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The Sketchbook Project & Artists Books at Home Gallery

by Lee Ann Norman

The Sketchbook Project & Artists Books at Home Gallery

Brooklyn-based Art House Co-op’s Sketchbook Project is ephemeral by nature despite its roots in very tangible objects: sketchbooks.  The project is designed to engage a number of artists through this versatile medium and eventually create an easily accessible library of innovative and interesting contemporary art for the masses.  Home Gallery curators were intrigued by the project idea, and welcomed the chance to support it in its first journey to Chicago, but wanted to create an extension of the show by organizing a complimentary exhibition that could stand on its own.  This way, work in the Sketchbook Project could engage with the ongoing work of other artists dabbling in drawing and artists books.  Through their marks, gestures, doodles, and dalliances, artists old and new to Home Gallery (Michael Brehm, Amanda Vähämäki & Michelangelo Setola, Anders Nilsen, and Doug Shaeffer) give us a glimpse into some of the more private moments of their creative life.

Doug Shaeffer participated in an exhibition at Home Gallery entitled “We Both Walked Away, Leaving Each Other Standing There” in June 2008, and he was pleased to be a part of this show.  Earlier in his artistic career, Shaeffer spent most of his energy writing, but has since begun expanding his work to into other areas, all book related: creating actual volumes, appropriating materials to make books, and repurposing old papers.  As an artist with the soul of a writer, text features prominently in his work, and a number of the pieces on display combine image and text in clever, tongue in cheek ways.  Sometimes, the source material comes from castoffs, reclaims, and the forgotten, such as the early 20th century diary of a little girl found in a pile bound for the dumpster; other times, it comes in the form of end pages with doodles and sketches from old books.  Shaeffer seems to be interested in what becomes possible when old is combined with new and when different elements are manipulated, rearranged, and presented in a different context.

The Sketchbook Project & Artists Books at Home Gallery

Anders Nilsen is also returning to Home Gallery in this exhibition.  Nilsen’s works on view are primarily mock-ups of illustrations from his books.  Nilsen’s work feels big, playful, fanciful, and action packed even in images depicting rest.  What’s great to see here is the process of how illustrations get to their final stages.  In Nilsen’s mock-ups, we are shown the erasure marks, white out, and the panels that have been hidden and pasted over.

One entire wall is devoted to Finnish artist Amanda Vähämäki & Michelangelo Setola’s blind collaboration, Souvlaki Circus. Inside this volume, the artists created hundreds of pencil drawings around a theme that is described as weaving a “…patchwork narrative of metaphoric truths about humans and nature.” Not all of the drawings on view are in the book, of course, so it may be interesting at some point to determine which of the sketches were left out.

Michael Brehm is a Chicago-based book designer who has been self-publishing his own books for years outside of his professional work at the University of Chicago press.  He began by making art magazines with a collective 30-some years ago, but the work he is exhibiting in this show is only from the last 5 years.  One advantage to working in the industry is that you have access to ready-made “dummies” that are intended to demonstrate the physical dimensions of a book to be published.  Brehm often takes these blank books and uses them as his own sketchbooks.  His drawings begin as pencil sketches that are then scanned, digitally altered with Photoshop and Painter software in order to add color, as well as other images, giving the finished works a silk screened quality while enhancing the detail of the hand drawn images.

The Sketchbook Project & Artists Books at Home Gallery

If you were not one of the fortunate few who made it to library hours when the Sketchbook Project was on view, don’t worry.  The show will be back in Chicago during a national tour in May 2011.  In the meantime, you should visit the gallery for the rest of the works on view.  This eclectic mix of drawings and dalliances will delight you with their intimacy and surprise you with their depth.

The Sketchbook Library, Artists Books, and Original Drawings featuring: Anders Nilsen, Amanda Vähänäki, Michael Brehm, Michaelangelo Setola, and Doug Schaeffer runs from May 8 – 30, 2010.  There will be a closing brunch on May 30, 2010, from 12:00 – 3:00 p.m. featuring Sara Ranchouse Publishing. Home Gallery is located at 1407 E. 54th Place, Chicago, Il 60615.  For more information, call 773.363.5935, or email info@thelarch.org. Viewing hours by appointment.