Corbett vs. Dempsey
1120 N. Ashland Ave. , 3rd Fl. (above Dusty Groove), Chicago, IL 60622
Chicago and its beloved Art Institute carry a reputation of cultivating generations of young, raw talent. Thus, our city has become a magnet for aspiring artists eager to be inspired and create, like so many of those that have passed through on their path to success. Despite this illustrious reputation and art world lore, the contemporary art scene can be difficult to navigate. Many galleries include work by emerging artists, but often I find myself searching for fresh, innovative work. Known for mid-century American works and uncommon objects, Corbett vs. Dempsey would be an otherwise unlikely source for contemporary art. However, the latest exhibition from the Ashland Avenue favorite highlights work by thirteen young artists from Chicago and is a must see for the summer. “Big Youth: New Painters from Chicago”, is on view through September 5, 2009 and offers the cream of Chicago's crop with paintings by artists from Chicago. This is the gallery’s first in-depth show featuring contemporary artists, and although this is a departure from the usual emphasis of work from 1940-1970, owners John Corbett and Jim Dempsey chose to showcase “Big Youth” after noticing strong work from young painters in the city.
Opening of "Big Youth" on Saturday, July 11th at Corbett vs. Dempsey.
The vitality and ebullient nature of the exhibition was apparent from the jam packed opening on Saturday, July 11th. The gallery space above Dusty Groove record store was filled with an energetic crowd that is usually absent from openings in the middle of the summer. Paintings of all shapes and sizes framed “the scene” for this particular Saturday night. Some of the artists were on hand, with friends and followers arriving in droves to experience the latest of Chicago's artistic talent. With this show, Corbett vs. Dempsey offers the opportunity to witness the innovation, influence and significance of Chicago’s youth.
Opening of "Big Youth" on Saturday, July 11th at Corbett vs. Dempsey.
This is a highly collaborative exhibition featuring work by Isak Applin, Carl Baratta, Joel Dean, J. Austin Eddy, Jonathan Gardner, Dominick Garritano, Jason Karolak, Hounyeh Kim, Rachel Niffenegger, Joseph Noderer, Carmen Price, Ben Seamons and Jenn Wilson. Some of the artists are new to the Chicago scene, while others come to Corbett vs. Dempsey with representation by local and national galleries. All of the artists are somehow associated with the School of Art Institute of Chicago or the summer school, OxBow. The group show runs the gamut in media and subject matter. With mediums including oil on canvas, ash, wax, and egg tempura, the pictorial approach used by these artists nod to Chicago's art historical past, illustrate the present, and provide a glimpse into the future.
Joel Dean, Parents Just Don't Understand, 2009, oil on canvas, 64 x 81 inches. Courtesy of Corbett vs. Dempsey.
Joel Dean’s larger than life canvases reveal a deep, dark psyche amidst highly expressive figures somewhat abstracted within space. His paintings are steeped in the traditions of folk culture and outsider art. Dean’s character portraits are raw and visceral, showing direct reference to Leon Golub and Chicago expressionist painters of the 40’s and 50’s. The animated landscapes of Isak Applin and Carl Barratta are significant in stature and vision. The expansive natural scenes are fantastical hallucinations, vivid in color and thoughtful in concept. An MFA graduate from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Applin creates splashy landscapes where nature and society collide. Wistful trees and placid streams are interrupted by tractors tooling down a county road, speeding cars along the highway, or a decomposed body floating upstream.
Carl Barrata, Curling Fingers of Tomorrow's Flowers 4, 2009, egg tempera on board, 48 x 48 inches. Courtsey of Western Exibitions.
The color drenched paintings by Carl Barrata exist in the land of dreams and the strange. Large in size and rich with kinetic energy, they celebrate the lushness of land and the possibilities of the absurd. There are no in adamant subjects in Barrata’s paintings; trees, rocks and grass are personified with mood and emotion. The Curling Fingers of Tomorrow’s Flower 4 (2009, above) emanates a seductive quality akin to the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.
Ben Seamons, The Fall of the Second Empire, 2009, oil on panel, 48 x 48 inches. Courtesy of Corbett vs. Dempsey.
Hard to ignore are the paintings by Ben Seamons. The two paintings on view at the gallery’s North wall simply consist of primary colors, while taking cues from masters of the past. The Fall of the Second Empire (2009, above), combines the bold shapes of Art Green, architectural windows of Roger Brown, and the warm yellow palette of Rene Magritte, creating a surrealistic landscape reminiscent of the Imagist view.
Hounyeh Kim, Untitled, 2008, acrylic gouache on paper, 15 x 7 1/2 inches. Courtesy of Corbett vs. Dempsey.
Hounyen Kim is one of the artists in the group show working in a smaller, paper format. Rich colors and boisterous characters echo bold work by Phyllis Bramson and Jimm Nutt, integrated with elements of anime and digital imagery references of pop culture.
Carmen Price, Aliens on the Beach, 2008, gouache on paper, 15 x 20 inches. Courtesy of Corbett vs. Dempsey.
The peculiar images of Carmen Price exhibit a sense of levity toeing the line between the literal and bizarre. Aliens on the Beach (2008, above) illustrates its title: a checkerboard of sixty alien heads creates and extraterrestrial rainbow hovering over a calm seashore.
Rachel Niffenegger, Smoking Heretics, 2009, watercolor, acrylic, gouache, ash, wax, and pencil on paper, 22 x 30 inches. Courtesy of Corbett vs. Dempsey.
Rachel Niffenegger, another artist exhibiting mixed media on paper stands out from the group with a muted palette and ghostly portraits of what appear to be lost souls in distress. Smoking Heretics (2009, above), is an overt reference to the screaming heads of Francis Bacon and themes of distorted identity adding a unexpected contrast to the playful nature of most works in the exhibition.
Jim Dempsey and John Corbett at Roots and Culture after party.
Although the crowd from opening night has subsided, the energy of this exhibition has not fizzled. The bright, young creatives behind “Big Youth” present relevant work with a vast knowledge of the past and inclination of the future. The show can be seen as a guide to navigate the contemporary art scene of Chicago. The gallery’s opening was followed by an after-party at Roots and Culture, a contemporary art space in West Town dedicated to the exhibition and promotion of art. Corbett and Dempsey were present at the party and participated in a DJ showdown, what they called “experience vs. youth”.
--Robyn Farrell Roulo