Field Notes: Visual Art

CAR's visual arts researcher reports on visual arts communities and organizations around Chicago.
field notes

For the next six months, I'll be reporting weekly from a variety of venues, educational institutions and alternative artist spaces around Chicago. Our goal is to bring CAR's online resources to more diverse populations. Social media and websites can only do so much, so, with the support of a grant from The Joyce Foundation, we're putting boots on the ground and bringing CAR to the people. This article will be updated weekly with reports on exhibitions, events, interactions and dialogues with artists and organizations working around the city.

Andi Crist, Visual Arts Researcher for CAR


Recess – Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

SOUTHSIDE COMMUNITY ARTS CENTER — It's my first time at the South Side Community Arts Center, but before I even go inside, I know this won't be the last time I visit this place. The Center is located in a historic home right on Michigan Ave. and the warm lights from inside are glowing through the windows. I'm a little late, but I'm quietly welcomed into the main gallery space on the first floor for the artists talk in conjunction with the most recent exhibition, Recess. Recess is a group exhibition curated by Tempestt Hazel which features both SSCAC collection artists as well as a handful of other Chicago artists. The show is centered around the concept of youthful play an exhibits a variety of images that offer respite from everyday reality. Featured artists include: Caitlin Cherry, Krista Franklin, James T. Green, David Leggett, Christina A. Long, Cecil McDonald Jr. & avery r. young. Featured SSCAC collection artists are Archibald Motley Jr., Al Price, Charles Davis, Rosalie Davis, Jon Jones, William McBride, Eric W. Anderson, Maurice Benson and Ben Bey.

When I step inside, I immediately realize that this is not going to be like any other artist talk that I've ever been to. All of the artists are seated in a large circle smack in the middle of the gallery, with a few empty seats scattered in between. I'm not familiar with all of the artists, so at first I am not sure where to sit. I'm waved in and offered a seat in the circle. The conversation continues uninterrupted. 

Every inch of the gallery room is covered in old wood paneling, and right around the 60-inch mark, there's an aura of black holes where thousands of nails have been replaced with each installation of a new show. The conversation among the artists starts to gear up when the discussion turns to question the relationship of "blackness" to the themes of the show and its relationship to contemporary black art.  

Creative Crossings: Theater X Visual – Thursday, October 10th, 2013

CHICAGO ARTISTS COALITION — Tonight, DirectorsLabChicago is leading the Creative Crossings: theaterXvisual mixer. Creative Crossings is a program of the Chicago Artists Coalition through Art.Business.Create. Here's a quote from CAC's site about the initiative:

"Cross-disciplinary collaboration makes Chicago’s creative communities thrive. To encourage the contributions these groundbreaking partnerships make to our city’s culture, Chicago Artists Coalition has launched Creative Crossings. This new series of exchanges brings together makers and doers from varied disciplines to promote connections and an understanding of the current needs and concerns of contemporary, practicing artists."

Each of the attendees are invited to introduce themselves to the group and present their hopes for the evening. Most everyone here is seeking a collaborator and hopes to make more interdisciplinary relationships for future projects. Several of the artists have histories of working in theater and want to move in a direction like performance or new media stage design. Some directors are seeking artists that can help them expand their approach to communicating ideas visually. 


Dock 6 Collective – Friday, October 4th, 2013

4200 W. DIVERSEY — Tonight I'm at Dock 6 Collective for their bi-annual open house. Dock 6 is located in an ominous warehouse that feels off-the-grid. It's one of those places that you have to know where it is, but once you do, you'll never forget it. While the address is 4200 W. Diversey, you enter through the rear entrance tucked beside the Metra train tracks.

As I round the corner, the smell of smoky barbeque drifts by and I find a small parking lot quickly filling up with vendors and artists. An Eye Spy Optical truck is pulled up to the side with a huge display of eye glasses, and just inside, DJ Raj Mahal is setting up his table between a pair of enormous gramophones. The warehouse opens up and the room is absolutely overflowing with art and furniture. To my right, a couple of kids are playing with a custom built hockey table by a Dock 6 Collective designer. On the left, a table covered in brightly colored bullets. Obviously, I'm drawn to the bullets (who wouldn't be) and I happened to bump into the artist, Oakley Adams. 

Oakley is originally from Tennessee, where he collected an enormous amount of ammunition casings from a firing range. His table is spinning with multiple spinning sculptures, covered in brightly painted bullets. The work straddles a strange line between violent and playful, and the spinning only adds to the mystery. Oakley is currently in the process of installing an animatronic display in a storefront at N. Clybourn and Webster. You can see more of his works on his website or pop by the storefront this week to check it out in person. 

As I browse the rest of the warehouse, I spot a few really intriguing  prints installed on an industrial rope+pressboard hanging system strung up from floor to ceiling. The artist, Megan Lee Miller, was adjusting one of the frames when I stopped to talk to her about her unique photographic process and her relationship to Dock6.

Megan tells me about her unique darkroom-based photo work. The prints are true photographs (because they are made with light), but she doesn't use an actual camera to produce them. The pieces are bright but have a strange aura about them that makes them look almost like x-rays.

"I used plants as my negatives and placed them in a 4" x 5" glass carrier which fits in a color darkroom enlarger. In some instances, I performed some dissecting with an exacto blade on the stems and pistils of the plants. This was done in order to make them more transparent and therefore reveal the inner details of the plants," 

Megan goes on to tell me that she hopes to work on some new prints soon and continue her experimentation in the darkroom. She's starting to work on tweaking the floral images into portraits (pictured to the left) and is looking for new venues to show her work. See more of her work on her website here

Friday, September 27th, 2013

I'm hanging out at the Arts Incubator today working out some ideas for a potential workshop series inspired by last week's Statement Edit workshop. I think a speed-dating session with a bunch of writers and artists is in order... don't you?? I'll keep you posted as that develops.

The gallery is pretty slow today, but luckily avery r. young comes wandering into the space twiddling with his phone. avery is currently a resident artist at the Washington Park Arts Incubator, but his tenure will end next month when the new round of residents move into the studios. avery's work is currently hanging in the AI gallery, big wooden wall sculptures are covered in strange text that seems to blend hymns and hip-hop in comedic but romantic sort of way. For Chicago Artists Month, avery's show Groun(d) will open on October 11th, an exhibition that will discuss and explore the Trayvon Martin case---sure to be as blunt and brutally poetic as his current show. 

Art enthusiast "Thomas" wanders into the gallery to take a peek and asks about my weekend at EXPO. He tells me a little about the history of the EXPO and it's variety of previous locations. He tells me about SOFA (Sculptural Objects Functional Art + Design), another big expo to look forward to this Fall. Sounds right up my alley.

avery's spiritual howling echoes through the halls of Arts Incubator as I pack up my things to go. I am definitely looking forward to seeing what he has in store for CAM. Maybe I'll see you guys there?

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

Today we had an excellent Artist Statement Edit at the Washington park Arts Incubator. Freelance writer Madeline Nusser joined CAR Editor JC Steinbrunner to talk to a few artists and review their statements. We looked over portfolios and gave feedback about how their work was reflected in their writing. One of these artists was photographer Rosy Torres. 

Rosy is a student at the School of the Art Institute who focuses in painting and drawing. It's been ten years since she worked within an academic institution, but she still works in the field as an artist assistant. Rosy's work is rooted in what she calls "journalistic or documentary style photography" wherein she explores the cultures and history of the people that she photographs. Her subjects all have a sense of calm about them, and you can already tell that they are comfortable with her before she snaps the shutter. She's working on revamping her website and came down to work on a shiny new artist statement to match. 

As I work my way through the prints that she's brought to share, I am deeply interested in Rosy's subjects, seeming almost mysterious and timeless in their antiquated South American backgrounds. The text that accompanies her work shares a lot of insight into her background, what inspires her work, her process getting to know the people she documents, and her interests in cultural consciousness. The only problem is, I'm hearing a lot about Rosy, and not enough about the work. 

The key to a good artist statement is to dig into what the actual work is about. Calling it an artist statement can be misleading, as artists generally seem to think it should be about them. Rather, it is a statement by the artist and about the work. After reading her statement I felt that I knew Rosy well, but found myself asking a lot of questions about what she sees in her own photography, how her interests are reflected in those photos, and how the process of learning trust, exploring consciousness, and offering a cultural exchange is expressed there.

My solution: Separate the biography and the statement. Here are a couple steps you can take right now to improve your artist statement:

  1. Remove all the mushy stuff about your childhood. Knowing that your parents gave you paint as a toddler doesn't mean anything to me and it's not important for me to understand your current work.
  2. Take all of the autobiographical information out and put it into a separate paragraph dedicated specifically to your biography. 
  3. Tell me what your work is about. No, really. Don't assume that I already get it. Look at your portfolio while you write, be honest, and tell me about the ideas your working through with your artwork. 
  4. Cross out all those big words that you pulled out of your art history book that you think make you sound scholarly. If my mother can't understand what you're trying to say, it's probably too complicated. 
  5. Tailor your statement to a specific purpose. One statement won't sufficiently sum up three totally separate bodies of work.

One of the most difficult parts of developing an artist statement is "writing about yourself for everyone". It's hard to write about yourself and your ideas, but it's doubly difficult to make that writing understandable to a lot of different kinds of people. Make sure you are being as clear as possible, and don't try to cram too much into your statement. I automatically stop paying attention after you start talking about the subaqueous qualities of the figurative-narrative line-space matrix threatening to penetrate the essentially transitional quality.

Good luck!

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

After a brief hiatus spent in Ohio for a residency at Harold Arts, I am anxious to catch up with the AI artists and staff. Tonight, Cecil McDonald, Jr. gives a talk on his experience as an artist in residence at the Arts Incubator this past year. He'll also discuss his current exhibition of photographs, The Distance Between. There will be an artist's reception on Sunday, September 15th from 3-6 p.m.

There seem to be a few artists present that are getting aquainted with the Arts Incubator community in anticipation of the 2014 residency. With the summer almost over and Midwestern residency programs like ACRE, 8550OHIO (Harold Arts) and OxBow releasing a slew of artists back to Chicago, everyone seems to be buzzing about new work and fresh perspectives on art-making. McDonald discusses his process for the four works hanging behind him on the gallery wall, each featuring an individual in their home performing ordinary household tasks. A few of the subjects are seated in the audience and offer their own perspective about interacting with the artist. There's a general consensus that McDonald caught them off guard, but the candid nature of the photos seems to be what gives them a distinctly natural, activated quality. 

Someone asks McDonald how his term as an artist in residence at AI changed or influenced his practice. The answer didn't surprise me, but his honesty did.

"You know ... It really didn't," he said. "It just gave me a chance to continue what I was already doing and get feedback from a new audience."

Artists will often change their practice and focus based on a specific opportunity. It takes some courage to continue the work you're passionate about and meet the challenge of presenting it in new ways and situations. Cecil really took advantage of the location and people that he was surrounded with during his residency. I think his sincerity in doing so is what brought these works to a new level at Arts Incubator. Surrounded by incredible works by LeRoy Bach, Tomeka Reid, Cauleen Smith and avery r. young, McDonald's photographs and video installation balance confidently within the group show. 

Stop by and check out The Distance Between until September 29th. For the rest of the month, Arts Incubator and the Logan Center will hold gallery encounters with each of the artists to hear the stories and experiences about their featured work. The schedule is listed below:

  • August 28, 6 p.m. at the Incubator: Cecil McDonald, Jr.
  • September 4, 6 p.m. at the Logan Center: Tomeka Reid
  • September 11, 6 p.m. at the Incubator: Cauleen Smith
  • September 18, 6 p.m. at the Incubator: LeRoy Bach
  • September 25, 6 p.m. at the Logan Center: avery r. young


Monday, August 12th, 2013

Tonight is the closing event for LaMont Hamilton's exhibition Portraits of the Public, which centers around capturing the faces of Washington Park residents through the duration of Public Dialogue.

The smell of barbecued ribs, crab cakes and collard greens floats through the gallery. It seems that I have come too late for the feast, but the gallery is overflowing with people. I spot multiple people in the crowd who are subjects in the photographs taken by Hamilton. They've all brought their friends and family to see themselves displayed in an art exhibition. Much like the rows of photographs on the wall, viewers are shoulder-to-shoulder in the narrow hallway of the Arts Incubator. Among the photos is Pat, AI's volunteer docent, smiling brightly beside a friend. There's a bustling, exciting energy in the gallery where neighborhood folk have gathered to eat, share stories and find their visage in the grid. 

Outside, the Design Apprenticeship Program students hover around a vegetable cart overflowing with greens, beets and flowers. Alexis, who will be a high school senior this fall, tells me about the DAP program as she helps me carry some veggies to my car. The summer program ended last Friday. I'm a little disappointed I didn't have a chance to talk more with these talented teens. Alexis says they built the vegetable cart we were standing at in just two weeks, and that all of the produce is from a community garden down the street. More information about the Design Apprenticeship Program can be found on the DAP page on the UChicago website.

Saturday, August 3rd, 2013

Today Sixty Inches from Center is hosting an arts ephemera drive to archive the Chicago arts scene with Chicago Public Library. I brought a few items from my art studio/exhibition space: the exhibition catalogs, fliers and business cards with expired contact info that are the relics of Autotelic's former incarnation as an exhibition space. An interviewee's story overlays the looping music of 'Rebuilding a Boulevard," echoing throughout the gallery as he recalls his history as an artist working in Chicago. (The Arts Incubator gallery, like most modern exhibition spaces, offers no surface to dampen sound.) His name is Alan; he's an actor.

"I do mostly film and TV acting," says Alan. "And I'm a mechanical engineer, so I also make stuff. Art stuff."

After the interview, Alan asks me to snap a few pictures to document his presence at the event. He brought a few headshots to archive. Tempestt Hazel of Sixty Inches From Center (and also a program director at Chicago Artists Coalition, the parent organization of CAR) explains to him that he can continue to send archival material to add to his file over time. Interested? Get your stuff archived.

Outside, LaMont Hamilton is extending his Portraits of the Public photo shoot and snapping a pictures of the artists that contribute to the archive. The reception for Portraits of the Public is Monday, August 12 from 6–8 p.m.

To avoid disrupting the recording sessions in the sound-sensitive environment, I keep most of my conversations brief. Washington Park artist collective All Us We is telling their story. Allison Glenn of AI reminds me that this upcoming Monday is a free jazz night, and the Fred Jackson Group will be playing at 7 p.m., Sunday, September 15th.

Adam, an aspiring filmmaker, is waiting to do his interview with Sixty. When I ask him what his subject matter is, he says he's testing himself—trying some documentary-style filmmaking and taking advantage of the warm weather and lack of funding to get creative with his technique.

"I'm doing a little soul searching, doing some research into my family tree," he says. "I've been lucky to find some resources at the DuSable Museum ... It probably has the most information about African American history in the country."


Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

It's a little cloudy out. Garfield Park Boulevard always manages to surprise me with its volume of street traffic. With the Garfield Park Green Line viewable through the giant glass windows, the Washington Park Arts Incubator is in an ideal location for emerging artists to display their work. Neighborhood filmmaker Ade wanders in, curious about how he could get his work into the AI gallery in the summer of 2014. 

Ade tells me that he's originally from Detroit, but moved to the Chicago four years ago to pursue his bachelors degree in filmmaking at Columbia College Chicago. Now done with school, Ade is working on an independent film project called Hunger for Visibility, which will offer insight into the poverty on the South Side of Chicago. Ade steps up into the office to speak with Allison Glenn, the Arts + Public Life Program Manager and Exhibitions Curator to discuss the possibility of hosting his completed film at AI. 

During some quiet gallery time, I correspond with Tempestt Hazel of Sixty Inches From Center to figure out their schedule for the archiving event set to happen at Arts Incubator this Saturday. As a part of the current exhibition event series titled Public Dialogue, SIFC is inviting the neighborhood to bring their expired exhibition materials to bolster the Washington Park archive.

Kerrmitt Newborn wanders into the gallery and tells us that some friends suggested he stop in to find out how he could "be a part of the art that's happening here."

Pat, AI's volunteer docent, asks him if he's an artist.

"I consider myself an artist, I guess, because I have sold quite a few pieces," says Kerrmitt. "I dabble with ink, some pastel. My work is a little political. It needs to have a story, not just be pretty." Pat and I agree. Pat gives Kerrmitt a personal tour of the building and facilities, as she does for most visitors. As they stroll off towards the hall that leads to the resident artists' studios, I think about Kerrmitt's comment about selling his work. Do you have to sell work to consider yourself an artist? Is that how we define our success these days? I'm looking forward to meeting some other neighborhood artists this Saturday to ask them the same question.


Friday, July 25th, 2013

Yesterday, LaMont Hamilton's photo project Portraits of the Public had its first day of photo shoots that are set to run over the next three days. Hamilton hopes to capture the the faces of the people living in the Washington Park neighborhood. This style of vérité portraiture seems to be thematic to Hamilton's projects, such as Omaha Portraits, a series he completed during his residency at Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts. The series documents the black community living in the North Omaha, Nebraska community, a side of town that,Hamilton acknowledges, is openly avoided. The goal of the exhibition was to have it hosted within the North Omaha community. Hamilton hoped this would allow the portraits to function not as a demographic study, but as an opportunity for the community to participate an art exhibition, something that generally was not part of their world.

"People just want to be recognized," Hamilton says. 

Today, Hamilton invites Washington Park residents to come by the Arts Incubator and participate in the project. Hamilton primarily works with large-format film photography, which, he explains, can often be intimidating for subjects. Because the cameras take time to load, the portrait subjects often have to wait one, two, five minutes while the film is loaded, not to mention the full minute they have to hold still while the film is exposed.

"After a few minutes, they can't keep up the face they were holding for the picture," remarks Hamilton, "which makes for a much more honest photo if you ask me."

The grey sky makes for the perfect outdoor lighting. Hamilton explains that he decided use white paper for a background to focus on people and avoid recording the neighborhood architecture. He says he used to walk around the neighborhood and ask permission to take photos, but the impact of the environment in the background can be overwhelming.

I left hoping that LaMont continues to have a steady stream of interested visitors who are curious about participating in the project and being recognized in their neighborhood.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Today, the AI staff have locked themselves in the upstairs office to deliberate over the one hundred applications received for the artist-in-residence program. Artists from all over Chicago have applied for a studio and exhibition opportunities through AI. The residency includes a studio space for a period of ten months, a $10,000 honorarium and a stipend for materials. Here's a link to a page about last year's residents.


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

It's a warm day at the University of Chicago Arts Incubator in Washington Park. Today I will spend gallery hours in the exhibition space, offering local artists assistance with CAR calls, jobs and spaces and talking with gallery staff about their roles and responsibilities.

Derek, a local visual artist and digital designer, walks in for his second visit to the AI space. He dropped by very early in its development—the space has been open less than a year—and expressed curiosity about exhibition opportunities in the area. Derek tells me that he's interested in doing murals. He has never heard of CAR, so I guide him to the Calls For Artists page where we find the perfect project for his interests. 

Pat is the "front desk lady" that spends Monday and Wednesday gallery hours keeping an eye on the artwork and giving passers-by private tours of the new facilities. Pat is an artist in her sixties, and is a huge supporter of Arts Incubator and the artists living in the Washington Park neighborhood. It seems like she is familiar with everyone that strolls in the door. She remembers Derek and his work before he even gets through the glass doors. 

Pat has a mental list of all the art events happening around the city. She names a few venues and studios that I haven't even heard of. Her love of art is apparent: Pat has scheduled her gallery tour for the next week and fills me in on a free trolley tour that will drop you off at four different galleries every forty-five minutes or so.

The Public Dialogue exhibition is fully installed and the sound of the collaborative video work loops in the background.

Series Year: 
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Field Notes is an ongoing reporting feature as part of the CAR embedding project funded by The Joyce Foundation. CAR researchers are embedded for six months at host-partner institutions throughout Chicago to expand CAR's reach and resources to more diverse populations. Visual Arts Researcher Andi Crist reports from the Arts Incubator at Washington Park, part of the Arts + Public Life project at the University of Chicago.


Andi Crist

Published by CAR_Andi on Wed, 07/24/2013 - 1:59pm
Updated on Wed, 07/16/2014 - 9:52pm