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Labor of Love: The “Art of Work” Exhibit

Aleece DeWald

During her time with a traveling art show in Mexico City, Gitte Bog received a shoeshine box. Her task: no rules, just decorate. Hoping for inspiration, Bog started exploring the shoe shining trade. Her investigations led her to Christofer, a local shoe shiner, and he agreed to make Bog his “chalana” or helper, teaching her how design the box along with shining shoes to perfection. Today, Christofer’s box (the two having swapped boxes before Bog’s apprenticeship ended) sits in the Arrowhead Room Gallery of Waubonsee Community College. It is a part of Bog’s three part piece—also including a decorated bench and a manual of how to shine shoes written in both Spanish and English—that she put on display as a part of the “Art of Work” exhibition that illustrates and celebrates the themes of work and labor.

Gitte Bog, La Chalana, 2010, shoeshine box, bench, manual

Inspiration for the exhibition, the “Art of Work,” stems from curator, Anni Holm. Both a practicing artist and the art coordinator at Waubonsee, Holm had been thinking about how artists have been forced find other jobs in order to support themselves and afford to continue producing their work. Enter Antonio Martinez, a Chicago artist who, along with his artistic career, is a plumber. While observing Martinez’s work, Holm noticed “tools and symbols of the plumbing industry had crept in and manifested themselves onto the canvas, merging both of his trades.” After playing with the idea in the back of her mind for a month, putting out a call for art involving work, and then selecting nine of the submissions, the “Art of Work” surfaced. As Holm described the project, “Each artist has spent hours observing and absorbing, processing and producing either a one of a kind project or a series of pieces revolving around the theme of labor.” All of the artists featured has found inspiration in either their own work of the work of others.

The “Art of Work” Exhibition is located at the Arrowhead Room Gallery of Waubonsee Community College at Rt. 47 at Waubonsee Drive in Sugar Grove, IL 60554-9454

Additional artists in the exhibition include:

Bogumil Brankowski’s father’s immigration from Poland was the inspiration behind his painting, Life’s Work. After seeing an open call for the “Art of Work” Exhibition on the Chicago Artists Resource Site, he entered his piece to honor his father who had to work several blue collar jobs such as construction, maintenance, and grave digging. Along with illustrations that express his father’s Polish pride and the tools of his careers, Brankowski uses spray and oil paint to show his father’s fluidity to work in various fields.

Bogumil Brankowski, Life's Work, 2009, oil and acrylic on canvas, 24" x 36"

Timothy Campos feels very connected to the exhibition’s theme of labor. As a former autoworker for Ford Motor Company, he feels close to the people he photographs, often sharing stories of their time in the auto industry and discussing its current situation. He contributed six photographs that were taken in Michigan and include coverage of a rally to keep an auto plant open, a union meeting, and a Union Labor Day March.

Dustan Creech’s steel panel, Deeper in Debt—a reference to the Ernie Ford song, “Sixteen Tons”—illustrates his father’s mining career and his own experiences of growing up in a small coal-mining town in Harland County, Kentucky. Creech considers materials to be crucial in his artwork; his use of heavy steel panels portrays the coal-miner’s emotional as well as physically heavy lives.

Dustan Creech, Deeper in Debt, 2005, steel, 72" x 76" x 2"

Antonio Martinez’s plumbing apprenticeship may keep him from spending extended time in art studios; but, it serves as the inspiration for his art, especially his piece for the Waubonsee exhibition. His pieces, Plumber’s Quarterly and Plumbing Money, are acrylic paintings that also involve aerosols, graphite, and pastels to create what Martinez calls “mixed mediums.” The industrial quality of the paintings presents the images Martinez sees at work along with his appreciation for the trade, which he feels is often taken for granted by the public.

As an artist, Elizabeth McCarthy was inspired by her grandmother’s lesson of “working with one’s hands.” She recalls the tactile methods such as drawing, sewing, and developing film in which she creates her artwork. She presents a grid of nine black and white photographs of hands with holes poked into the paper, and mounted on pine wood boards with small tack nails. McCarthy also hopes to illustrate the theme of community with the hand images—something she experiences through her involvement in the artist collective, Roxaboxen Exhibitions.

Irene Pérez brings the concept of the “Labour of Love” into her piece: a textile work, specifically a cross stitched embroidery text of the definition that Merriam Webster Dictionary gives to the phrase. Prior to the Waubonsee exhibition, the idea of celebrating work was already floating around in Pérez’s mind. As both an artist and a mother, Pérez says that she struggles to balance her two roles and she has been forced to creatively divide her time—transforming work into an art form itself.

Garland Martin Taylor considers an art exhibition similar to a memorial service that honors the forgotten process of producing the arts on display. His sculpture, Angel of Consequences, is made out of cast-welded steel, tool steel, and a .38 caliber revolver. He feels that his sculptures provide the result of labor-collaboration between human and machine through the various types scrap metal that come from steel manufacturing industries in the Midwest.

Garland Martin Taylor, Ms. Leigh's Face, 2011, electrostatic glace on cast-welded shaped steel, 12" x 9" x 5"