Dusk Saturday night and the Milwaukee Avenue storefront between a botanica and Rodan glows white from within, an exhibition that will last only the night. Furnishings shop Fenway Gallery vacated the day before, and artist Melina Ausikaitis and her friends were up until 5am assembling “Melina’s Big Drawing.” The commissioned piece, its sprawl of scrawl seemingly invisible until you’re up close, although its nine panels are three high from floor-to-ceiling on two walls, is graphomanic succession of floral patterns, insect tracks, migrations of marks, reminiscent of Kerouac’s legendary scroll manuscript of “On the Road,” but instead of keystrokes and language, it’s tracks and burgeoning glyphs.
Ausikaitis, 30, describes her style as “repetitive patternmaking, mark-making.” Ausikaitis worked for a year, with a commission as unusual as its mayfly ephemerality. Her style began while in art school about a dozen years ago on a cross-country train voyage with a friend from Boston to Los Angeles. “My friend can sleep anywhere. I was alone a lot of the time. Staring at the scenery, it had a pattern to it. I wanted to see how many pages I could fill up with it.”
More recently, Urs Trepp, the lawyer father of a friend, a bear of a man with a quiff of white hair, was in Chicago and made a studio visit. “We were walking from my house and [he] says, ‘I want to give you this commission. I want a thousand square-foot drawing. But I have some conditions,’” Ausikaitis remembers. “His condition was I had to quit both my jobs, at Rodan and Skylark. He asked how much I made in a year. I thought about it, I said ‘Thirty grand.’ ‘Okay, give me your bank account info and I’ll wire it to you when I get back.’ We went to Rodan and had some drinks and I told my boss I was quitting. I’ve never met a guy with that much money before. I just felt really out of my territory, with somebody who would do something like that. I didn’t ask any questions!”
What is this piece? “It’s just pencil and paper,” she says. “It’s just one person drawing the same thing over and over again for a year. I wish it had been smaller since it was so difficult to hang. It’s a face-value piece except for how long it took. It’s almost like you’re at a lookout point, ‘Those clouds up on that mountain ridge are kind of cool.’ Our only goal was to get it up and see what it looked like.”
Introduced to her patron, I ask Trepp his inspiration, what does he admire about Ausikaitis’ art? “I like her legs.” I know that smile is the only answer I’m going to get. (Ray Pride)