Learning New Stuff and Brushing Off Old Skills – June 2018 Artist Newsletter
Left: Instructor Robin Power blows the Josh Green glaze onto the sculpture. Middle: Sculpture on the rack awaiting the second firing. Right: This is the finish I'm going for; I want it to resemble a bronze with a patina.
In May I learned how to fire and glaze ceramics. I’ve done figure sculpture before, including some fairly monumental figurative puppets made of chicken wire and papier-mâché, but I have never properly finished up a clay figure. That is a long and involved process: you fire the piece once for the “bisque,” then add under and over glazes, and then fire again. All this is after you hollow out the figure and let it dry completely for a week or two. I am almost done with the first figure I made at my Lill Street class, and this coming week I will start drying my second piece. I’m anxious to see how I can incorporate figure sculpture into collage-like pieces, similar to what I do with figure drawings.
My Story Studio writing class is also teaching me through doing – my favorite way to learn. Every week we write 1000 words on a specific aspect of the science fiction / fantasy genre. I think that is just long enough to both create something interesting, and also introduce enough discipline to ensure we don’t meander off into our own Never Ending Stories. My very first creative inclination was writing; I wrote stories long before I ever started to draw, and writing has always been what I consider one of my base skills. Yet I haven’t focused on it specifically in quite some time. This class has been fantastic for developing that skill further.
Adding to My Skillset – May 2018 Artist Newsletter
Hollowing out my first figure sculpture in preparation for firing.
I started my figure sculpture class at Lill Street in April!
I have so far completed one clay figure that stands about 10 inches tall. At our last class, we hollowed out the sculptures to allow them to dry more quickly, so that they don’t explode when we fire them. This is a real concern. Who knew? As class goes on, we’ll learn more about slips and glazes and types of clay.
I also started attending an online course in science fiction and fantasy writing with the Story Studio in Chicago. I want to improve my writing and tighten my plot development for the comic, and just get overall feedback from other writers. I wasn’t sure I’d like an online course, but so far I love it. All of our class discussion is done through writing, which seems really appropriate for a writing course; so I’m improving before I even get to my first assignment.
With these classes, I’m reaching further into my skillset to broaden what my work can be. Later this year, I might even start looking into coding. Don’t quote me on that, but I’m thinking about it.
And summer has finally started in Chicago!
Keeping On Keeping On – April 2018 Artist Newsletter
Much of the work I put into my practice looks a lot like this. Sadly, not always with cake.
Prep work isn’t all that thrilling to report on, but nothing happens without it.
In March, I applied to several residencies, and sent in my bid for another public mural. I do this kind of work every month; it’s part of the job. I’ll certainly report back if any of it comes to fruition, but for now just know that I am constantly plugging away on all sorts of opportunities.
Agitator Gallery continues to teach me about being a working artist and an active, contributing member of the community. Our show You Can Tell Me Anything: The Visual Art of Harm Reduction wrapped up on March 31 with an artist talk by Dr. Suzanne Carlberg-Racich. She discussed her project with Nicole Pallas and participants of the Chicago Recovery Alliance community. The photo project was done through PhotoVoice, an organization that promotes the "ethical use of photography for positive social change, through delivering innovative participatory photography projects."
Dr. Carlberg-Racich worked with a community of opiate users to create documentation of their experiences of stigma, support, and life in general. The study was both framed and executed by the community; and Dr. Carlberg-Racich continues to work with them to ensure that the work is used ethically, and that it is used with the ongoing consent of the participants. I was really impressed with the respect and deference to the participants’ voice that Dr. Carlberg-Racich described in her talk.
As April begins, I am really looking forward to my first figure sculpture class at Lill Street Art Center. Watch for photos of me with handfuls of clay and a big smile on my face, because this is gonna be fun.
Building Energy – March 2018 Artist Newsletter
The Generals play at Agitator Gallery after Eleftheria Lialios' artist talk
The warmer weather means that we’re all getting more energy, and it’s a good thing because my plate, as always, is pretty full!
Detroit 1978-1983: Photographs and Prints by Eleftheria Lialios, the show I curated for Agitator Gallery in January, wrapped up the second week in February with a very engaging artist talk. The gallery was packed. I want to mention here that artist talks are not usually packed, so it is a mark of great distinction that Freedom (that's what her friends call her) had so many people come out to support her. Freedom is a phenomenal artist with a rich and interesting history, and you should check out her work.
We followed the talk with a live music performance by The Generals, a local six piece band. I KNOW - yes, a six piece band in that small space was maybe a little nuts, but it worked! The talk and the music performance drew two entirely different crowds, and there was a lot of mingling and conversation going on. This is part of our mission at the gallery, and I’m so proud to see it happening.
In my own practice, I am really looking forward to taking a figure sculpture class at Lill Street Art Center this spring. My murals have inspired me to further explore public art, and I want to expand my figure work into large outdoor installations. I have some basic ideas of what I want to do, but this is really going to be a see-what-happens kind of project. I’ll keep you updated with photos as my new sculptural work develops.
The Good Year Ahead – February 2018 Artist Newsletter
Eleftheria Lialios at Agitator Gallery
This year is proving to be full of promise in both large and small ways.
I’m applying for more mural commissions, continuing the webcomic, and working on some new projects that I will debut later this year. And yes – the gallery is going strong!
Detroit 1978-1983: Photographs and Prints by Eleftheria Lialios, the show I curated for Agitator Gallery in January, was a rousing success, and we are following it up with an artist talk on February 3.
Detroit was our most well-attended event so far, and that is saying something! We brought in new people to see the gallery, including the proprietor of a neighboring, more established gallery, who was really impressed with our progress. We’re looking forward to increasing this momentum over our first full year of exhibits in 2018.
We’re also starting to populate the gallery calendar with programming. On January 30, we hosted Figure Tuesdays for the first time. It was warm and inviting, and we had the welcome challenge of needing to rearrange the room a few times just to fit everyone in.
Over the next few weeks we’ll start critique sessions, silent movie nights, classes and workshops.
In August, I will curate another exhibit, one very close to my heart. I’ll be showing several comic book artists from Chicago – some very famous, some not as famous as they should be. I’m still developing the theme and content, but I have the main participants set, and I know it’s going to be amazing!
Hitting the Ground Running – January 2018 Newsletter
Postcard for Detroit 1978-1983 Photographs and Prints by Eleftheria Lialios, the first show I am curating at Agitator Gallery.
In 2017, I opened a lot of new doors. I finished up my residency with the inaugural cohort of Field / Work at Chicago Artists’ Coalition, helped found a cooperative art gallery in Chicago, created a video for an ambitious and timely historical piece put on by the Kelton House in Ohio, and designed, painted and managed a crew for my first major mural commission with the Mile of Murals. I’m ready for even more in 2018.
Here are a couple great things coming up in January:
I am a brand new board member for the Chicago Women’s Health Center! CWHC “facilitates the empowerment of women and trans* people by providing access to health care and health education in a respectful environment where people pay what they can afford.” My term starts in January, and I can hardly wait to help spread the word through promotional videos and much more.
January also marks my first show as a curator at Agitator Gallery. Photographer Eleftheria Lialios will show some of her earliest work, street documentary photography and studio setups from Detroit, 1978 – 1983. For the opening, we will also feature some live acoustic guitar music by Miguel Amur Mar.
I was a teaching assistant for Eleftheria when I was a grad student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and I was always floored by her dedication to both her craft and to the art of teaching. She had a permanent impact on my life as an artist, and I am honored to present this show.
Thank you, as always, for your interest in my work. May everyone have an amazing New Year!
What a Great Year – December 2017 Newsletter
Choosing work to display at the Figure Tuesdays Showcase.
December is a time for reflecting on all that I have accomplished this year. That doesn’t mean that I’m taking a break, though! This month I’m part of two local art shows, and I’m also wrapping up some very important videos.
Sunday December 3 opens the Figure Tuesdays Showcase. Tracy Kostenbader from AnySquared has organized regular art shows at Cole’s Bar, a Logan Square neighborhood favorite, for years. This show will feature sketches of participating artists from the Figure Tuesdays drawing sessions, and and will be on display through mid-February.
Agitator Gallery is hosting its first holiday fundraiser. On December 9, we will hold a silent auction of work by members and friends. I’ll be creating a new series of collages for this event. Agitator has been developing different strategies to bring in operating funds, both event-based and more sustainable, longterm ideas. It’s important to us that all of these methods involve building our community presence as well. If there is one thing we know by now, it’s that we can throw a great event that people want to attend. So we are all looking forward to making new friends at this holiday bash!
In late October, my team and I finished “Resilience”, my piece for the Mile of Murals, in Rogers Park. I hired Tom Callahan from Sensitive Visuals to document the piece with his excellent drone videography. Old school Chicago punk band Silver Abuse provided the music. I’m really proud of the resulting video, which you can see here.
This month I will also finish the edit of Not On My Watch: The Oberlin-Wellington Rescue of 1858, the video document of a presentation put on by historical re-enactors at the Kelton House Museum and Gardens in Columbus, Ohio. This theater piece tells the story of John Price, a fugitive slave living in Oberlin, who was captured by federal marshals intending to return him to slavery. Oberlin anti-slavery students and townspeople freed the runaway from his jail, and the subsequent trial brought the country to the brink of war.
Here is a short clip from the rough cut of a very spirited part of the play.
I am so grateful for these opportunities to show my work, and also contribute to the community. This is what I was born to do.
I hope everyone has a great holiday season.
A Brief Calm Before the Next Storm of Activity – November 2017 Newsletter
Mural Crew, L to R: Dalia Carrillo, Cesar Moyorido, Jason Schroeder, Gretchen Hasse.
Things have calmed down a little bit lately – but that really only means that I finally have time to breathe a little after several months of nonstop action.
We finished the Rogers Park mural a week ago, just in time for inclement weather. Check out more photographs of both the process and the final project here.
Next week we’re making a video document of the wall and how it fits into the neighborhood, as it’s very difficult to communicate the scale and the context through still photos. I’m hiring my friend Tom Callahan, who does drone footage, and it’s going to look amazing. I’m really looking forward to sharing it with everyone who can’t come to the mural in person (yet)!
The mural has already led to other opportunities: this afternoon I met with someone who wants a mural in his home. It will be a different challenge, but it will sure be nice to be inside! The excellent crew that worked on the Rogers Park mural will be together for this one as well. This time I hope that everyone can have some input on the design.
Agitator Gallery is going strong, and this week I sold two of my pieces! This is the biggest sale I have made to date; I guess it pays to have work hanging on a gallery wall.
I’m on a roll, and I’m just going with it. See you next month!
Incredibly Busy Month – October 2017 Newsletter
Agitator Gallery's first show features work by the founding members.
Honestly I’ve had a lot of busy months lately, but September was exceptional.
September 12 marked the return of Figure Tuesdays after our two month summer break. We’ve got new people attending, and we never have to look for models because they come looking for us. Figure Tuesdays has a good rep all around.
On September 16 Agitator Gallery had our soft opening, which was well attended and created quite a buzz. We brought three new members in last week, and we will include their work in our grand opening on October 14. We are still hashing out regular gallery hours, storage and other logistics; but the quality of our art and the extent of our high level network of connections is almost overwhelming. This coming year is going to be a wild ride of growth for us, I just know it.
Last week I finished the rough cut of Not On My Watch, the video document of the story of the rescue of fugitive slave John Price in Oberlin, Ohio. It was a long, complicated edit, but the result is well worth it. The fine people at The Kelton House are really pleased, and we’re looking forward to debuting it in Columbus later this year.
The Mile of Murals project continues! We work on it during the weekends, and the residents of Rogers Park constantly let us know how much they appreciate our efforts. We get car honks, cheers, applause, detailed appreciation when people stop to speak with us, and a few times people have dropped by to give us drinks or donuts. The neighborhood is downright delighted by this new addition. We’re so happy about that, because public art is for the public.
See you next month with lots more news.
We are opening the gallery, and my mural is well underway! – September 2017 Newsletter
L: Some of the Crew getting ready to start work on the mural: R: Our brand new space for Agitator Gallery!
There is so much happening this month that I needed to wait a week just to get it all sorted.
First - Agitator: A Cooperative Gallery
My first artist newsletter back in April mentioned a community meeting to discuss forming a new cooperative, artist-run art gallery. In the few months since then, we have progressed at breakneck speed, writing bylaws and a mission statement and getting all our business details in order; and just last week we signed a lease for an ideal space near Ashland and Division in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood.
Agitator is nicely situated a few doors down from Corbett Vs Dempsey, an already established gallery; and our landlords run the renowned Chopin Theater. We are hoping to hold our “soft opening” next week, during EXPO Chicago. I think we have done very well for ourselves.
And also - The Mural!
We started work on the mural in Rogers Park late in August. I used the deposit partly to purchase a scaffold and a paint sprayer, because I plan on doing a lot more murals.
My team is made up of excellent, diligent young artists I met through AnySquared and Figure Tuesdays. They are skilled in traditional painting and spray paint stencils, both of which are very important for this complex, multi-layered piece.
Our contract states that we need to be finished by October, and I am pretty sure we’ll be working right up until then. It’s going to be worth it!
I’ll keep you posted on these and many other projects over the months ahead. In particular, watch for more Agitator news soon!
My First Major Mural Commission – August 2017 Newsletter
"Resilience", my design for the 2017 iteration of Rogers Park's Mile of Murals Project.
I am thrilled to announce that my design has been chosen for the 2017 installment of Rogers Park’s Mile of Murals project.
From the Mile of Murals website:
“The Mile of Murals is a community-based public art initiative in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago, located on the far north side of the city. The project began in 2007, and is sponsored by the Rogers Park Business Alliance and the Clark/Morse/Glenwood Special Service Area #24 . Our ten-year project goal is to paint a full mile of murals along the CTA Red Line track from Estes Avenue to Pratt Boulevard along the Glenwood Avenue train line.The project will result in 19 large-scale murals: ten block-long walls, seven viaduct walls, and two overpasses. New artists and themes are selected annually through a rigorous selection process juried by arts professionals and community leaders.”
I have been part of the Rogers Park art scene for several years. The neighborhood is one of the most diverse in the country, with an active and pervasive sense of community. I always admired the Mile of Murals initiative, and applied several times before. I believe this is the final year – so I made it just in the nick of time!
The 2017 call for proposals asked artists to design a mural around a word or phrase. My design, “Resilience,” honors the strength, ingenuity and persistence of Rogers Park residents.
I’ll be working with several assistant artists to help me complete this 88 foot long, 12 foot high piece. Painting will begin in the month of August, and be complete by October.
I’ll update you on our progress!
Clips from My Day Job – July 2017 Newsletter
Still from "Not On My Watch," Original Theater Piece Created and Performed by Kelton House Museum and Garden in Columbus, Ohio. Image from the Kelton House website.
Later this month I will travel to Columbus, Ohio to work on a video project with Kelton House. A museum, event venue and educational center, Kelton House is the preserved home of an abolitionist family who served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. The Kelton House Museum and Garden is a community service program of the Junior League of Columbus, who hired me to work on this video.
The video will document the full performance of Not On My Watch: The Oberlin-Wellington Rescue of 1858. This theater piece is a dramatization of a court case from the story of John Price, a fugitive slave living in Oberlin, who was captured by federal marshals intending to return him to slavery. Oberlin anti-slavery students and townspeople freed the runaway from his jail, and the subsequent trial brought the country to the brink of war.
Not On My Watch was created from accounts drawn from Nat Brandt’s book, The Town that started the Civil War. It is performed by the members of the Kelton House Underground Railroad Community Advisory Committee. The performance includes twelve speaking roles, performed by actors; plus an active audience of Columbus residents active in historical re-enactment. Everyone will be in full period costume.
Kelton House wants to use the complete video to educate a wider audience about a very important piece of history. This type of project is one of the reasons I love doing video; I get to learn, meet interesting people, and contribute to a valuable project that serves the public good.
And also, incidentally, I will get to visit a dear friend in Columbus. So it’s going to be a great weekend! I look forward to sharing images and video with you soon.
Read more about the history of the John Price story here.
Staying Involved – June 2017 Newsletter
Occupation in front of Governor Rauner's office in Springfield, Illinois. May 30, 2017.
Like probably all artists, I have historically found it difficult / amusing to explain to people what I “do for a living.” Lately though, as we move closer to a gig-based economy, more people do understand the hand to mouth reality of creative work. And increasingly, I find that people also more fully understand the dedicated pursuit of something besides money. We all need money to survive, and we all have realities that impose various limits on our ability to pursue anything else seriously; but I think more people are questioning the status quo. That makes explaining life as an artist a little easier.
Activist work has been part of my practice for almost twenty years. Sometimes that means providing video support for an event; sometimes that means incorporating social justice themes into my comic narratives; sometimes it’s just a matter of portraying a broad spectrum of humanity in my figure work. I was a teacher for ten years, and our justice-oriented classroom conversations inspire me to this day. I’m always thinking about social justice issues, and I try to incorporate them into my work in a way that feels natural and evocative.
This week I volunteered with The People’s Lobby as a second cameraperson to cover a protest in Springfield, Illinois. My state hasn’t had a budget in almost two years, and people across Illinois are suffering because of it. The protest on Tuesday was the culmination event of the March to Springfield, a two-week march from Chicago to the state capitol. Marchers talked to people in communities along the way about the problems they face every day, and what they want for the future.
I won’t go into all the details here, but suffice it to say that it was a nonpartisan protest, and we had a wide variety of ages and backgrounds represented. Check out some pretty decent (and brief!) NBC coverage here.
As protests go, this one was fairly “safe.” The protestors were arrested, but released immediately. Most of the protestors were white, which absolutely affects how they were treated by the authorities. People were roughed up by security (as you will see in the video above), but far, far worse has occurred in protests that were not as closely covered by national media. Protestors are brave.
So what’s the point? People might point to the fact that we still don’t have a budget - legislators closed session without a budget on Tuesday and then, HA, went on vacation - and say that the effort was futile. I don’t think so.
I think that actions like this are one tool in a big toolbox of social change. I am very encouraged to see more and more people participating, and doing it in different ways. I look at AnySquared, Figure Tuesdays and our nascent cooperative art gallery as hyper-local, slow burn social progress. I am also becoming more involved in the political process, both in Chicago and at the state level. Sometimes the normal stuff is important. Sometimes the situation calls for something bigger, bolder, and more immediate. It’s all necessary. It’s all part of spreading education, building solidarity and gathering momentum.
I want to do whatever I can to move us forward. Right now I can do stuff like this. I might get a full time job in the next few months, my schedule would change, and I would have to recalibrate my involvement. I might do different things. But I won’t stop.
Taking Charge As A Community – May 2017 Newsletter
First Public Meeting for Our Cooperative Gallery. At Resistor Space, Chicago.
Several years ago, I happened into a group of artists working out of a very DIY storefront gallery in a Chicago neighborhood. Since graduating with my MFA several years previously, I had been teaching video production and working freelance and staff video gigs; but I hadn’t mounted an exhibit in a long time.
The group of artists at the gallery were an eclectic bunch of people with a wide range of experience and training. Some people had degrees, some didn’t. Some joined the gallery having never shown their work to anyone publicly before.
My first show with the group was a group collage exhibit. I had never made collages, so I decided to combine some of my innumerable figure studies (and yeah I keep that stuff) with old paintings, interesting pieces of paper, and cardboard – because I really like cardboard.
The show was a success. We had a great turnout, and over the next couple weeks I sold almost every one of my collages. I had not been expecting that at all. Suddenly I started to think about exhibiting again.
It’s not just about selling work – although obviously that’s really nice! The camaraderie between the participating artists really helped me to develop my practice and my goals over the next few years. And I helped others to do the same.
That gallery does not exist anymore, but recently my friend Larry came to me and some others with the idea that we should start our own space in the spirit of what we had created there. Larry and I both have experience with cooperatives, and we wanted to set up our gallery using a cooperative structure. We hashed out some basic ideas, put out a public call to interested artists to come learn more, and a couple weeks ago we had the first meeting of our founding group of ten members. We are an eclectic bunch, with an energizing combination of skills, experience and ideas.
We all know this is going to be a lot of work. We’re going to deal with some of the more political sides of finding and maintaining space in Chicago, we’ll have to navigate the challenges of hosting regular, interesting shows, and we will all be learning how we work with each other as we go. But we also know it’s going to be worth it.
Our next step will be a series of two workshops on cooperative structure and practice, presented publicly so we can share our learning experience with others. The first workshop is next week, at the studio of one of our founding members. I’ll keep you updated on our progress!