Accessible art. The phrase seems to be as dependable as an honest politician, but owners Zissou Tasseff-Elenkoff and Billy Craven along with Gallery Director Allie Whalen are trying to make it a staple of the Chicago art scene. Emerging from Tasseff-Elenkoff’s successful silk-screening studio FugScreens, the duo decided to open a space in Logan Square that not only showcases printmaking and street art, but is also accessible to the public six days a week with an array of work that will appeal to any art lover or wallet. I had the opportunity to sit down with Tasseff-Elenkoff and Craven to discuss Galerie F and their new niche in the gallery world.
Ray Figlewski: After establishing a successful, fully independent silk-screening studio, what possessed you to start a new venture in Galerie F?
Zissou Tasseff-Elenkoff: For me personally it is for other artist’s, I mean, yeah it helps get the name of the studio and obviously I can put my work in there personally, but for me it is more interesting to get other people together and showcase what I enjoy in printmaking and what I like. It is the idea of having something in Chicago that represents one of the biggest printmaking communities in the country and that is also a community based thing. It is something that is affordable, yet it is not necessary to have a huge amount of income to go and purchase a gig poster or a fine art print. But there is going to be a price range as well with higher end pieces, so it is accessible to a large range of people in the community.
Billy Craven: The one thing that frustrates me about being a consumer of any art or gallery shows here in the city is that a vast majority of them are appointment only or one day a week for three hours, so as a consumer I am extremely frustrated with the lack of availability. I do not want to have to call your gallery up and ask for permission to come and look at what you have on your wall because then I am immediately self-conscious in that I feel that you are expecting me to buy something if I walk in, so I just end up not walking in. So, if I feel that way I can’t be the only person in the entire Midwest. We wanted to open a space that is available to fans of all levels of art, whether it is fine art, street art, gig posters, 2D, anything. We wanted it so the casual walker can go by and see something in the window, walk in, and not have to make a phone call to come back in 65 days. Printmaking, the medium, is so accessible to a broader range of salary brackets. Real, honest to goodness, working class people can collect a poster from their favorite artists, where as a very small demographic can go out and buy a butterfly from Damien Hirst. We are not that demographic and we never will be.
ZTE: I think a main part of why me and Billy came to this conclusion that we wanted to do this, even though we have different backgrounds, we share the same cultural ideas and viewpoints on how things should be and are not necessarily concerning class and money. Again, that accessibility of anyone being able to potentially buy a print from our space, or a piece of art from our space is a big deal to us.
RF: We just touched on it a little, but what would be the overall goals of Galerie F? In other words is it going to be a place just for exhibitions? Will you have events? Is it going to be more of a community center?
ZTE: I would say it is a little bit of all those things. The idea behind it, and of course this may evolve after we realize that some things work better than others, but we are basically renting two spaces that we have made into one. What is nice is that we have double entry, from Fullerton and Milwaukee, and because of that we want to make the space slightly divided. The concept is to have, let’s say space A, predominately a gallery space at most times, and then space B, to be a retail area at all times. There is going to be an emphasis on the retail aspect of being able to walk in and buy a handmade book, a t-shirt, or a collection of prints. Again, it’s about that accessibility but also that exclusivity of having solo shows, group shows and that gallery space.
BC: And incorporate classes. The reason I met up with Zissou a few years ago was that I had for years wanted to get involved with screen printing and was frustrated with the financial investment of taking screen printing classes. I can’t personally afford to spend three, seven, eight hundred dollars on classes, and if I can’t there are definitely other people who can’t as well. So, I was getting coffee one day and I saw a poster by him [Zissou], and I liked the logo which first intrigued me, but it said that he was hosting classes at Fugscreens and they were by the hour and I said ‘well I can afford by the hour’. That’s what got me here; we want to continue making classes accessible to someone who always wondered what it was like to make a poster or those who are actively searching for a place to make one. We want to expose printmaking to more people. Many will never do it again, but the next Kevin Tong may be waiting for a democratically priced printing class.
RF: I am getting the feeling that a reason you both are opening the gallery is out of frustration. You saw something missing in the city (accessibility, place to buy and view art, etc.) and you wanted to fill that void. Is that a fair assessment?
ZTE: To a point. I think there is a little of that involved but if that is what sparked it, then what we want to grow out of that is making all of those things available through our space. On my side of things, I think I have a little bit less of those frustrations because I run FugScreens and my avenue through this whole thing is a little bit different than Billy’s. So mine is more based on the idea of bringing extremely talented people from all over the country, and Europe, and be able to have a single spot where a majority of those people can be shown. A place where one can go in and buy a print from someone on the East Coast, Austin, L.A, or San Francisco and then all of the local stuff will be represented.
RF: I figured I would talk a little bit about the work. You are both screen printers, what allured you both to that medium?
ZTE: Well, it is the most utilized print medium there is. I am sure some people will disagree, but it is still used in a lot of different industries. Obviously in ours with gig posters and fine art prints, but screen printing is probably the number one medium used because it is the easiest to apply, and probably the cheapest as well. Also, you can get good results with water based inks without having to use oil based. It’s still used in t-shirts, which is probably the most known way people recognize screen printing, but it’s also used on beer bottles, cans, brochures, lottery scratch cards are all screen printed. There are hundreds and hundreds of applications since the 30’s and something that digital media has not taken over. I started off as a painter and I went from wanting to combine painting and screen printing as a medium in a fine art sense, to falling in love with the medium and the process of it, to teaching it on a private level, and then to starting to do commercial jobs with bands and local artists.
BC: I fell in love with screen printing for slightly different reasons, it was more about the tactility for me, the way a screen printing poster felt to the touch really excited me. In the past, before I ever met Zissou, I always collected screen printing but I never knew why I was collecting it, clearly I was not collecting something else. It all boiled down to how things felt. I first figured that out when I moved back to Chicago and the Tokyo Police Club was playing in 2008. I walked into a record store and there was a poster up that I really liked and I touched it and enjoyed the weight of the paper and then I could feel the ink which really turned me on. It just reinforced something that I always experienced but never nailed down what was happening.
RF: Can you talk about your interaction with street art?
BC: I work with street artists and I have close relationships with what people would consider graffiti artists. It is an avenue of art that I have a great deal of respect for. One of my goals with Galerie F is to give them a venue and to represent them better while exposing them to more people. Some of the most collectable contemporary artists like Faile, started off as street artists but are held to a higher standard now. They are revered by fine art collectors and it is very easy to buy an original piece by Faile for $20,000. Yet they used to be a couple of kids committing felonious acts, but because of great management and representation they were catapulted into the fine art industry. There is a great deal of graffiti and street artists here in the city and we need to showcase the talent that they have on a local, national, and international level.
ZTE: I think what is interesting on my perspective, because I do not have the history that Billy does in terms of street art is that I know what I like and I know why I like it, but I do not have a particular insight into it. What is interesting is potentially a lot of street artists that have been or are currently practicing street art do that because they, I think, have a lack of an outlet. It is an easy outlet because any wall or any street is available, you just have to go there and do what you have to do. If those people had potentially a better outlet to design and be creative within a structured environment, they could probably be even more so [creative] than they are. Potentially in a different format, but that is what makes street art so interesting as well because it is the format that it is. It is out there for everyone to see. It is accessible and tangible in the sense that it is not being sold to you and that it is what separates itself from any other artistry.
RF: With that, how is Galerie F trying to capture that mentality or portray street art and graffiti that is in alignment of its nature?
ZTE: Well I think it already has, we are not the first people to do it by any means. You have pop-up shows all the time of artists putting together events. There are a couple galleries in this city that do it as well. But what we are trying to do is to do it a little better, on a bigger scale, and a more accessible scale while being consistent. You don’t have to be at the opening or a friend of the gallery owner to get in there at a certain time. You can just be around and it will be there for you to view.
Galerie F is planning to open on the 2nd week of July at 2381 N. Milwaukee (Fullerton/Milwaukee intersection), but being a gallery founded out of the passion for their community, Galerie F needs the community to reciprocate that passion. Whether it is a dollar or a thousand dollars given to their Kickstarter linked below, that donation is a step forward in bringing a significant, innovative, addition to our cities artistic prosperity. http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/fugscreens/the-launch-of-chicagos-galerie-f ￼