• Emailarticle
  • Writecomment

The Artists You Should Know

Poll spotlights unsung painters, sculptors


A friend recently asked me, "Who are the Chicago artists everyone should know?" After thinking about it, I emailed some 500 artists and asked them to give me their Top 10 list of living Chicago artists. I think how the question was phrased influenced the answer--for example, I asked about the artists and not the art. They are related, of course, but the emphasis is different.

The results were fascinating, revealing that though the quality of the artist's work and aesthetic is the most important criterion, the artist's persona, contribution, content and influence are also important. In other words, it's the whole package, not just the artwork.

The spectrum of people on this list is broad: artists young and old, male and female, Chicago-born, American-born, foreign-born, MacArthur Award recipients and high school dropouts. In their own way, each of these incredible individuals has made a significant impact on art and life in Chicago and the world through work that challenges perceptions. Top 10 became too narrow, so I expanded the list to the Top 15, who really separated themselves from the rest.

There is insufficient space for me to properly elaborate on each of these remarkable artists, but let me try. Here's the list:

Tony Fitzpatrick is a gregarious and wise dichotomy. Large in personality but delicate in his artwork, his collages are all about Chicago and the history and magic he finds here. Besides his visual art he writes, acts and is on the radio. He is a local treasure.

Sabrina Raaf is the youngest on the list. She creates machines that interact with their environment, providing a pithy commentary on our lives and our future. She also renders fantastic, futuristic photographs that suggest a humor and capriciousness right around the corner.

Dan Peterman has made recycling an art form, elevating our consciousness about materials, community, rummaging and resourcefulness. He revels in heightening awareness of our surroundings and the possibilities of a conscientious existence.

Inigo Manglano-Ovalle's enigmatic art delves into our relationship with community, architecture, technology, place and self. Often collaborating, he explores, documents and comments on forces both natural and human that define and reshape our world.

Anne Wilson investigates the micro- and macrocosms of networks and matrices that exist in our society, world and individual self. Moving from observations of personal ritual, she extrapolates to larger systems and examinations of their relationships.

Richard Rezac makes exquisite, minimal objects. Delicately, precisely, quietly and completely by hand, he manufactures human scale sculptures that transcend their materials and possess reverent, quixotic qualities that are simultaneously allusive and satisfying.

Kerry James Marshall is a brilliant artist who paints seemingly simple, large-scale pictures of ostensibly mundane African-American situations. Hidden within their surface gregariousness, we grasp the depth of the glory and pain of his subjects' lives, community and environment.

Jim Nutt is a 'non-modern' modern artist who has meticulously painted imaginary portraits for more than 30 years. Women have been his subject for the past decade. Each portion of the composition is an abstract gem; the work has become a riff on the possible variations of constant expression.

Tony Tasset's work employs humor and irony to explore context, meaning and perception. Always witty and intelligent, he mines convention and undermines expectations, exploring contradictions and dichotomies of contemporary life.

Judy Ledgerwood makes beautiful abstract paintings. Restrained, subtle and frequently pastel shapes delicately interact. Within a single painting, complex notions are asserted and contradicted, positioned and reconsidered, harmonious yet contemplative.

Karl Wirsum has been a major figure on the Chicago art scene since emerging with the Hairy Who in the early '60s. Painting characters in the nether-world between superheroes and mundane domestic tasks, his images are fun, playful and enduring.

Wesley Kimler's large, bold, dynamic, colorful and heroic paintings bridge the gap between realism and abstraction and are loaded with content. Kimler is as creative in his career as he is in his art, collaborating with theatre groups and musicians while mentoring younger artists.

Dawoud Bey's warm personality enables his art, granting him access to the teenagers whose lives and personas he reveals through his camera's lens. Formal, yet casual, his work affords us a glimpse into a world that is foreign to most of us yet exists in our midst.

Chris Ware writes and illustrates gorgeous comic books and has a huge international following that devours his brilliantly composed images. That he employs such high compositional strategies in such a seemingly plebian medium makes his work magic.

Industry of the Ordinary is Adam Brooks and Mathew Wilson. They resemble merry pranksters as they celebrate the mundane and the ordinary, elevating them to an art form through their performances, which typically engage the public as participants. It's through the documentation that the project is completed. o

Paul Klein invites your input. You can reach him at paul@artletter.com

Published: October 01, 2005
Issue: November 2005


An Article Photographers Can Relate To
I loved reading this article. With this list, you really nailed it. My personal favorites are Anne Wilson and Kerry Marshall. They're both fantastic! I'm Chicago childrens photographer so I have a tremendous appreciation for the craft and the time and love that goes into it. My kids photo studio is no where near what these artisans produce, but like them, I enjoy the process of creating images as a newborn photographer in Chicago.
B. Shalimar, Mar-06-2015