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Chicago’s Underrepresented Artistic Traditions

May 13, 2013 4 comments

I paint my own reality. The only thing I know is that I paint because I need to, and I paint whatever passes through my head without any other consideration.
–Frida Kahlo

Three years ago, I was part of a two-person team to start-up and manage “Art of Fútbol,” an artistic presentation of artists in the community who created pieces that dealt with soccer and all of its glory. As a partner with Arte y Vida Chicago and Chicago’s MLS team, this gallery exhibition was hip and cool. We went through plenty of submissions, got into some good arguments and eventually presented a successful event at the Puma store in a prime location in Chicago.

Of all of the artists who exhibited, I made a few friends, a couple of whom are great friends of mine now, three years later. The initial exhibition was free and got people engaged and involved. In its third year, it now belongs to a foundation, has lost our teams working on it and they are now charging for entry. I don’t know if anyone is being paid, but I’m sure the proceeds of the attendance all go to the foundation.

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Erick “Roho” García

I only attended the inaugural event, but what I saw was amazing. A friend of mine created a very large version of Javier Hernández Balcázar, famously known as “Chicharito” the Mexican soccer player, kicking a ball. It was astonishing. Urban, colorful and well executed it was no doubt that it won the people’s choice for their favorite piece. It hadn’t been the first time I saw art of this creativity or level, but it was the first time I had actually met the artist, only to find a fashionably dressed painter and soccer player who was a neighbor, and eventually became a friend.

The level of creative genius that exists in Chicago is not original, by any means. And more, I have come to feel that many of these talented masters of the brush, pencil, camera and spray paint can have been overlooked. It is almost a detriment to the art world to know that people of this caliber– talented, creative, inspiring, philosophical, insightful– are not being given the time and attention that they deserve as creators who make this world more beautiful to look at.

I have seen drawings before my eyes that happen as quickly as waving a magical wand. I have watched as lines on a canvas came to life, moving through a piece, creating words, figures and sparking the imagination. I have spoken to those who can and will one day be considered philosophers of the craft. I have watched as imagination has been ignited like wild-fire only to produce colorful explosions that I want to keep and frame, even if it is only for a newspaper. I have had pieces of art, inspired by these wondrous souls tattooed.

Recently, it was brought to my attention that many artists around the country come into Chicago to display and show off what they’ve been working on. Urban art. Street art. Mixing graffiti with fine art. Developing “new” styles to be exhibited and shown. However, as quickly as I noted that this was great, I also countered it with, “That’s happening right here.”

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“Jasso”

I also noticed that the cultural tie, the Latino artist tie, was not as prevalent around the country as I’d like to think. There are a few in other highly populated Latino cities, however, the blatant cultural, statement-making ties do not exist as much as they should and again, I have seen my fantastic city overlooked as a place where art is happening.

It’s time to start sharing what’s going on here. So what am I going to do about it? I’m going to write about it. This is the beginning of a series of articles and pieces that will focus and talk about particular artists making waves in Chicago. Whether it’s a movement or a statement, I cannot say, but what I will say is that Chicago has a tradition of beautiful, moving, cultural art that would make any person go gaga upon knowing they could shake hands and speak to the artist.

I’ve seen that. I met a woman at a bar who lives in Pilsen. Upon talking, we got onto the discussion of street art. She showed me wheat pastes that she had taken pictures of on her phone. She went through plenty and when I said I knew who had created them and introduced her, she was ecstatic. “I’ll be right back! I have to go tell my friend!” she said as she scooted out of the booth we were in. I was thrilled to help her make the connection.

So, the Chicago tradition lives on, especially on the South Side. Displayed on our walls, created in our homes, the waves of creativity and inspiration continue to happen whether we want it to or not and it will be a constant. It’s just time to start showing off what Chicago has to offer and as a grounded, rooted and staunch supporter of Chicago art and insight, I’m hoping to do that for you.

Over the next few weeks, you’ll be able to find insight into who is creating these wondrous works of art and hopefully you find value in it. Enough value to, let’s say, attend a gallery opening or even pay to see some art about soccer. At the very least, ask some questions of your own and get out to support the arts.