Chicago has a well-deserved reputation as a hardscrabble town of workers, a whole city based on a no-nonsense approach to craft. That which works well works most often; that which is good gets expanded upon. There’s a whole new generation of young artists adhering to that ethic of manufacturing, but injecting it into handmade crafts. I found a ton of local standouts last week at the 2009 Renegade Craft Fair.
Delicious Design League is probably most recognized for their imagery for Firefox and Thunderbird. The work I liked best was layered, transparent fields of color folded on top of each other to create gorgeous panes of stained glass color, and overlaid with thick, black line-work like lead. Look in the posters and art prints at their site for examples. It’s great stuff.
Artreco Design is Jason and Michelle, and they make an odd assortment of objects, all connected by a delicate color sensibility and lush use of pattern. The objects seem traditional and maybe a little mundane at first, but their cleverness becomes evident after a bit of a think. There’s a dartboard in fragile ice cream tones, rendered in hexagons, and a series of cityscapes in gorgeous transparent colors. They could easily be screen prints, but they’re actually photograms. I like that they’re smart enough to be already spoofing an artform that’s just now going mainstream. You can shop with them here.
Sonnenzimmer is one of my new favorites. I bought a pile of the work on first sight, before I was even sure of whose it was. While many of Chicago’s designers and image makers allow their work to keep its handmade qualities, particularly in its typography, Sonnenzimmer takes an approach that feels more studious. The use of color and texture is eclectic, and the technique is innovative: In one case, impressions of a xeroxed telephone book spine in olive overlay an acid green field. It should look raucous, but it’s not. Very fresh. You can shop with them here, and their studios are always open for visitors.
Life Long Work Week is Chad from The Post Familyand Jesse from Grandchildren. They’re exploring what it’s like to continuously collaborate in a public setting. The Renegade was their first staging, and the work the show has an excellent hand to it: signpainter-vernacular typography re-imagined as something more rustic and almost unfinished, but still beautifully executed. Thirst is watching these two, and that means the rest of the world probably will be as well in about a year or two. Jump on that bandwagon fast.
Esther Ramirez is a lifelong Chicagoan. Her works of (and on) paper are some of the most stunning I’ve seen, with a luscious, electric color sensibility and texture. She’s truly one of the few artists I’ve seen who can re-imagine palettes and subject matter this unexpectedly. She skirts dangerously close to campy stereotypes of feminine and handmade imagery, but then expertly dodges that precipice. This work was some of the most innovative I found through the whole Renegade; you can find Esther’s handmade pieces at her shop on Etsy.