By Amanda Landwehr and Andrea Lee
Chicago is a city created and defined by its artists. From the world-renowned Picasso and Van Gogh pieces found at the Art Institute to the colorful graffiti that lines the street of North Milwaukee Avenue, it is undeniable that Chicago’s art scene has been somewhat definitive of the city’s vibrant culture.
The artwork found across the city is just as diverse as its residents. From the vivid reds and pinks found in paintings at the National Museum of Mexican Art to the abstract and clean-cut pieces displayed in the Museum of Contemporary Art, it is evident to see that a strong art scene helps cities develop a community that thrives on creative expression. For the city of Chicago, this local art scene gathers at the city’s annual One of a Kind Spring Show.
The One of a Kind Show, held on the seventh floor of Chicago’s Merchandise Mart, was bustling with young spectators and lovers of fine art. Thousands of attendees shared laughter over glasses of rosé and sampled chocolate from the stands of local confectioners.
Visitors seemed to just carelessly stroll through the rows of art without an intent to purchase any pieces, so how do art exhibitions such as the One of a Kind Show actually benefit emerging artists?
Chicago resident Julia Jacquez got her start at the One of a Kind Show in 2014. Ever since her first major art exhibition, she has been entering her work into local shows nonstop.
“I applied through Etsy to the One of a Kind Holiday Show in 2014 when they were advertising the show to artists and Esty users online” said Jacquez. “I applied, and I did not know if I would get in or not. I did, and that was my first official show. I have been participating in different art shows ever since.”
Emerging artists competed to earn a position in the One of a Kind Spring Show and its nearly 300 independent vendors, with the hopes of displaying and selling off their works to eager buyers. As gaining a following in Chicago’s crowded art scene is quite difficult, art shows like these are crucial to up-and-coming creators like Jacquez.
Jacquez’s art displayed a wide variety of original paintings with vibrant colors, varying sizes and a unique style. Amongst these paintings, one recurring item could be discovered in every piece—a four-leaf clover.
“Chicago has greatly influenced my art” said Jacquez. “I find all my four leaf clovers in Chicago, and I love living in the city.”
The artwork presented throughout the One of a Kind Spring Show extended far beyond paintings. Throughout the hundreds of vendors’ stands, spectators could view anything from clothes and jewelry to painting and even food. But despite the differences between these various mediums of art, every painter, photographer or chef at the One of a Kind Show had the same goal: bringing small-scale artists to Chicago.
Mark Hersh is a photographer from Highland Park, Illinois. His stand at the One of a Kind Spring Show featured multiple photographs of historical Chicago landmarks, ranging from the storefronts of State Street to the world famous Navy Pier.
Hersh’s photographs featured a unique twist that made his artwork somewhat mesmerizing to the multiple spectators. Sepia and vibrant colors were blended together into one photograph as Hersh merged historical photographs of Chicago in the mid 19th century with a current image of the same location.
The result was a series of compelling photographs that served as an ode to the ever-changing landscape of America’s inner-cities.
“I have been shooting pictures all my life since I was a kid, unprofessionally” said Hersh. “I have always loved history and architecture, and a couple of years ago I retired from my life as an advertising salesperson. I started to take old pictures and shoot them today, and started to think ‘wouldn’t be neat if I merged them together?’”
Although Hersh finds a massive amount of inspiration for his work within the streets of Chicago, he has traveled to locations as far as Canada to seek out new creative opportunities.
Similarly to Hersh, Chicago painter and SAIC graduate Rashelle Roos finds creativity within city limits, and credits the skyline as one of her main sources of creative inspiration.
“Do you see the skyline behind you?” Roos asked as she gestured to an abstract painting behind her. “The city of Chicago influences me to create these tall and abstract brush strokes that are very linear, just like our high rises.”
From paintings to photographs, the Chicago art scene truly has it all. For many, the city has served as a creative inspiration, even for non-residents.
Rachel Brown is an artist based in Los Angeles, California. Sitting in a chair outside of her stand at the One of a Kind Show, Brown detailed her experience of coming to Chicago for this particular exhibition.
“I have friends in California that told me that Chicago has a great art scene” said Brown. “They told me that the people here are amazing, so it was worth it for me to travel all the way here.”
Brown went on to talk about her personal relationship with the city of Chicago, and how the city inspired her love for art.
“I grew up in the Midwest, so Chicago was the big city that we would go to to see Frank Lloyd Wright’s work and the many art museums” said Brown.
“Chicago was where I got my culture fix.”
Brown’s work consists of hyperbolized portraits of animals—alpacas with tufts of wildly styled hair, giraffes with elongated necks and even ostriches with small, beady eyes. Her use of soft watercolor paints gives the various creatures a sort of childlike charm.
According to Brown, the inspiration for her animal-centric paintings stemmed from her childhood, as she grew up on a farm in central Missouri.
“We had neighbors with alpacas and goats” said Brown. “When I moved out to California, I got homesick and started to miss these animals. That’s essentially how I got my start.”
Brown advised young artists hoping to gain traction in the art world to understand the significance of “putting yourself out there.” Following her initial emergence into the art world, Brown, similarly to many other artists, has been painting and entering her work into art exhibitions nonstop.
When the artists were asked what advice they would give to emerging creators, their responses were somewhat the same.
“I know it’s scary to put your art out into the world for the first time, as you’re opening yourself up to critique” said Brown. “But it’s the most important thing to get feedback on your work from the public. Don’t give up.”
“Take every opportunity out there” said Roos. “Because you never know where it is going to lead.”
“Never stop creating. Everybody gets writer’s block or painter’s block, but just keep creating” said Hersh. “The old saying is true; find something you love to do and you’ll never work a day in your life.”