Artist Philip Hartigan talks about art, interviews other artists, and more
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My Studios VI: Wicker Park, Chicago
The Wicker Park Studio (staircase at right)
My current studio is in an arrondissement of Chicago called Wicker Park. It’s the East Village of the City of Big Shouders. It’s the Notting Hill of the Windy City. If you want trendy bars, bijou clothes shops, artists’ studios, artists’ collectives, small independent galleries, dozens of hipster hangouts, places to make and listen to music, then Wicker Park is the place for you. ‘So,’ I hear you ask, ‘what are you doing there — you who prefers to listen to Mahler and Richard Strauss while wearing your brown knitted cardigan and slippers?’
In 2007, when I was looking for a studio in Chicago, I was in several exhibitions that all took place within a few hundred yards of each other in Wicker Park. Rather than the youth-orientation angle, I was attracted to the vibrant local art scene, and the proximity to larger commercial galleries just a few miles nearer the Loop. I found a 300 square foot studio for a decent price near Damen and Division, a location depicted many times in the novels of Saul Bellow, particularly my favourite one, ‘Humboldt’s Gift’. All these factors made me write a check as soon as I went to see the place.
Panorama of the studio: click to display larger version.
The studio is actually the basement of a house owned by an artist called Diane Christiansen, whose work is worth having a look at. She and her partner are also in a folk-roots band called Dolly Varden, so I often hear them practicing above my head, or in the large brick garage behind the house that they’ve converted into an artist’s/practice studio. When I sit at the work table in my studio, I can look out through windows at ground level. This confuses the hell out of the three cats from the next house down, who will be strolling by, going about their cat business, only to be brought up short by the sight of me peering up at them and making kissy noises at their startled whiskery faces.
The alcove with the printing press.
It turns out that there are a few disadvantages to the studio that I didn’t anticipate when I first moved in, to wit: I am 6 feet 2 inches high, and several areas of the ceiling are only six feet high; and shortly after I started renting this studio, Patty and I moved apartments, so I now have to drive six miles across town to the studio instead of getting the bus (I can still get the bus, but it’s a nightmarishly slow journey). But it fulfils all the requirements that a visual artist needs: it’s inexpensive, warm, and dry; it’s well lit and has a slop-sink nearby; and it provides that monk-like space, separate from where one lives, eats, and sleeps, to close the door on the distractions of the world and focus on the process of creating something.
So this is where I am currently making most of the work shown on this blog.
Artist Mary Ellen Croteau is showing these columns made from recycled plastic cartons and lids in the window of the Columbia College bookstore on Michigan Avenue. They are a playful homage to Brancusi's "Endless Columns", with a serious environmental message for our times:
Mary Ellen also runs a wonderful experimental art gallery in a window space in west Chicago, called Art on Armitage. I will be exhibiting a mixed media piece there during August 2012.
Linoleum as a material for printmaking has been used for nearly a hundred years now. Normally, you cut an image out using special gouges similar to woodcut tools, cutting away the lino around the image you want to print. This is called relief printmaking, because if you look at the block from the side, the material that remains stands up in relief from the backing material. You then roll ink with a brayer over the surface of the block, place paper over it, and either print by hand or run it through a press. You can do complex things this way (for example, reduction linocuts), but the beauty of the process is that it is quick, simple, and direct.
A few years ago, I saw some prints that were classified as coming from etched linoleum blocks, and I loved the textures I saw in them. In the last few months, I've been trying to use this technique in my own studio, learning about it as one does these days from websites and YouTube videos. I've also had email exchanges with several pr…
I've just finished restoring and assembling my large etching press -- a six week process involving lots of rust removal, scrubbing with steel wool, and repainting. Here is a photo of the same kind of press from the Chicago Printmakers Collaborative:
And here is a short YouTube video of me testing the press, making sure the motor still works after nearly seven years of lying in storage: