good student I marched right out and bought myself some conte crayons and loved them..............Still use them.

A great teacher can help you explore and grow. Eleanor could guide me gently, or not so gently, on how to get my work out of my studio and into the world. And then there was “Nancy can you sub my class this Friday?” I really wanted to say "NO WAY!" l was scared to death but managed to fall in love with teaching. Eleanor has been my mentor and friend for some time now and I'm endlessly grateful.

MH: I think most artists and designers truly feel like there's no other profession they could see themselves doing. Just like a spider spins a web, not because it's beautiful, but because it's all they know, plain and simple. If you had to change professions though, any inkling what you'd do?

NR: Funny, at the end of the day I feel like I am a factory worker at heart. Although I am driven to helping others. So there it is.

Nancy has a show up at The Family Room until mid-november. Gallery is appointment only.


The second artist is collage warrior Michael Pajon. Michael has recently moved from Chicago to New Orleans and in turn has come up with a lot more time for creating. With the chance of city, studio size and everything else in between, I was curious to see the affect its had on his studio practice, materials and finished pieces.

Chad Kouri: Do you find that the change of city and moving from a large home studio to a much smaller one is affecting the subject manner of your work? Your process? The supplies you use? Even the time you spend in the studio?

Michael Pajon: The biggest thing affecting the work these days would be the amount of time I have to spend.  In Chicago I had a full time job as a studio manager for Tony Fitzpatrick. When I moved to New Orleans I had no place to be for any part of the day in particular.  I spent many hours bicycling around the city, getting familiar with my new home, exploring and drinking tall boys with my neighbors.

The smaller space has created a more compact environment, so I'm no longer able to spread out my collage materials like I used to.  I feel this has made me more confident and slightly faster with the choices that I make. I have learned to trust my instinct to keep from digging further into my supply and committing to the materials at hand.

Michael Pajon's current studio in New Orleans

CK: I can imagine that since your work involves a lot of appropriated imagery that the change of city had a big impact on your art. What was one of the most unexpected changes in your artwork or process when moving?

MP: Time, I have been employed here and there, but mostly I have free time to roam. Somehow being in the 3rd busiest port in America becomes part of the work. Watching tugboats and tankers pushing up and down the Mississippi is semi-hypnotic and allows the mind to wander. New Orleans is much older than Chicago in terms of its architecture and roots. The city itself is a sort of collage of Western Europe, particularly Spain and France, the Caribbean, and the culture of the South. Recently I've incorporated a lot of antique portraiture to create tighter individual narratives.

CK: I've always found it hard to include other mediums in my collage work. Like pencil marks or paint. Do you have any crossover of mediums in your work? Does it go down before or after the cut paper?

MP: My technique is a little haphazard.  I use fountain ink, watercolors, pencil, and paint to manipulate and enhance the collage. It really just depends...some pieces have little to no mark making and some have a lot.  I typically find an image that is mostly black and white and decide that to make it fit it will require some color.

I can't really say whether or not I make more of the marks toward the beginning or the end because I just finished two pieces that had a lot of mark making throughout the process.

CK: Do you think you would benefit from a studio outside of your living space or do you prefer the in house workspace?

When I have been printmaking I definitely work better with an outside studio.  So much is process oriented that it it really nice to have a few other people working around you. For my other work...I love getting up, making coffee, having my cereal, throwing on some Ghostface and getting into the studio, aka the front room.

Michael Pajon's past studio in Chicago

CK: Have you ever done a residency? Do you think that it would be beneficial or a hindrance to your processes?

MP: That is a great question. I have no idea what the answer is. I have often thought of doing a residency, but unless it was for printmaking of some kind I have no idea what I'd do. I feel as though residencies are a kind of place to work through a creative transition or to simply have set aside time and space with few distractions to make your work.  I love my distractions, and would feel a little naked without my shelves of old children's books and bins of matchbooks and postcards. I have a dog now as well, and if Miss Marge the dog can't come, then sorry Charlie.

Michael Pajon's work will be displayed in Dan Cameron's Prospect 1.5  in New Orleans at Madame John's Legacy next month through the end of the year. Opening November 6th, 2010.

Chad Kouri is a living breathing mobile human being in the great city of Chicago. When not working on commissioned illustration and design work, hand lettering poorly spelled phrases, art directing Proximity magazine, rockin out on found object and collage work – or blog jammin, space touring, curating and high-fivin with The Post Family crew – he hibernates like the great grizzly. 

All images courtesy of the artists.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Studio Is Where You Are

Peter Fagundo
School of The Art Institute

When I was in graduate school at SAIC, we were given these studios with no windows, no doors and low fluorescent lighting.  They had a feeling of office cubicles and the effect was anxiety producing.  I felt sort of naked and nervous.  This circumstance became the fuel for much of my work that year.  I even used mostly office supplies from the old Horder store across Monroe Street.  Yellow legal pad paper and white out were the carbohydrate of my practice.  I filled the space with work and then emptied it…twice.  By the end of the that year, there was only two pieces of Belgian linen, that fit perfectly out of the wrapper, on the two long walls, a square of cotton duct canvas on the small wall and the floor donned a “rug” made from yellow legal pad paper scotch taped together.  Ray Yoshida, my adviser, said on one of our last meetings… “It’s better when you are quiet.”

Since then my studio has always been in my home; in the basement, the dining room or the pantry… where ever I find myself.  An image comes to mind I saw years ago of an aged Sam Francis painting, hunched over the canvas on the floor, in an old pair of sweats and white tube socks.  “That’s what I want!” I thought to myself.  Then I remember reading somewhere that Pablo Neruda used to disappear during dinner parties, at his house, to sneak a bit of writing in his study, only to reappear, giggling, as if nothing had happened.  Where ever I find myself, that’s where the studio is for me. 

At present, I find myself living in Evanston with my wife and three kids.  We reside in an old manor house that my wife has spent the last 12 years restoring to perfection.  It is beautiful but the only place that feels right to have a studio is in the basement.  I used to only make work down here.  I used to think that was all one was supposed to do in a studio.  I even had fluorescent lighting installed at the beginning.  Now I have half fluorescent lighting and half lamp light which is warm and cozy.  I work hard but I also read, eat, nap… what ever else we do.  One of my favorite studio occurrences lately was a day that my four year old was home sick.  He was not feeling well and I was in dire need of some studio time.  I tried everything to entertain him and make him feel better but nothing was working.  I finally just brought him down to my studio, the place I really wanted to be.  “Do what you want.”  I said in a salty tone.  “I’ve gotta draw today.”  He whined and I put him on the little couch I’d found in the alley last year.  I put on some Mabel Mercer, took out my drawing things and let him be.  He was asleep by the end of the first song.  He took a three-hour nap on that little couch.  I joined him for the last hour. We both woke up feeling better.

Peter Fagundo lives and works in Evanston, Illinois. He received his BS in Psychology and Fine Art from Regis University, Denver, Colorado in 1997, and his MFA in painting and drawing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2003 where he was the recipient of the Merit Scholarship. He is a currently a faculty member in the Departments of Contemporary Practices and Painting and Drawing at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His work has been exhibited at venues including devening projects + editions, Chicago (where he is represented).

All images courtesy of the artist.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Studio Expanse

Alberto Aguilar
Professor of Studio Art
Harold Washington College

This Is The Introduction
I regularly stand in front of a group and sing unscripted verse for three minutes. This is my current trademark introduction to a new class or a lecture. I usually sing about the time as it passes, my fear and anxiety of being in this moment, my hope that something meaningful will come out of it and announce as I begin to gain confidence and feel comfortable in this awkward situation. I enjoy that these works are immaterial and explain themselves in the making. This new medium that I employ gets rid of the middleman. There is no loss of meaning through the materials. The viewer is directly tapped into the thoughts, feelings and revelations involved in my creative process. It is also an icebreaker and instead of painting me the fool it immediately puts us on the same human level.

Let Go
As a young artist, after a late night of painting, I was washing my brushes at the sink and was struck by a deep feeling of loneliness. I accepted this as my lot in life and painted in the seclusion of my studio for many years after. Eventually I began to feel skepticism towards painting, its ability to communicate my ideas and guilt for spending so many hours alone making work. I made my last painting in 2004 after having my fourth child and getting my first full time job teaching Art History but continued to keep a studio which was a shared space with the laundry room. After purchasing a digital camera I began documenting household chores and daily life. The most iconic of these images is one that of me proudly staring at my garage door after completing the duty of painting it. It is titled “Finished Painting”. At this point I decided to let go of my studio.

Finished Painting, 2006, Digital image

Open House

Last year I launched a project on facebook to inaugurate my 36th birthday in which I invited over 1000 strangers into my home to have dinner. The idea for this project first came about after two curators requested to pay me a studio visit. Being that I no longer kept a studio I decided that I would have them over and be a great host. Also I set up several domestic monuments in my home for them to look at.

Open House, 2009, Digital image
After this visit the idea of having some sort of art exhibition in my home started to take shape. In the end I realized that it would not involve art but that I would have people over and treat them with great hospitality. After making 1,136 friends on facebook I fearfully sent out invitations that stated all that would be included in the dinner party and how to be considered for it. There would be 36 guests at 6 separate dinners of 6 people. I promised to arrange interesting groups of people. I also promised a six-course dinner and a handmade gift box containing compact versions of all the works I made since letting go of my studio.

Out of all the invitees, 109 agreed to be considered and 39 made the short list. Upon the arrival of my guests I gave a tour of the house, we ate, I played a soundtrack, we looked through photo albums, we played a board game and I gave henna tattoos. An art writer that attended one of the dinners was upset to find out that I did not have a studio and that we would not be looking at my work that night. At the dinners I wanted to give them a taste of my daily life but I was conscious of creating a strong memory so that even if it were too uneventful they would always remember the night. This was reinforced through the repeated soundtrack of nostalgic songs, the henna tattoos that would stay with them for up to 2 weeks and the handmade gift boxes that they took home with them. Without fail after each night I had great sadness and longed for the company of my guests for several days after the dinner.

Final Dinner, 2010, Digital image
Six months after completing this project I asked guest to send me pictures of the current location of the gift box. I purposely asked them not to stage or move the box but to take a picture of wherever it was kept.  I received only a few photo responses and although there was a couple that gained prominent places at homes most were shuffled amongst the residue of daily life.

Domestic Monuments
Another aspect of my work is that I make sculptures out of objects in my home. These act as monuments that celebrate everyday life. One great thing about these sculptures is that after they are completed, documented or shown the objects could return to its original function or place. I do not have to find storage for these pieces; they do not have to join the collection of  “ The Museum of Decaying Paintings” which currently abides in my mother’s basement.

Double Stuffed Column, 2010, Digital image
I make these monuments in the homes of others as well. Once I made some in the home of guy who runs an apartment gallery in his spare bedroom. He gave me the key to come to his apartment while he was at work. Rather than working in the extra bedroom I was compelled to make monuments all over his apartment using his personal belongings. I did this on various visits to his home. At first he thought it was funny but after a while he seemed to get annoyed because I would leave these monuments for him to find, disassemble and return to there original place.

More recently I did this at the home of an art director in Kansas City. I got her permission and arrived at her home at 8 am. She received me in her nightgown and told me to have at it, that she would continue her sleep in the guest room in order to give me free reign of her home. I made many monuments, documented them, returned the objects to their original place and let myself out before she awoke. I included the photos of these monuments in a show that she co-curated in Kansas City. At the opening reception she told me that she felt extremely honored that I was showing these works made in her home. 

New Mode
Some of my first acts of collaboration were in graduate school. Because of my domestic circumstances my time in the studio was limited. I usually arrived at 7am and was out by 4pm which was when most students would just be arriving or warming up. The first thing I would do when I got there is to go through everyone’s studio and shuffle through there personal belongs getting to know his or her visual tendencies. These were collaborations that I had with them by myself.

I got to know the power of working with others soon after. The first instance was when I made two murals with students in the suburbs of Chicago. Here our concentration on the materials of paint and the goal of finishing a singular work kept us from intimately getting to know one another.

Alberto Aguilar with the Outliers, 
Chain Reaction, 2009, Digital Image
Through a residency/ youth mentorship program that I was part of in 2005/06 I got to know my collaborators more in depth. Together with a group of teenagers we explored my ideas while incorporated their interests. In these groups there was fighting, crying, playing, joking, wasting time and sometimes working. I made an effort not to be the authority figure. We saw one another daily and our relationship was more akin to brother and sister. Here our studio was lively and far from lonely, I accepted this as my new mode of working.

Grande Finale
This past summer I was granted a prime space in downtown Chicago for a given time period. I considered using it to spend time making my own work but in the end I decided to open it up to others. From this decision came the first “Center of Multiple Middles”.  The Idea behind it was to have an open site where people of diverse background and experience could come exchange ideas, make work and then show it collectively: on top of, butted up against, and all over the space. There would be no curator, no singular voice, no work considered more than the other. The amount of people involved kept growing up until the night of the opening reception.

The second “Center of Multiple Middles” took place at Harold Washington College. Rather than happening in a one space it took place at various points around the college with the hopes of expanding the viewers line of sight. In the elevator waiting area, on windows of the building’s façade, in my office, in the refrigerator of my office, in display cases, in the reception area of the President’s office and as a scavenger hunt on every floor of the college. All together there were over 20 artists involved. The night of the opening reception we had performances happening in a room adjacent to the main gallery. The audience was split between all the various points of the exhibition. The performance space was crowded and a bit chaotic as people were coming in and out and there were two stages. As my contribution to the performances I sang one of my three-minute songs, which did not turn out as I hoped, but all together we moved with great force.

Alexander Cohen, Composite Eyes Surf and Slide, 2010, Office Installation
Christopher Santiago, Map for the second incarnation of “Center Of Multiple Middles” 
2010, Digital image

Alberto Aguilar is a Professor of Studio Art at Harold Washington College in downtown Chicago. He is the founder and coordinator of Pedestrian Project, an art initiative dedicated to making art accessible to people from all walks of life. He currently lives on the southwest side of Chicago, on the path of airplanes, near Midway airport. On windy days the airplanes land instead of taking off bringing them fearfully close to his rooftop.  In his current work, every aspect of his daily life and exchanges with others are treated as creative acts.

Opening Image:  Isa’s Headband (00OOO00), 2008, digital image 
All images courtesy of the artist.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Lantern Projects: The Collective Studio

Zach Dodson
Artist, Writer, Designer
Bleached Whale Design

I've never had a proper 'studio', but this summer I have moved in with a bunch of artists and we've begun to build a collaborative effort in a very studio-like space: a temporary gallery and office spot in the Ukrainian Village of Chicago. I thought it might be interesting to examine what we are creating together in the space from the perspectives of the four main folks involved: Caroline Picard, Devin King, Abby Satinsky, and me, Zach Dodosn. This four-part blog, everyone will give their take on what's been happening in the 'summer studio' that has become Lantern Projects.

A Summer of Architectures

I have always thought of studios as sites of investigation: physical spaces in which one can spread out and examine everything collected over the course of an interest. It is a selfish space, a place intended for indulgence and freedom and fearlessness. For that reason it always felt a little untoward to consider the Green Lantern a personal studio --because facilitating the work of others really only works when the facilitator gives up control. Nevertheless the project has become it's own process of investigation--perhaps especially because in order to give up control of the outcome, one must have a very study administrative structure. There is an art in that structure. An artistic desire to develop a cohesive environment with clear intentions--such that any future activity has the freedom to grow around and through that structure organically. It's one thing for one person to develop that--quite another for a group of people to develop that structure together.

I always think about the project as an artistic endeavor--particularly now that we are trying to explore a possible reciprocity between a non-profit and for-profit model. The physical space becomes an opportunity to manifest a rather large notion: The goal of this project is to create a new sustainable culture that supports contemporary art practice, while simultaneously building bridges between those different practices.

In moving from an apartment to a storefront space in the Ukrianian Villiage that suddenly incorporates not just one person but four regular administrator/brain-stormers, the project itself becomes a collaboration. Between Zach and Abby and Devin and myself, we are all the time working through issues, troubleshooting and of course celebrating aspects of the space. This summer was particualrly interesting because there was so much theoretical sketching going on; sometimes it felt like we were talking about a pipe dream. (Sometimes it still does feel like we are talking about a pipe dream). We met once a week at 2542 W Chicago and tried to plan as best we could the next steps. This included the gallery programming, developing an on-line presence, developing an on-line shopping cart for our forthcoming bookstore, while also meeting with other artists and writers and performers to see what kind of projects we host in the fall. Through a series of long conversations over the summer and into the now, we have snipped and tweaked and pulled our vision into shared focus. Over the course of those conversations, our surrounding environment also changed, going from empty (one visitor suggested we were "squatting in an office") to painted, to furnished to open with artwork and artist talks and screenings.

While developing our physical and administrative environment, we inadvertently began establishing a working relationship as well. I always feel like relationships develop the same way brains do. In other words where new experiences carve out new pathways in the brain, pathways which are then used again and again, I feel like a similar thing happens when you're hanging out or working with people for the first time: new communication pathways have to be built, styles of relating have to be established in order to solidify a common ground on which jokes and hard work can rely on. I feel like the empty space of our nascent summertime Green Lantern was a studio for our collaboration, as much as it functioned as a space to develop our relationships. Because I feel like studios are essentially private places, places where things develop confidence through risk, so our empty storefront was a place to, simply, spend time together.

One of my main concentrations was to look for a more permenent space. Over the course of the summer I probably saw between 20 and 30 spaces. Every Wednesday I would give an update. I would also draw out the floorplans of the most interesting possibilities. In those floorplans, we daydreamed collectively, discussing how to prioritize and organize a given (and more or less imaginary) space: Where to put the bookstore? Where the gallery? How many people would we fit in this performance space? In that action too, an action of sketches, we further articulated something cohesive--even though it lacked definite physicality.

Inviting David Moré into our space was the final step before opening our doors. David was a fifth party--our first guest. He tested the structure we had been building over the preceding three months. And of course there was a really lovely parallel in his studio-oriented project, which resonated in our own process of development.

--Caroline Picard


This was our first project at Green Lantern, Normal Bias, a minor business venture by artist David Moré. From August 21st – September 11, Moré set up a studio in the gallery space and welcoming passers-by to participate in his free service: a portrait studio rendering the customers’ likeness in sound. The finished portraits were documented on audiocassette. To take part, visitors invited to visit the space during the hours of operation and there was a group portrait on the night of the opening. The accompanying exhibition from September 11th through 18th included sound portraits recorded over the month as well as a site-specific installation that utilizes the physical, architectural space as an instrument for an experimental, auditory composition.

Our thematic exhibitions and artist projects are thought experiments, models for critical and social engagement, poetic ruminations, and interrogations of the creative process from all angles. We hope to be a center for artists’ research, meaning that we highlight the process through which artists’ arrive at their creative ideas, rather than the product of their inquiry. We also support a transdisciplinary and transgressive wandering across contemporary art and its history as well as politics, social history, economics, science, and other bodies of knowledge, to get there. At the same time, we believe in critically investigating what is being produced by artists’ research and asking what marks the difference between art as one’s life “work” and living life creatively everyday. In other words, what do artists know? We hope to welcome many more artists that will use the Green Lantern as an open studio for their investigations and contribute to a public dialogue about the process of making things.

-- Abigail Satinsky


The idea of a studio is alien to me, I'll admit. The reason being I've never thought of myself as a fine artist. The reason for that being, I don't produce fine art. Graphic design usually falls on the other side on the fence from art, and my education and practice has traditionally had a lot more to do with design than art.

That being said, I'm thrilled to find myself among artists, in an art space, that could rightfully called a studio. It's a very eclectic version of a studio, and I think stretches the definition, but that's part of what our experiment is about. Plus, there's lots of overlap. And that overlap is a great place for innovation, for all of us. Even though I might be the least involved in the art world of the four of us, I have had a hand in the creation of the look and design collateral of the space in a big way. And collaborating on that has been a lot of fun. We eventually arrived at the idea of a Secret Society, cloaked in symbology. Rather than a closed entity though, we have a Secret Society that's open to the public, with symbols which are easily decipherable. The only bar to admission is showing up and hanging out. Working out the look and logos for the various part of the space was a great design project, and one where I could bring my poor art skills to bear.

One thing I've learned here though, is that art practice extends to all things. Caroline considers the entire business her art practice. Abby and Bryce have introduced me to the practice of 'Arts Administrators' (though I call them Art Bosses, cause that's easier). Devin tells great jokes.

Figuring out how the various pieces of the puzzle relate to each other, and how they don't has been a long tangled process this summer. We've mashed all the ideas together, we've pulled them apart, and I think, arrived at a very finely balanced structure of really very different sorts of arts organism co-habitating the same space. As the bookstore arm, I feel I'm the least fully realized so far, as we have only one measly shelf of books for sale, in a very unserious way. Devin's performances series have started and Abby and Caroline have worked hard on mounting the art shows. Me, I'm working on an online shopping cart and check-out system for our new independent press bookstore, The Paper Cave, and it's coming great, but I don't have much that's public at the moment. I'm just happy to be in a cave-like, studio-like space drawing weird pictures.

--Zach Dodson


Most of the work I did this summer in advance of the Corpse Performance Space at the Green Lantern Gallery didn’t need a studio space—meeting people for coffee is always an option and, during the earlier summer months, I tried to have as many planning sessions outside, in the park, with a nice salad or some bread and cheese. Which is to say, since most of the work I was doing this summer was chasing performers and artists and musicians down and trying to talk them into planning a series at our space, I didn’t need a space to show them anyways.

Well, sort of. By August, it became clear that even though most of the series curators knew the space was going to be last minute, that last minute was arriving and we needed to figure out how things were going to work. I ended up having to cancel some of the larger performances and scale back some of our ideas; four hour readings with jugglers and acrobats (really) became your normal 60 minute three author and discussion after; performers known for working with large piles of dirt were asked if it might be possible to do something in the spring when we were, hopefully, in a larger, more permanent space.

Which isn’t to say that I’m disappointed in what we ended up with—we’ve still got a 9 person improv night planned and some amazing reading and film series. Only that, as with most projects, artistic or otherwise, there’s been editing. Normal, banal editing within or without a studio.

--Devin King

Zach Dodson is an active member of many different arts communities, forging connections between the worlds of design and literature. He has launched such experiments as Featherproof Books, Bleached Whale Design, and The Show N' Tell Show. His hybrid typo/graphic novel, boring boring boring boring boring boring boring, was released under the nom de plume Zach Plague. His Art Direction credits include shelter, Echo, and MAKE: A Chicago Literary Magazine. His design has appeared in Newcity, Punk Planet, Resonance, TimeOut Chicago, Mule, and Bagazine. His writing has appeared in Monsters & Dust, ACM, Take the Handle, and Proximity Magazine. In 2009 he was named to Newcity’s Top 50 Literary Figures in Chicago.

All Images Courtesy of the Artist

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

They Do It For Free

Nicolette Michele Caldwell
Sixty Inches From Center:
Contemporary Graffiti
C33 Gallery, Columbia College Chicago

These days street art is everywhere. Chicago is my hometown and even though street art does not possess as strong of a cultural presence as it does in other American cities, you will find many talented street artists who choose to live here. The exhibition Sixty Inches From Center: Contemporary Graffiti at Columbia College Chicago’s C33 Gallery attempts to foster a meaningful discussion about the importance of street art on the contemporary art stage.

As a curator, I am constantly looking for new work or for familiar pieces in a variety of Chicago neighborhoods. Sometimes the artwork remains for a while and sometimes it is “buffed” over like the south wall of Boulevard Bikes in Logan Square with work by Goons and Sonny. Street art is a continually growing artistic endeavor on the contemporary art map and has a rich and diverse history beginning with graffiti writing and tagging on subway trains in the late 1970s and early 1980s in New York City. There is a growing community of street and graffiti artists in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, but there is also a burgeoning presence of street and graffiti artists in online communities.

Hebru Brantley, acrylic on brick wall, 2008
These street artists beautify unappealing wall facades with interesting and culturally inspired aesthetics. They hide their identity with an alias, but what should not remain a mystery is the studio practice involved in this discipline. The urban space or ‘urban studio’ that street artists work in provides a unique level of artistic freedom uncommon to other art forms.

What makes up street art?
Street art, elements of traditional graffiti, wheat-pasted posters, stencils, broadsides and ephemera are the most common form of street art in Chicago followed by spray paint, acrylic paint and stickers. You will see many current street artists working with found materials such as wood and other random scraps that make sense for their piece. Another interesting alternative to traditional street art practice is a new method called ‘green graffiti’. There are two approaches that I have come across that include moss graffiti that looks like moss growing on a wall. Moss graffiti is made from specific recipes found online and applied freehand or with a prefabricated stencil. Another material used is “ stenciled mud” and is probably one of the most ephemeral since it is the most susceptible to weather elements.

Jova El Grafista, Dumpster Diving For Materials, 2010

Skill and studio practice
Within the last two decades contemporary street art has become widely popular amongst many artists who combine both traditional studio practice and self-taught skills such as “graffiti writing”. Graffiti Writing is comprised of self-designed graphic font, text and symbols. Not all street artists have a background in graffiti writing and not all graffiti writers are practicing street artists. Participating artists in Sixty Inches From Center: Contemporary Graffiti are Jova el Grafista, Hebru Brantley, Brooks Golden and Blutt who all work with a variety of media and uniquely incorporate traditional elements of graffiti style. Like all the artists in the exhibition, they all work in and out of the studio.

Brooks Golden, Installation Wall, Meeting Of Styles, Chicago, Illinois, 2010
Blutt, Sticker, Possibly 2009/10

Nothing and everything compares
When I look at a piece of artwork I consider both the production and product. This is true with street art as well. Of course, all street art can be appreciated specifically for it’s aesthetic value but after learning more about street art practice I absolutely think it is important for the public to understand the production process. After having discussions on this topic with a few Chicago street artists, it is largely agreed upon that there are certain criteria that are used to critique the production and final product of the work.

1. Risk absolutely needs to be part of the process. If it seems to easy then many will not accept the work as authentic street art. It is part of the experience of working in the urban environment as a partial studio. Risk demonstrates how solid the artist’s dedication is to their artistic practice and crew who act sort of like a collective. Murals are not street art they are commissioned, legal, public art and created with ease.

2. It is also important to make the distinction between graffiti and street art as separate disciplines. The line can become blurry but it is helpful to know that street art is planned in advance while graffiti writing is done on the spot. When ‘traditional artists’ showcase a body of work in a gallery they make sure it is their best work and that it is representative of their talent. It is the same as any studio critique – there is bad illustration, bad painting, bad photography and there is bad street art. Likewise, street artists also take pride in the art they incorporate into the urban landscape - not that graffiti writers do not take pride in their work, they just work less preemptively and you can tell because the style typically remains the same. With street art there is much more variety.

Street art and the growing dialog
In conjunction with Chicago Artists Month and the Studio Chicago Project initiative the topic of street art and graffiti art could not be more appropriate. Street Art is not a common debate in academia nor is it incorporated into the contemporary dialog in Chicago. After co-curating Sixty Inches From Center: Contemporary Graffiti with Casey Champion, I was able to become a part of a slowly growing dialog. The main purpose of the exhibition was not necessarily to say, “this is street art” but to showcase street artists, highlight their talent and make the studio process as transparent as possible. My hope is to educate others on this topic and advocate for growing acceptance of street and graffiti art. These artists are contributing an important artistic voice at the contemporary art table in and outside of Chicago.

Image Credit: Hebru Brantley, acrylic on brick wall, 2008; Jova El Grafista, Dumpster Diving For Materials, 2010; Brooks Golden, Installation Wall, Meeting Of Styles, Chicago, Illinois, 2010; Blutt, Sticker, Possibly 2009/1; Video by Cristina Aguirre, student and reporter for "The Loop" at Columbia College Chicago

Nicolette Michele Caldwell is co-director of Sixty Inches From Center: Chicago Arts Archive and Collective Project. She is a graduate of Columbia College Chicago who is passionate about increasing awareness of the city’s local artists and organizations. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Art History, specializing in Modern to Contemporary Art and the History of Photography. Caldwell’s post-graduate work has served in the development of grant proposals and fundraising efforts for Roots and Culture Gallery and as a gallery operations and administrative assistant for the Averill and Bernard Leviton Gallery. Her experiences curating include the 2009 and 2010 student BFA exhibitions and Sixty Inches From Center, an exhibition highlighting Chicago street art. Caldwell has volunteered services to the Poor Farm experiment and is also a lifelong lover and maker of photography.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Louise LeBourgeois on Studio, Partnership and Swimming

Louise LeBourgeoise
Columbia College Chicago
Art+Design Department

Where is my studio? It is the physical place where I go to make my paintings, but it is also a psychic space containing memory, experience, and ideas. I bring these mental constructs with me when I walk into my studio. I take them with me when I leave. The studio is a place with walls. And it isn't.

Painting is an incredibly solitary activity. When I was a younger artist, I thought that painting full time, with very few distractions in my life, was a level of perfection I wanted to achieve. I now know that such isolation is not good for my state of mind, nor is it good for my ability to get work done.

Paradoxically, the community I create in my life outside of the studio, spending time doing things that seemingly have nothing to do with making art, allows me to become even more creative and productive as an artist. It’s like being a deep-sea diver. When you know there are people waiting for you in a boat on the surface of the water who can pull you back to a place where you can breathe, you become more willing to take risks, to dive deeper and further than you ever have before. The more closely connected I am to other people, the easier it is for me to put in long, solitary hours in my studio.

I think this is the single most important thing I have ever learned about being an artist.

The diving metaphor is apt for many reasons. I am a swimmer, and the older I get, the more interested I am in painting water and sky. It’s an image I started working with almost two decades ago when I was an M.F.A. student at Northwestern University and casting about for subject matter onto which I could pin all my aching and almost absurd hopes of becoming a successful artist.

I wanted to become a good painter. I thought if I were able to paint water, elusive and refractive as it is, in a convincing manner, then I would be able to paint anything. It really wasn’t any more complicated than that.

But like a dream whose layers of meaning are only revealed over time, the significance of this simple image, and simple intention, has evolved into something entirely different.

Lake, oil on panel, 5.5” x 7.5”, 1994

Here are some snapshots of the relationships, experiences and community that sustain me as a painter.

For many years, I shared a studio at home with my husband Steven Carrelli . We met in 1993 while we were both graduate students at Northwestern. We married in 1995. Our entire lives as working artists has been in partnership with each other.

It’s a funny thing living with another artist. It’s like hearing the repetitive running monologue of your own obsessive/creative mind come out of someone else’s mouth. Here is a video interview of Steve with Columbia College’s Elizabeth Burke-Dain that illustrates perfectly what I’m talking about:

This is exactly the kind of thing we listen to from each other almost every day, these random thoughts and doubts. It doesn’t make sense to try to turn it into conversation. That can have doomed consequences. We only critique each other's work when asked.

Steve and I bought our condominium in Rogers Park in 1998. Until this past January, we shared the 400 square foot living room as our studio.

This worked well for all the years we both made intimate, face-sized paintings. Then Steve began to work on much larger drawings and last year I was also struck by a need to work much bigger. I ordered two 46” x 46” panels.

I quickly realized I couldn’t work the way I was accustomed to in the studio I shared with Steve. It wasn’t practical for me to move bulky panels around in the same space where he had set up intricate still lives, and neither of us wanted to risk my spattering paint onto his carefully rendered drawings.

I found a new studio at the Greenleaf Art Center, a five-minute walk from our front door. Now that I paint elsewhere, it's changed our interaction with each other.

Many years ago, we worked on our first collaborative drawing. We did a few more over time. Now that we don't share the same studio, we both have more motivation to do these drawings together. One of us starts, and we pass it off to the other in turns until it’s done. These drawings are weirder, and the outcome less foreseen, than anything either of us would do on our own.

Untitled, graphite on paper, 15.75” x 9.5”, 2010
Untitled, graphite on paper, 16.5” x 10.5”, 2010
Untitled, graphite on paper, 14.5” x 11.5”, 2010, in progress

I have a group of friends who swim at Promontory Point in Hyde Park at dawn in the summer and early fall. I am not naturally an early morning person, but it’s such a transformative experience, with such friendly people, for such a short window of time each year, that I make the effort to go two or three times a week.

It’s like swimming in one of my paintings. Or conversely, it is a visceral experience that keeps me in touch with what I need to know to make the paintings I make.

In late summer, it is still dark when my alarm goes off at 5am. Going out into the world before daybreak spooks me. Lake Michigan spooks me, for good reason. It’s a powerful body of water. Twice in my life I’ve been truly frightened by its tremendous force, and both times I hustled myself back onto land as quickly as I could.

When we get into the water around 6am in late August or early September, the sky is a dilute gray and the sun isn’t up yet. Sometimes the water is crazy cold, in the low to mid 50’s. Over the years, I’ve learned to tolerate cold water. Like any difficult skill, you can train yourself to do it if you are motivated enough.

It is true urban wilderness. The lake tells you how far and how long you can swim and it is in our interest to listen carefully. Our lives depend on it. My swimming friend Grace Tsiang wrote an article for the U.S. Masters Swimming website about one particularly challenging swim last summer.

Swimming out into the lake and watching the pink sun rise over the horizon is worth all the exertion of an early morning swim. It is as if you’re watching all that spookiness dissolve into benign reality.

For two weeks in June this year, I participated in the BAU Institute’s artist residency program in Otranto, Italy. There were about twelve to fifteen artists while I was there, the numbers fluctuating as people arrived and left. We all had our studios on the top floor of Otranto’s 15th century castle, which has a vast terrace overlooking the Adriatic Sea towards Albania. I could step outside my studio door and actually see water and sky.

During a typical day I worked for six or seven hours with pencils, erasers and paper. The simplicity of drawing was perfect for this trip, particularly since the castle and our studios were closed from 1 to 3 in the afternoon. There was no need to clean up in the middle of the day or at the end.

I swam almost everyday, the warm salt water a pleasant change from my chilly swims in Lake Michigan. One day the water was extremely choppy. I treaded water and could see the quick instant of sharp pointed peaks at the top of each wave. I decided to make a drawing of that.

Water, Otranto #7, graphite on paper, 11” x 14”, 2010

I completed seven 11” x 14” graphite drawings of water and sky while I was there.

I have vivid memories of painting when I was in nursery school. I would stand at the easel, load my brush with a bright color and slather it onto the paper. Then I’d dip the brush into another color and slide it into the first, noticing how the colors merged and blended. I’d bring home large pieces of paper that could barely support all the paint I’d layer onto it. My mother would listen to me as I gave elaborate explanations of what each painting meant. I don’t recall ever painting any thing, although I probably did. I do remember seeing what the other kids painted— people, flowers, fire trucks, the sun. I felt wistful about it, liking what I saw, but not wanting to do the same thing. I was much more interested in color and the physical sensation of messing around with paint.

Now that I am working on much larger panels, the way I paint now is beginning to feel very much like the way I painted when I was very young.

Water #430, Oil on Panel, 46” x 46”, 2010
Water #420, Oil on Panel, 46” x 46”, 2010
Water #423, Oil on Panel, 46” x 46”, 2010
I have worked with water and sky imagery for many years now, inspired by Lake Michigan and the conundrum that the horizon line presents: a straight, visible line that actually describes the invisible curve of our planet. Although none of these thoughts are explicit in the drawings and paintings I produce, my fascination with the illusion of a sharp divide where none actually exists is what drives me to create such labor-intensive images of very simple compositions.

Louise LeBourgeois swims in Lake Michigan (and other places) and teaches painting and drawing in the Art + Design Department at Columbia College Chicago. She is currently exhibiting her work in the “Imagine Everywhere” show at Columbia College’s A + D gallery.

She graduated with a B.S in Art from the University of Wisconsin/Madison, a B.F.A from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and an M.F.A from Northwestern University. She and her husband Steven Carrelli will both have one person shows at Packer Schopf Gallery in Chicago in November.

Images Courtesy of the Artist