First Fridays at the Flatiron
Flatiron Building 1579 N. Milwaukee Ave. Chicago
6 - 10pm first Fridays of every month

$5 suggested donation

reviewed by Felissia Cappelletti (January 2015)

Night Owl 2014


Meandering through the winding, labyrinthine hallways bedazzled with eclectic art and nooked with intimate artist studios, I always get taken in by the bohemian, anything-goes aesthetic vibe of the Flatiron Building, a place where artists live and work. Even on a slow night like it was on January 2nd, the Flatiron's two levels of studios still buzzed softly with friendly voices, music, sweet incense, and ever-changing art. The hallways are just as decked out as the showrooms. Graffiti- type designs slash across whole passageways, silk-screened geometry is printed directly onto the walls, and little painted doodles catch my eye from here and there. Upstairs, Bittens the cat contemplates a salon-style wall filled with portraits from beneath a Maypole decorated by fauns.

The quality of the hallway work is mostly novice, but I appreciate it because of the wide spectrum of styles I find there. I saw pieces of grotesque and garish abstraction. Paper collage, digital photography, figurative work, stylized images of mixed subject and media. The hallway work looks like mostly student or 'outsider' art, which you won't see in the smaller galleries downtown, making it a great place to discover up and coming artists or artists with a unique touch. Not all good art is necessarily 'marketable', and if you're a broke art-lover like I am, the lower prices on these small, project-y pieces can be excellent for young collectors.
The art inside the studios is, of course, more polished, more professional work and there is continuously a wonderful variety of art represented. Photography, moody, abstract color work, comic-book type graphics, and paintings in the more 'traditional' sense of the word are some of what I encountered this time.

One of my favorite galleries in the building belongs to Kevin Lahvic. He, by himself, has a mix of styles and sizes on display. I especially enjoyed his newest series of stylized animal pieces portrayed with an undertoned 'native' quality and represented in wild, proud stature above beautifully rendered backdrops of high intensity color, radiant and saturated in balanced contrast against each other for maximum lushness. Patterns done in raised medium in the background bring dimension and texture to the color, emphasizing key shapes and calling interest to every inch of the canvas.

Kevin also has a collection of large-scale 'alt-pointillism' portraits which give that optical allusion effect of an image coming into focus the further away you stand. But instead of the color points being only as big as a pen or brush tip, each point is as big around as the rim of a cup. Those are fun because they don't have the seriousness of portraits painted in realism or near-realism and because you can really see the arrangement of color within each point that creates the overall image.

Lahvic's Portraits 2014

Another body of work characteristically Kevin's are the tiny, cartoonish faces that come individually or together in a gridded group, some with humorous captions. These cute pieces have a sense of humor. The simple, comic-y faces are easy for casual viewers to grab onto and enjoy without the duty of artistic interpretation.

Elsewhere, Kevin Garbacz's studio is hung with moody color pieces, simple in design but filled with texture and movement. Some thick and heavy, others light and earthy, active or flowing. Without subject matter, these pieces are easy to look at, suggesting mood using only color, brush stroke, and loose shape. My favorite piece, which in my own head I titled Gold Waterfall, is delicately captivating and soothing.

A must-see stop whenever visiting the Flatiron is JoJo's closet. This wonderland is fantastical, surreal, over-stimulating, and over-stuffed. It is a Neverland of lost dolls and luggage, masks and hair. JoJo's photography of over-the-top costume play has recently been turned into a photobook available at the gift shop of the MCA. His unreal, flamboyant makeup art and dazzling handmade costumes transform he and best friend Sal into creatures from a dream land of color and character. Mermaids and marionettes, the moon and Marie Antoinette, the vibrant photos in the book, Getting Into Face, show the world that with enough style and stance, you can be anything in the world you want to be. (Or at least JoJo can.)

The selection of art at the Flatiron appeals to many different sensibilities and is done in a myriad of hands. I like the Flatiron because it changes constantly and its collection is the heart of young artists, just as the building itself holds position in the beating, thriving heart of Wicker Park. Take a date there, go with some curious friends, meet interesting people , be stimulated and have some free wine. First Fridays at the Flatiron is definitely worthwhile.

--The End --