Category Archives: Chicago Art

6B by Deborah Baker

DSB-cryptic
Cryptic, 35″ x 40″, 6b pencil on  paper

Chicago artist Deborah Baker, whose large pencil drawings are on view now at Firecat Projects until December 16, 2017, once again demonstrates that the artist’s most creative tool rests between her ears.  Baker rejects all currently fashionable media such as video, performance and photography. Even within the constraints of conventional drawing, she avoids decorative or descriptive color and perspectival reality. Through this systematic refusal, she achieves complete freedom within a form of expression that is strongly graphic and psychologically resonant.

Baker can be understood to be a sort of free-associational sign painter, a dealer in archetypes collected and added to the page, where they  set up visual harmonics within the composition. The large drawings in 6B are based upon her previous small, black and white embroidered pieces, several of which are in the show. She chose to make her drawings on large sheets of brown kraft paper in order to create larger scale works for 6B.

Baker describes her process:
I always start with a word or title.  That word evokes images for me …I also always begin with the border or frame first…I do few or no preparatory drawings… sometimes a small thumbnail sketch to get the layout, no marking…though I do fold the fabric to orient the space.

DSK-tied
Tied, 17″ x 17″, embroidered linen

Her previous work with embroidery affects Baker’s compositional choices in the more recent large drawings.  There is a kind of steady rhythm to the fabric pieces. Each constituent image is spaced out over the surface of the artwork, creating the impression that the composition must be “read” rather than seen. The patterned border surrounding each embroidery resembles decorative craftwork from the Victorian age, though the images within are more reminiscent of ethnic or folk images, or designs from tattoo art.

In the large drawings, the decorative designs that Baker uses to define the outer limits of her small embroidered compositions begin to resemble theatre prosceniums, and the compositions become performances. This is especially evident in the drawings Connect and 12 Dancing Princesses (which even includes a suggestion of an audience in the lower portion of the drawing.) She takes a metaphorical step back in Center, which once again recalls Victorian embroidery.

DSB-12-Dancing-Princesses
12 Dancing Princesses, 35″ x 40″ 6B pencil on paper

A recurring theme in Baker’s work is the mystery of the long-term loving relationship.  It can be no accident that the couples seen in the embroidered Link and Tied, and in the drawing Union are skeletal. “Until death do us part” is not just a metaphor here. In Cryptic, the image of the silhouetted couple facing each other refers both to a famous optical illusion and to the opaque black box of long term commitment as visualized in an all-seeing pyramid. In Hope vs. Hope, love and conflict co-exist.

It’s been said that editing is the only art, and Deborah Baker’s deceptively simple drawings prove it. These large pictures of dancers, hearts and grinning skeletons appear at first blush to be simple, naïve and almost childlike, but upon closer examination are nothing of the kind. The artist has created a complex visual language that allows her complete freedom of expression within the limited means she employs.

For information about Firecat Projects and 6B go here

DSB-Union
Union, 35″ x 35″, 6B pencil on paper

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From Bits and Pieces

When two artists show their work together, the urge to compare and contrast is almost irresistible.  “On the one hand this, and on the other hand that” becomes the template for evaluation and appreciation.  Artists Aviva Alter and Marzena Ziejka  invite this even more, because they do, in fact,  have quite a lot in common. Their 2-person show, From Bits and Pieces, is on exhibit at Firecat Projects, 2124 N. Damen Avenue, Chicago, until November 11, 2017.

Alter and Ziejka share their eastern european  heritage. Alter  is a second-generation American with German and Polish roots and Ziejka is a more recent arrival from Poland. The pair met several years ago at an art exhibition, got to know each other and became close friends.

As they began planning  From Bits and Pieces, both had recently lost a parent, a shared experience that each processed in her own unique way. Alter says, “For me, the death led me into artwork about the body, death, life, healing and decay.” Ziejka struggled to understand how her creation of an object could somehow stand for the longed-for and absent parent. Her father was constantly mending and tending, and Ziejka recognizes this impulse in her own art practice.  “Isn’t it a process of our lives? We are collecting, arranging and re-arranging things until we are lost in them or in the process or both.”

Both artists have strong backgrounds in traditional crafts, but neither is content to work within accepted traditions, and each seems compelled to push the boundaries of her craft and art. They are hunter-gatherers, (Alter in an urban setting and Ziejka in the country), collectors of inspiration from the detritus of civilization and nature.

Aviva Alter

Alter began her life as an artist in ceramics, working as a studio potter (and later director) at Lillstreet Street Art Center.  She grew and adapted along the way,  adding fiber and printmaking to her skill set, mixing and matching her various abilities to produce hybrid artworks that resist easy categorization.

She learned to crochet as part of the gloriously luxuriant Crochet Coral Reef Project and subsequently led the development of the Cambrian Reef  shown at the Chicago Cultural Center, the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum and the Smithsonian.

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Alter’s recent work, exhibited here, takes an ad hoc approach to art-making.  The technical requirements of a particular craft vocabulary have been jettisoned for an experimental, provisional process that yields smallish constructs that might be improvised cricket cages or handcrafted internal prosthetics. She describes her process: “[it] began with my obsession for gathering discarded bits of information, assembling and reassembling them to create an order of my own invention… focusing on processes that disguise the original function of the found objects, these forms become amalgamations of broken bits and pieces of my world.” The results are ephemeral-seeming objects that feature fragile, sheer and translucent materials held together by irregular stitching, tying and wrapping. Sticks, wire and found fragments form the armature, and are covered by gauze, string and metal mesh, overlaid by waxy color.

Marzena Ziejka

Marzena Ziejka has worked as a professional weaver of tapestry,  miniature painter, graphic designer and illustrator.  Born and raised in Tarnow Poland, she grew up on a farm and was attracted to the earthy qualities of farm materials: soil, unprimed canvass, horse hair and sticks. The natural materials she employs speak of her past, her absent father and exile from a lost place and time. She writes, ” I am from the land where soil, earth is not called ‘dirt’/Where it is called Mother-Earth, Mother-Breadwinner.”

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Untitled/Working title Cocoon/Tree Bones #4, #5, #1, #2 by Marzena Ziejka

Through accretion and repetition, Ziejka arrives at a series of cocoon-like images. Her creative process is based on unorthodox weaving techniques using natural materials. She calls the sticks that she uses “tree bones” and the materials she employs inevitably create shapes arising from her means of production. It is a kind of nature-based constructivism. The resulting ovoid shapes look like empty mummy cases or  the discarded shells of transformed bodies. They project simultaneously a sense both  of ominous presence and poignant loss, as if the still-living are in dialog with the recently deceased. These artworks, while not closely resembling the more figurative work of her fellow countrywoman Magdalena Abakanowicz, convey the same pensive mood of alienation.

One of the great mysteries in art is how two artists who start with similar premises, materials and methods can end up with work that is uniquely and completely their own. It explains on some level how the individual creative impulse is the one great variable that any artist brings to her work, and that each of these artists has in abundance.

Welcome to My Planet: Deborah Maris Lader

It’s a given that an artist’s solo show will reveal to public view some previously hidden connections and influences in her creative life.  In the case of Deborah Maris Lader, accomplished artist and printmaker, musician and member of the well-known folk trio Sons of the Never Wrong,  founder/director of the Chicago Printmakers Collaborative, those expectations are met and exceeded by her exhibit Welcome to My Planet at Firecat Projects, on view from September 22 through October 14.

Lader considers herself primarily a printmaker (she earned an MFA in printmaking from Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1987 and recently received the 2016 Mid America Print Council Outstanding Printmaker Award). But she is, in fact, much more than that, and each facet of her diverse resume informs and amplifies the others. Stan Klein of Firecat Projects actively encouraged Lader to show her work in all its diversity, so in Welcome to my Planet, her figurative etchings, collages, paintings, hand-painted narrative maps and three-dimensional objects will be on display and in dialog.   Lader says “I usually show my paintings separately from my prints…it makes me a little nervous because even though I do all of these things simultaneously, I don’t usually get the opportunity to [show them together.]”

Lader’s artistic practice can be hard to describe, as it depends on a free associational dialectic of image and narrative that coalesces during her process into a finished composition. Lader maintains that she often doesn’t realize these connections until after she has created an artwork.  “I don’t always know why I’m doing things… so  I’m working [on a piece] and suddenly [when I’m finished] I think, ‘Oh my God, that’s why I’m doing this!’“ But what her work  lacks in everyday linear logic it more than makes up for in poetic resonance. Lader seems to be mining a rich vein of sub-conscious visual gold, which she intuitively combines into a non-specific narrative that leaves plenty of room for interpretation. In scale and tone, her work slightly resembles the work of Eleanor Spiess Ferris,  but is more varied in format and relates specifically to people and events in her own life.

Lader-Masked
Masked by Deborah Maris Lader

Her etching The Heron and the Fish is exemplative of her intuitive interweaving of printmaking, performance and her personal connections. The heron is a recurring image in her work, and after speaking in only a general way to her son Evan Silver about a theater project called The Heron and the Fish that he was working on in Bali, she created a visual scenario based on the subject. She realized only later how closely it was related to the Asian fable.  The image ended up on the poster for the show, even though it hadn’t been created for that specific purpose. Lader says of her interaction with her son,   “Sometimes we unknowingly collaborate because we are on the same wave length.”

In contrast to the veiled content of The Heron and the Fish, Lader gets more specific in her group of three 12” x 12” hand painted etchings humorously called “Too Much Stuff: The Ongoing Movie in My Head.”  These small map-like compositions actively illustrate events in her life, and form meaning-laden visual pictographs.

 

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Work in Progress by Deborah Maris Lader

 
The artist is particularly excited to show the beginnings of a new body of work in Welcome to My Planet.  Using the technique of etching, she engraves images on glass objects–vintage spectacles, glass fragments and the like– then tints them with ink to make them visible.  These small-scale glass artworks are carefully displayed, using metal and wood supports; each is one-of-a-kind.  She says, “I started working on the glass etchings and really the idea so intrigued me because I work on them like I work on etchings, but they’re not meant to be multiples… they break easily, they’re ethereal things.”  She has completed one glass-etched object, a 2” x 2” lens, that points the way to future work.  The tiny etching of a heron is not inked, but instead the light shines through it and the shadow of the bird appears on the wall behind.

Welcome to My Planet provides a rich overview of work by this multi-talented artist, almost a kind of mini-retrospective. The wide array of approaches, subject matter and media represented in Deborah Maris Lader’s  etchings, collages, paintings and three-dimensional objects shows a busy creator at work, and points the way to her future path. To read more about Deborah Maris Lader, go here. To find out more about programming and future exhibits at Firecat Projects go here
 

Lader-You-Can't-Buy-Babies-or Body-Parts-at Costco
You Can’t Buy Babies or Body Parts at Costco by Deborah Maris Lader