Eric Johnson is a brilliant carpenter who designs and builds furniture out of completely salvaged materials. Armchairs from boat masts, rocking chairs from milk crates, lamps from moped scraps. A lot of “recycled” product design can end up looking not too different from the garbage it started out as, but Johnson does an incredible job of using clean, shrewd designs to make objects that stand on their own regardless of their history. The combination of his intelligent designs and recycled materials is inspiring in its own right too, quietly encouraging us all to see the potential in the mountains of discarded objects that overwhelm our modern lives. So kudos on three levels, Eric. Keep your eyes on Mr. Johnson, I smell a bright future.
Marcie Oakes is a young painter dwelling in the suburbs of Chicago. Her voluptuous, deeply layered abstractions often reference landscape but can often turn into something un-namable. These explosive images are penned using a wide variety of applications and painting techniques that build a surface that can only be truly appreciated in person. Jump.
Gruesome take on portraiture and the still life from Chicago-based artist Gregory Jacobsen.
I paint figures, focusing on the little bits that obsess me…a little flab hanging over a waistband, ill-fitting shoes, underbites and exciting flags held in dainty orifices. Over the years this work has developed into piles…meat, junk and fruit constructed into heroic yet pathetic towers spattered with gloppy sauce. The work is absurd, grotesque and a bit brutal but I try to bring the viewer in with lush and glowing surfaces. Essentially the work is about human failure and weakness groomed and developed to be an asset.
Robb Stone is a friend and colleague that I had the pleasure of getting to know during my time at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Stone is experimental with materials, using bleach and acrylic on satin, acrylic on drop cloth and army tent material, and even acrylic on shower curtain. He works in a very washy style and usually makes large-scale paintings, layering several of them along the wall to induce a cinematic and narrative quality.
His earlier work showed his interest in pop culture and current events as he painted what can be described as infamous, narcissistic train wrecks – Lindsay Lohan and Heidi Fleiss in particular stand out among others. The paintings are executed unsympathetically, mocking celebrities most people would like to see buried under the ground. The themes of ‘narcissism’ and ‘train wrecks’ in a more meaningful sense reoccur prominently in the work he has made over the past 3 years, which features subjects who are acutely aware of being filmed, yet appear unthreatened by the film’s permanence and choose to partake in immoral, incriminating acts of violence and lewd behavior. Robb focuses on this behavior to the extent that it has been present in the US’s recent military involvement in the Middle East. So far he has focused on a series of isolated incidences, such as US soldiers urinating on dead Afghan bodies and the US Embassy’s guards in Kabul’s hazing rituals. The content of his paintings raises many questions: were these soldiers inherently immoral individuals, or did war make them that way? Is it possible to be in a situation so far from normal reality that anyone in that situation will lose their sense of morality? Does the context of these soldiers’ surroundings allow for them to believe they are partaking in acceptable behavior? The show-off behavior of these soldiers is perplexing; they are not at all compelled by the presence of the camera to hide their face in shame. Instead, they embrace the exposure.
The Black Keys, The Hundreds, and Yonder Mountain String Band all share one thing in common – the incredible illustrations of Johnny Sampson. His original works have graced gig posters, t-shirts, and even the walls of galleries. Yet, his talent is so great and diverse as to enable him to do all that and more without ever repeating himself stylistically. Whether he’s ripping on old comic book covers, Lichenstein dots, or 70’s cult movie nostalgia, Johnny Sampson is doing it with a master’s flare and impeccable taste.
Mikie Poland does what he wants, and that is awesome. Some might read this and think that it’s juvenile, but in a world where most people play a passive role in their own lives – I’m truly inspired by someone who is willing to pursue their passions with everything they have at their disposal. Poland is on the road about half the year touring with one of the two bands he plays in (Giving Up or State Champion), and spends much of his remaining time working odd jobs and helping to promote Sophomore Lounge Records in whatever way he can. As the web manager, primary art director, and right-hand-man of the label’s creator (Ryan Davis) you might wonder where he finds time to do much else. As it turns out, there is a good amount of “downtime” in the van in between gigs, and Poland often spends this time productively. Whether he is drawing posters for upcoming shows or clever illustrations referencing everything from Jazz to Dracula – Poland stays busy.
The nature of his practice could force a comparison to Raymond Pettibon, but Poland’s aesthetic is very much his own. There is certainly a gritty quality to the work, but his quick wit and keen understanding of texture and mark making have an intentionality to them that belies the crude manor in which many of his illustrations are fashioned. Having a fine arts degree from a conceptually oriented school like the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (where Poland received his undergraduate degree) often leads one down a path of pretention that can be hard to escape, but Poland manages to keep things in perspective. His observations are honest, the tone is real, and I enjoy looking at the work. If you scroll through these drawings and at least one of them doesn’t put a smile on your face I think it might be time to re-evaluate how seriously you take yourself. Giving Up will be on an east coast tour this June, and if you like what you see below I encourage you to check out their shows and pick up one of Poland’s expansive zines at the merch booth.
Alex Valentine is an artist, DJ, teacher, all around awesome guy, and a master of the offset printing medium. Offset printing is a traditionally commercial process somewhere in between digital printing and lithography that uses ink on rubber blankets to transfer images to paper, and is how magazines, cereal boxes, and Red Stripe bottles are produced. Using this process, Valentine creates layered, painterly abstractions that are intuitive and crisp, showcasing his command of color, form and transparency. His recent solo show at Devening Projects + Exhibitions in Chicago, ‘Blonder Tongue Audio Baton,’ borrowed its title from a 1950’s analog graphic equalizer and the title of a Swirlies album. And it makes sense: there’s something about Valentine’s work that indicates a stringent belief in the analog, recalling early 90s record cover design.
Sarah Weber is a Chicago based artist that is making some really nice work right now. Aggressive graphite mark making, cutting ,burning, layers of of vellum and globs of gold coalesce into really physically engaging drawings. Bouncing between subtle reference and pure abstraction,and producing a lot of work, this is an artist to keep your eye on…More after the jump