Melissa Johnson and I met at 88Nine/Stone Creek Coffee and were able to find a corner tucked away from the 414 Music Live session with Allen Coté. (After the interview, I stayed to hear Jack Garratt’s live recording in the 414 Room; it was incredible!) Today, Melissa had her “last first day” at Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design (MIAD). She’s in her final semester as an integrated studio arts major, which, I learned, means she isn’t limited to just one medium.
It was love at first sight.
My gorgeous gray leather cuff, shown in the picture on the left, was lovingly made out of all vintage materials by Laura Allswang, the vintage upcycling guru behind Dstressed. While I was interviewing Laura in her home, she brought out these cuff bracelets she makes. The soft gray coupled with the silver leaf caught my eye. My fatal mistake was trying it on—it fit like a glove. So naturally, by the time the conversation was over, I had to have it. And now I wear it all the time! Today I am wearing it in honor of People with Panache, sharing Laura’s story. (And I thought it would be a great second-ever post on PWP’s brand-new Instagram account!)
Laura lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband and kids (the ones not away at college). She met her husband when they were both in law school. Then, she practiced law for a short time before realizing she didn’t really want to be a lawyer. She decided to stay at home with her kids and as they grew up needed more. Laura let her creative juices flow and started painting furniture, which grew into a business involving decorative trays from picture frames, supple leather cuffs and more—all in her signature distressed style using only vintage and antique pieces. Continue reading
I could eat Mexican food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. So I like to think of myself as a taco connoisseur. Recently I may have met my match: Imani Amos. When I met up with her to talk about her recent, stunning, timely and captivating art photography project, “50 Shots,” we ended up spending the last 20-ish minutes talking tacos. Thanks to her, I have a list of new places to try in Chicago!
Imani is currently at the tail end of earning her graphic design degree at the Illinois Institute of Art. She also teaches West African dance and has been performing since she was five years old. On the side, she is also a freelance model, but she wants to move more toward the other side of the camera—directing the shoots rather than being in them. She has a VERY cool Instagram. And although she bills herself as a graphic designer (not a photographer), she recently created a photography art project called “50 Shots: Humanizing America’s Most Hunted” that depicts the mug shots of 50 black men and five things about them that you might not know by looks alone. The outcome is powerful, compelling and so relevant to today.
People with Panache: Imani, your “50 Shots” show is eye-opening and beautiful. Where did you get the idea?
Imani Amos: I have a notebook where I just jot down ideas. About 3 or 4 years ago, I had this idea to take a mug shot of a few of my black male friends. I thought about how my friends who I knew very well could easily be pulled over and taken to jail. So I thought it would be funny if I took a mug shot of them and wrote down what they actually do. Continue reading
“I think a lot of artists are in competition with themselves or with other artists, and I have no interest in any of that,” Lindsey Meyers says. “I don’t want to be anybody else or make anything else.” Lindsey summed up exactly the energy we aim to share with you every week. We hope you find her life, her business and the community she’s creating as inspiring as we do.
(She said so many valuable things, this interview barely covers half. Stay tuned for Lindsey Part II in the future!)
People with Panache: What inspired you to throw everything in and open Beauty and Brawn Art Gallery & Think Space?
Lindsey Meyers: A few things. I was a teacher and a nanny in my life before children. I adore kids and teaching, and was always an artist and then a full-time stay-at-home mom and an artist. So, I thought about it for a long time, with the pipe dream of having a studio. I drove by this spot all the time—it was in awful condition—but I saw the vision.
PWP: What happened next?
LM: Well, I’m very honest about my story. My ex-husband walked out on my two daughters and me in the middle of a conversation, and I had a mortgage and all the other things that come with that life. I just decided, this is my shot, and I’m not going to put on pantyhose and fetch coffee for someone anymore after all the things I’ve accomplished in my life. I put my house, my car and everything else I had in my possession on the line for collateral, wrote a business plan and went full force. I thought, if I fall, I’m going to fall big, but I’m going to try. And it came. I got a really small microloan of $5,000 and borrowed collectively $10,000 from my family, so I began the business with a mere $15,000.
PWP: What did you do about the space being in such terrible shape?
LM: I came in here with a two-by-four and a tire iron and just went to town. It was great. Took out the ceiling, took out the floor. It was a release for me of a lot of things to power through it. But it was also something I knew was necessary to bring to my community, the art community, and arts education nationally, locally and in Logan Square. I opened on St. Patrick’s Day 2012. It was a great opening. Very successful night. Knock on wood, the space has been really well-received. I just wanted it to be a place we could come as a community, whether you’re an artist or not, and just think and discuss.
PWP: You must meet inspiring people all of the time.
LM: I feel like I’ve met a lot of wonderful people, especially women. If I can be a source of inspiration for other women as a single mom who has no problem standing in line for food stamps, I can give back by doing a charity-based sale here, which we’re doing again in November. I’m not embarrassed by my situation and at least I can set an example for my children that we’re going to survive this and we’re going to be open about it. I do get asked a lot: “How did you start this? And why?!”
PWP: Well it’s an important question and a part of who you are.
LW: It is. And I don’t give fluff ever. I’m balls out. I have no trust fund. It’s difficult. It’s a third child pretty much. I’m a perfectionist, and it’s a reflection of myself, my community and my family, and that’s what I tell my daughters. Every time we come into this space, it’s my ass on the line and I’m going to do it to the best of my ability, and I want it perfect. I probably sound like a control freak but you can’t pay anyone to do those things at this point—my business is just taking off. Everything I do is very well-thought-out and I put 110 percent into it because I’d like it to be sustainable and grow. Here’s to trying anyway!
PWP: What is your background?
LM: I went to the Chicago Academy for the Arts for high school. Super cool. We built everything, and we thought about everything. So, my background is more performing arts than visual arts—music and theater. I was also a teacher, and I have a degree in psychology.
PWP: How did you come up with the name?
LM: It just came to me. Nobody knows at 18 what they want to be when they go to college; that’s completely rare. And then you have this window by 30 you’re supposed to be like… that’s it! And no one says: Go! Dream! Jump! Big! You know what I mean? The older we get, where can we sit that’s not a bar, that’s not a claustrophobic white-walled gallery where no one’s talking to each other? Here you can have a glass of wine or a cup of coffee and discuss projects you’re working on and meet new people and network in a creative way. So that’s the “think space” part of it. And people come to me with the craziest ideas sometimes and we pull them off.
PWP: What do you love about owning this space?
LM: When I see my space full of life and we’re having an opening and there’s a DJ and everyone’s having a good time and there are kids and adults and artists who have never had a show—this is a big deal for them. Just the look of elation on their face is an accomplishment because I’m teaching them that art is a business, but it’s joyful too—so when I see it full of life, all the other things don’t matter. And the response that people have given me. Like thank you for opening this in our community. Thank you for caring, thank you for taking this and turning it into something beautiful.
PWP: Have you always been an artist yourself?
LM: As far as being an artist, I can’t think of being anything else. It’s just the only way that I know how to be. I didn’t grow up like, “I’m going to be a doctor.” I’ve tried this, I’ve tried that. Was always rather existential even from a young age in the way that I saw the world. It’s not that it didn’t impress me; it was always kind of strange, like is this really what this is all about?
PWP: How do you find your artists?
LM: It’s fun because there is no shortage of art. They’re everywhere in Chicago. I don’t really need to go somewhere else to find this art, it sort of finds me. That’s the icing of my job to be like, yes, have a show here, let’s do this! So that’s been really fun and exciting.
PWP: I love the idea of bringing all of these people together in one space.
LM: It’s hard because most galleries won’t take submissions from artists. It’s such a nepotistic environment and community, especially in Chicago. In the gallery scene, they take 50 percent of your work; I only take 30 percent, and I don’t charge my artists to hang.
The show that Steph Davies was in was called Public Storage. I literally met one of my artists, an incredibly talented photographer named Sophie Goodwin, while she was bagging my groceries at Trader Joe’s. One day I looked at her website—and it was like no shit. Never shown anything before, straight out of Columbia. Then I met Jessica Yocherer, who had never shown and lives in Milwaukee, at the Milwaukee Art Museum when I took my kids one day. I thought, how am I going to bridge them together?
And it was based on a poem called “Public Storage” by Kathleen Gardner, who I went to college with and is this crazy, fun, interesting girl, and I loved her poetry. I didn’t ask them to create work about that, but if they wanted to they could, so that kind of tied it in and they all identified with that poem. It was a great show. The work looked terrific together. Even when I hang, I try to do it non-traditionally. Typically group shows are one wall of this person and one wall of that person. I mix it up. I don’t have white walls, but I don’t want it to be too overtly “the anti-gallery.” I’m an emotional art buyer and art viewer. I want people to have visceral emotional experiences when they come here.
“Art isn’t a hobby, it’s a way of life.”
I really stay away from “emerging artists.” I think it’s misinterpreted and misused in terms of a title for people. How long can you say someone is an emerging artist? Forever? Until they’re an established artist? Even when you fill out applications for art festivals, there are three categories: unknown, emerging and established. And I don’t know who makes that delineation of what you are. To me, we’re all emerging in some form and even if that’s their first show, they’re emerging out of something.
PWP: I’ve never thought about that phrase like that. I guess I just assumed I didn’t know enough about the art world to know the distinction.
LM: Yeah they try to make it seem like a hobby. Art isn’t a hobby, it’s a way of life. Artists need things. Artists need health insurance. It’s not this alternative means, which is another thing I’m trying to facilitate, too—that conversation about making a sustainable life for yourself and making a living. I’ve done many day jobs for the love of making art in the middle of the night, and I would still do those things to make art.
PWP: How do you get noticed as an artist in a large city like Chicago?
LM: It’s persistence. I don’t believe you need to do crazy stunts to get yourself out there. Maybe that’s optimism but if you’re really passionate about something, you go out with good intention, and your reputation precedes you, you make a good name for yourself. There are a lot of artists who fall privy to that slacker, spacey, irresponsible lifestyle and I don’t think they’re going to get too far. You need to be mindful of what you’re doing in the public eye. But be true about it. Be yourself. It’s hard work.
PWP: It seems extremely difficult.
LM: If you look at it as a business, it is. I’ve had people say crazy stuff in front of me. We did a show once at the Flat Iron, and a man walked down the hall and goes: “Sure smells like desperation in here.”
You’re basically putting your soul on a wall and you’re watching other people investigate your soul and extrapolate this and pull that and sometimes it’s really interesting. You’re looking at something that was really meaningful for me to create. And some people will trash it in front of you and you’re like “Okay, it’s not for you, don’t buy it!”
The worst thing an artist can do is compare and ask for outside validation. It’s got to come from the truest spot inside of you. And then you just hope it’s well-received. And sometimes it’s a flop.
PWP: That can happen with anything. Not everything you do is going to be successful but you keep trying and eventually you’ll get there. Like you said—persistence.
LM: Absolutely. You find a rhythm in your work. You have to be willing to be part of your own creationism artistically and be willing to let it go if you do want to make a living at it. Optimistically speaking.
PWP: I don’t think you’re being too optimistic. I think you’re being very realistic actually.
LM: I just don’t want to do anything else.
[Photos by Kate and Lindsey, varied. ]
When I set out to go to college, get internships and find a job, I don’t think I processed the prospect of spending 40 hours a week in a cornflower-blue cubicle. That’s a lot of time to literally be thinking inside the box. Continue reading
The GIF below represents a lot. Community, kids, education and, most importantly, one woman’s ability to combine these things into something truly inspirational. Continue reading
This week, I was lucky enough to steal an hour from Brooke Kosowski, President/CEO of Fine Arts StageWorks in Chicago and Sing It Child in Milwaukee. She has barely lived in Milwaukee a year and is already happily growing her newest artistic venture while enjoying the same things I love Continue reading