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Friday, June 19, 2015

CHICAGO ART: HOMETOWN HEROES


If you're a resident of the city of Chicago, chances are you've noticed street artist illustrator and fine art painter, Hebru Brantely has taken on the Chicago art scene by storm.  Not only will you find him in galleries, such as Vertical Gallery in Bucktown, but you can also find his art popping up all over Chicago neighborhoods - just keep an eye out for his signature style and acclaimed characters, such as his anime inspired "Fly Boy, Fly Girl and Friends."

Nike Running Bucktown mural by ©Hebru Brantely 


Friday June 6th marked the opening of Hebru's solo exhibition "Memoirs of the Minimum Wage" at Vertical Gallery, a cozy Bucktown gallery that caters to urban, contemporary and street art. This date also marked the completion of Brantley's recent addition to the Wabash Arts Corridor titled, "Chi Boy." Brantely joins the likes of Shepard Fairey (OBEY series, Obama HOPE), Celon Peterson, POSE and RETNA who already have large-scale artworks featured indefinitely as part of the Wabash Arts Corridor.  The mural "Chi Boy" is part of the growth and expansion of Chicago's major emerging art scene in the South Loop, though it is far from the first outdoor mural composed by the artist who has numerous works across the city and was commissioned by Nike in the past to create a mural on the side of their Bucktown location.  

"Chi Boy" 1132 S. Wabash mural by ©Hebru Brantley


At his solo show you will find sketch book illustrations of comic super heroes re-envisioned as children of different races springing to life in color and composition.  These playful images read nostalgic renderings of a past 80s culture but hold relevance today with surprising titles such as "Sleepy Folks who use to live on the low end that shot Darius brother" and "Sky High (No Money for Cocaine)" or "Off Duty" the title of a mixed media painting depicting an off duty super hero drinking alone at a bar. Brantely's work evokes aspects of magical realism in how it convinces the viewer to accept magic in an otherwise rational world. Brantley's narratives offer an insight on his life and the lives of his peers growing up on the South Side of Chicago but in a way that is fragmented by fantasy.  The characters embody childhood imagination paired with often bleak realities that these heroes must overcome. 

"Off Duty" by ©Hebru Brantley

The work on exhibition at Vertical Gallery is much smaller-scale than works I've seen of  Brantely's in the past, whether in pop up shows or as installations such his "The Watch" a sixteen figure sculpture arrangement erected on Michigan Avenue featuring a variety of colorful young super heroes.  Though the size is significantly scaled back in comparison, the work remains as powerful as ever.  These intimate mixed media works read as childhood illustrations, created in a variety of mediums that include acrylic paint on canvas, water color and ink, charcoal on paper, resin and acrylic sculptures and limited edition screen prints.  Each image is construed in the same world, a colorful cartoon-land with endless possibilities coexisting with harsh realities.  Hebru is honest when portraying his hometown of Chicago, a city with a lot of talent, passion and promise that is still suffering from violence, poverty and corruption. 





      Right: "Back in Time" ©Hebru Brantely  Left: "Fly Boy, Fly Boy" ©Hebru Brantley 

In a lot of ways Hebru Brantley takes on the role of an art activist with his works, for instance, "The Watch" the installation mentioned above was Hebru's contribution to Chicago Ideas Week. The work is meant to represent the troubles youths face in Chicago neighborhoods. In fact, the work was inspired by conversations Brantely had with students from Chicago Public High Schools that are part of Chicago Ideas Week YOU(th) program. "The Watch" both act as metaphor for the student's ability to rise above challenges in the urban environment while also paying homage to the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African-American military aviators who fought in World War II as part of the United States armed forces. While this work focuses on social issues, it breeds optimism for Chicago's youth.



"The Watch" by ©Hebru Brantley

When thinking of colorful, visually pleasing art that transcends a thoughtful message to the viewer I can't help but to also think of Darryll Schiff's The Parade Commences as part of his "Descending to Heaven" series, a photographic body of work that reflects on the way humanity is easily swept up in ideals and movements.  Often times people find themselves eager to follow like flocks of sheep, whether it's an articulate dictator or Ghandi leading them.  The works serve as an expression of mankind, moving out of the darkness to further enlightenment.  But Schiff allows for the viewer to interpret themselves, whether it is true enlightenment or a false belief.  Schiff hopes to convey through this piece a bright side to humanity, as it calls upon viewers to reflect on the prophets we follow and the paths we choose freely.  The work reminds individuals that power comes from movement, but we must think introspectively and see true good before we can follow blindly.


"The Parade Commences" ©Darryll Schiff All Rights Reserved 

Both Hebru Brantely and Darryll Schiff are socially mindful artists offering their perspective of life, and more commonly, life in the urban sprawl of Chicago Illinois. Both artists call Chicago their hometown and place of work.  Check out their websites to see more art: hebrubrantley.com and schiff-art.com

Stay tuned for more news on fine art photographer Darryll Schiff, the Chicago art scene and exciting announcements regarding the Wabash Arts Corridor! - Lauren Ike 





Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Halation. Light. Art. Schiff.





           Rather than posting the actual text that accompanies Darryll’s “Trapise” photo contribution in this month’s Issue of Halation Magazine, I will leave you to purchase a copy, or visit their website for a sneak peek of the Spring Issue featuring Darryll’s work. As the author of the article, I will paraphrase some of the exciting feature and add commentary for those who have already read the Issue. 

        Halation Photo Magazine features black and white photography and articles from artists around the world.  For Darryll, this black and white series showcases the excitement of Chicago's urban sprawl.  The confluences of bodies moving in all directions, hastily on their way which best evokes the zeitgeist of our time.  Darryll goes beyond telling a narrative of contemporary times, he illustrates the world surrounding him, an urban metropolis he knows well.

         This body of work celebrates Chicago as Darryll’s home, the city where he grew up as a young boy, first attended college in design and would later raise his family.  Many of our readers may not realize Darryll left his life as a successful Hollywood photographer shooting for magazines such as Rolling Stone, People Magazine and Jet while capturing the charm of celebrities such as Robin Williams, Jada Pinkett Smith, Lisa Marie Preseley and Bruce Jenner to return to Chicago and his fine art roots.  Since Darryll's return, much of his photographic body of work can be read as a soulful love letter to his hometown.  



          Through “Trapise”, Darryll proves that color does not equate excitement, but rather motion and stark contrast can evoke enthusiasm as light is the essence of photography. Using variations of lightness and saturation, Darryll paints dramatic and beautiful washes of motion with his camera depicting a city so vibrant it cannot stand still.  His work encapsulates radiant positivity as well as a vivacious city full of life and new experiences around every corner.  Darryll gives a truthful look at the world surrounding him; a city full of passion and courage as well as droning workers and ever searching masses.  The setting remains the same for Darryll's cast of bodies in motion, Chicago: an innovative city full of spectacular architecture and a second to none skyline in the Midwest. 




            A unique aesthetic Darryll uses in this body of work is the embodiment of “life on the grid.”  Darryll’s use of a grid helps turn photography into a narrative, and gradually answers our questions, “Where are we going? What do we see?” Darryll tells a vignette of a love story through fragmentation reconstructed as a whole.  The result is romantic, through Darryll’s work we travel; we are taken on a journey with him through the city he loves.  



Feel free to purchase a copy of the full-length magazine in print or sign up for a subscription  at halationmag.com

I hope you enjoyed this exclusive black and white series, look forward to more colorful images on our next post!  - Lauren Ike



Thursday, April 9, 2015

Action, Abstraction, Transition: Angel Otero and Darryll Schiff





©Angel Otero "In the Mood for Love" 2011, Oil paint skins on canvas
   This month we are proud to feature one of our favorite contemporary artists Angel Otero. Otero is initially from San Juan, Puerto Rico but has been living and working in Brooklyn, New York since graduating from the Art Institute of Chicago with his Master's in Fine Art in 2009.  Otero is currently represented by Kavi Gupta Gallery in Chicago and Berlin and Lehmann Maupin Gallery in New York. 
Angel Otero's famed “Skin” paintings are the result of a unique physical process that deals heavily with materiality. The oil skin series is action based as the work transitions from representational to unrecognizable abstractions that evoke a strong feeling of abstract expressionism. Otero's metamorphic works first reference Baroque painting then move towards a process of anti-painting through destruction, collage and assemblage. Otero's “Skin” paintings begin with a cool and calculated method of traditional oil painting, as he depicts uncanny replicas of art historic paintings produced by famous artists such as Nicholas Poussin, the leading painter of the classical French Baroque style. Otero paints these imitation works on plexiglass where he adds texture through expressive brush strokes and later scrapes the paint from the glass, collecting the dried paint, which he calls “skins” for assemblage on canvas. 

©Angel Otero "Bacchus Dioysus" (after Poussin), 2012

Nicholas Poussin "The Empire of Flora" 1631

Much of Poussin's works are historical paintings that reference religion and mythology, often while portraying traditional landscape imagery. By taking this subject matter and destroying it to reconstruct modern paintings, Otero is able to comment on contemporary issues within the paint medium.  Another interesting anecdote concerning Poussin as painter is the way he stood apart from the decorative French art of his time. Instead, Poussin illustrated impulses of the Renaissance and focused largely on the preservation of the artistic sensibilities from a Greco-Roman world. There is a long-standing tradition of artists imitating his style, as many of his contemporaries had done, borrowing themes of “classical severity.”  However, when Otero borrows this famed style, he then destroys every classical aspect of the work until it is unrecognizable as a French Baroque masterpiece.  Transforming materials is what elevates Otero's renditions and makes his work so compelling.  The final product in this series is much more decorative, unlike the works Poussin produced during his lifetime.  The decorative end-point is commentary on what works today in painting, especially being that Poussin’s particular style of old school mastery does not hold the same value in today's art market.  Otero has been quoted stating his belief that paint needs to be justified over time, pointing out how oil paint has become a challenged medium present day.  Otero's strong intellectual work stands a part from other artist's today as a compelling visual statement where as a lot of contemporary artists create not much more than a bland illustration of their intellectual thought.
©Angel Otero "SK-MO" 2013 Oil paint and oil paint skins collaged on canvas
 ©Angel Otero "SK-EO" 2013 Oil paint and oil paint skins collaged on canvas

Ortero's solo exhibition Lago features his most recent body of work, a series of remarkable silicone transfers that extract the essential elements of personal photographs reconfigured in simple line patterns.  The photos are stamped onto canvas using powdered pigment, creating an abstracted mono-print that no longer resembles the images of his family. Otero's references include personal history with a layer of pop-art symbolism that is renowned in cinematic literature.  The title "Lago" references the town in Clint Eastwood's film, “High Plains Drifter”.  In the film, the town is painted red to disorient the outlaws who are returning to Lago after being freed from jail.  The red paint doubles as metaphor in the film, which is an allegory rich with symbolism.  Lago transitions from a lawless town to Hell, a town literally painted red to show there are retributions to be paid for wicked deeds.  Personal photographs facilitate memory as an additional strong influence on Otero's work that is both about the individual and "the big picture" in regards to his place in art history.  Works based in memory combine family photographs and contemporary art practices to reconfigure new ideas about his art. The art Otero creates from these pop and personal references continues to recontextualize the work he borrows from.


Scene from Clint Eastwood's "High Plains Drifter" Fictional town of Lago painted red




©Angel Otero "Lago" Installation Shot at Kavi Gupta Gallery Chicago 

©Angel Otero "Blanket Weaver" 2015 Silicone and cadmium pigment on canvas


Even given Otero’s references, it’s astonishing how open to interpretation these personal pieces are. Confronted with what looks like expressive abstract paintings, the viewer is encouraged to draw their own connections.   We are in an age where the artist is no longer "God."  The intention of the artist used to be the sole meaning of the work, but this is no longer the case.  In fact, when at the opening for this show I asked Otero if there was anything he'd like me to explicitly take away from his work and additionally mention in my writing, rather than cluing me in on the mystery, he told me to lead with my own interpretation. Representational elements are intentionally skewed. It's almost as though we are being told to respond to a formalist work, one that combines lines, shapes, colors and volume which deliberately convey emotional ideas about the bright red work stamped evocatively onto raw canvas.  The work is the embodiment of image and institution, however the awareness of this can be easily lost on the viewer without paying careful attention to the title of the series "Lago" and the individual titles of the works.  These titles give insight to the cryptic imagery in Otero's distorted photographic prints (that are barely representational based on looks alone).  
©Angel Otero Solo Show "Lago" at Kavi Gupta Gallery


Unique practices in the traditional and digital realm bring Otero’s visceral works to life. Otero’s practice is often in dialogue with art historic predecessors through contemporary processes.  Open to change and accidents, the contemporary painter plays with materiality to create almost sculptural works using three-dimensional paint scraps and silicone transfers.  The pieces are constructed in thick expressive applications, whether they are stamped imagery composed of pure cadmium pigment or folded layers of wet and dry paint scrapped from the surface of plexiglass.  The materiality is the end-result that prompts most viewers to react in favor to his complex works.  


©Angel Otero "Carnival" 2012

©Angel Otero "Lago" Detail 2015
Silicone and cadmium pigment on canvas


    Darryll Schiff also uses diverse practices that combine artistic elements both new and old.  His work is the byproduct of advanced digital techniques and traditional photo practices. Like Otero, he creates unlikely compositions inspired from his own experiences.  Some of Darryll's photos are taken in his old neighborhood while others are of his own children, though both are unrecognizable on account of the way he shoots his abstract frames as heavily layered images.  As a viewer, we appreciate the personal and private subject matter being offered in Schiff and Otero's works, a small but meaningful glimpse into the artist's mind.




 ©Darryll Schiff All Rights Reserved 2015
Schiff and Otero use their processes as a way to give meaning to their subject matter, something not all artists choose to focus on.  It's integral to the artwork that the act of creating it says more about the work itself. Schiff and Otero's work read as a dissertation offering intellect, substance and depth as their ideas are conveyed to completion, where many other contemporary artists fall short.  Darryll's digital process showcases what it is like to live in the digital era.  Otero's Baroque style being completely demolished and reconfigured says a lot about the evolution of painting as an artistic practice.  Both contemporary artists put careful thought and consideration into their medium of choice, as viewers we are able to digest the importance of their process. 

 ©Darryll Schiff All Rights Reserved 2015

 As we head into spring, keep a look out for Darryll's recent featured articles in Float Magazine, F-Stop Magazine and Halation International Photography Magazine!  More on Darryll's exciting new artwork coming soon! 

- Lauren Ike

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Color! Composition!: Clare Rojas and Darryll Schiff


            Only a recent fan of Clare Rojas’ work, I first came across her talent while working as a gallery assistant to Shepard Fairey this past summer at “Art Alliance: The Provocateurs” pop-up show held in Chicago.  Having an art history background, a bachelors degree in fine art and an eye for retro sixties abstraction, Clare Rojas’ pieces resonated the most with me out of the forty-some artists exhibiting in the show.  



World famous contemporary artists such as Keith Harring were among the artists being shown, a diverse group from Fairey himself and rising star Cleon Peterson to wheat paste and paper artists such as the talented Swoon and rock star, artist singer and guitarist of Rancid and The Transplants, Tim Armstrong, many of which I had the pleasure of meeting during the five-day long art show. 

Above are  images from Art Alliance, the first of Clare Rojas' work and the second of myself in front of Shepard Fairey's work.

Shepard of course curated the show and I was responsible for gallery sales and general up-keep of the show, which led to research on many of the individual artists and collaborators. This is where my infatuation with Rojas’ work first began.  Being that I came across Rojas later in her career, I was first exposed to a painting in the show that acted as pure geometric abstraction using flat geometric shapes and a limited color palette. I have since had the chance to see Roajs’ work exhibited at Kavi Gupta Gallery located in the heart of Chicago’s West Loop art community. Her recent art strongly resembles the works of Ellsworth Kelly, an American artist known for his hard-edge painting style and simplicity of form.  Rojas uses instinct and observation of forms in nature to inspire her painting style that features shapes floating in space.  Flat forms and space are referenced in the title of her solo show “Everyone Has Those Spaces.”

©Clare Rojas All Rights Reserved

©Clare Rojas All Rights Reserved




I welcome Clare Rojas’ recent return to abstraction on account of its sheer aesthetic appeal.  Still referencing both traditional female roles as well as geometric shapes that bare resemblance to the craft of quilting, Clare’s paintings have a link to fiber and material traditions in addition to appearing in likeness to modernist paintings.  These patterned motifs are far from accidental, as Rojas has immersed herself in contemporary and cultural studies on women and their traditional roles in society.  In the past Rojas’ works reflect this examination on the female’s subordinate roles and often portrays it’s opposite through narrative. This body of work differs in that it is about purely visual aspects of style and form.  The pieces are as much about color as they are about line and composition.  Moving away from female iconography, this work is more visceral than it is intellectual.  

©Clare Rojas All Rights Reserved (example of past works)



Her abandonment of heavy social context puts her in a direction that celebrates Modernist properties expressive through color and form.  Clare explains that working with abstraction, shape and color have become a way of seeing in terms of feeling rather than intellectualizing.  For her, this transition can be described as a way of getting out of her head and into her body, where the work becomes instinctual rather than premeditated and carefully researched. Her work is captivating as a geometric abstractionist, exploring color theory and color extension and the roles sharp, clean and round edges can play in the reading of her art.  

©Clare Rojas All Rights Reserved



There is excitement that can be derived from Rojas’reduced color palette, especially when opting to express ideas through saturated primary colors.  Playing with hot and cool colors of equal color intensity and pairings of complementary colors, Rojas is able to express seemingly complex ideas that are ultimately primal. Rojas knows how to cause tension in her abstract works as with dissonance in music, or the relief of a minor chord giving way to major. Instinctually, she orchestrates the way planes of color can be read exemplifying the importance of perception in terms of art.  Motifs of sharp and round edges allow the viewer to react to visual cues rather than reading into historic or cultural context. This work provokes emotion from the viewer, reminding us of the importance shape and color play in a body of work whether planes of color are touching, colliding or floating in space. 

©Clare Rojas All Rights Reserved
©Clare Rojas All Rights Reserved


Darryll Schiff is also known for his brilliant use of color extension in photography.  His photographic works are a beautiful, unexpected interaction of color.  Though most of Darryll’s published works are representational pieces, he does have an exciting new series in the works, titled “Quintessence.”   This new series is entirely abstract with a focus on light and color.  Some areas are denser with light than others, creating a dispersion of depth and motion one might expect given the title and it’s reference to both a cosmic force and the purest form of energy. Even with Darryll’s representational works, you can see he takes spatial relationships into great consideration when composing an image.  Darryll has tight control over what recedes visually and what comes forward in his color palette; this is in part what makes a masterful composition.  Contrast of extension is all about proportion; this is why Darryll’s work has such a strong noticeable balance.  In other instances, Darryll intentionally makes one color more active than the others as a contrast to draw emphasis on important areas of the image that hold significance to the message of the piece. 




©Darryll Schiff All Rights Reserved

©Clare Rojas All Rights Reserved


The instinctual color knowledge both Clare and Darryll possess goes beyond design elements, it is integral to the work they create.  The use of color greatly impacts the message of their compositions.  Emotions are generated largely based upon balance of equivalence or disproportionality in a work of art.  In some of my favorite works composed by Darryll, I find myself drawn to cool color schemes with washes of bright color and light.  This technique is applied throughout Darryll’s famed “To Heaven” series.  It is especially compelling to look at side by side comparisons from this series to see his inversion techniques. Similarly, Rojas has paintings from the same series of work that seem to invert areas of space and form.  

©Darryll Schiff All Rights Reserved
©Darryll Schiff All Rights Reserved 
©Clare Rojas All Rights Reserved
©Clare Rojas All Rights Reserved

Stay tuned for a future post covering Darryll's exciting feature in one of Spain's leading magazines! Accompanying this post Darryll and I will relay his passion for Spain as a great source of inspiration for his art. Until next time - Lauren Ike