When he conceived of a collage exhibition seven months ago, Peter Kepha, co-founder of Chicago Urban Art Society (CUAS), had three artists from Chicago in mind and wanted to bring together talent from around the country to show how diverse roots in media like design, graffiti, illustration and typography can apply to approaches in collage, creating a rich push-and-pull between structure and balance and the messiness of life evident in our ephemera.
The works in “Medley” are like a melodic composition, arranged yet providing a feeling of immediacy. While some of the works hint at cultural critique, the tone of the exhibition is not of critical image appropriation but rather engagement with source materials. Often it’s the dissonance between the property of the material and the image created that energizes these works.
There’s order and chaos in the process of creating collages, which begins with a method of selecting and cropping and often results in ambiguity. Responding to textures formed from decay, Ruben Aguirre and Justin Angelos layer colorful shapes cutting across worn surfaces like graffiti in the urban landscape.
Collecting is important to several of these artists’ practices. Emily Haasch chooses the books in her collection for their design quality. Some become source material, including a 1960s book on wrestling she used for her mutely colored collages at CUAS, in which the emotion of entangled limbs and torn paper plays against the rationality of grid work. Kepha started collecting comics, baseball cards and records—strong, culturally resonant graphics in his current work—at a young age and remembers going to the Maxwell Street market on the Near South Side of Chicago at age seven. Kepha continues to go to flea markets once a week. The alabaster “Index” pages in four of his text- and banner-laden collages are from a 1914 yearbook he purchased at an antique store because of the quality of the text and satin feel of the pages.
Kepha says “Medley” is the first in a series of exhibitions exploring collage at CUAS. With flawlessly manipulated images all around us, it is the seams here that are all the more gripping. (Dana Boutin)
Through June 16 at Chicago Urban Art Society, 600 West Cermak