Part II: Artists at Work: Studios as Laboratories


If a man’s home is his castle, an artist’s studio is his or her laboratory—a place of experimentation, trial-and-error, research and development. Cooking metaphors come to mind: throwing things at the wall to see what (literally!) sticks; the shrouded mystery of sausage-making. Far from the pristine galleries where their finished pieces are displayed, some artists labor in smudged, messy spaces crammed with works-in-progress, materials and tools arrayed in minimally organized chaos; others are more compartmentalized and precise. 

For our second installation of Artists at Work, we offer a glimpse into eight such environments, occupied by leading Chicago artists such as Kerry James Marshall, Phyllis Bramson, Audrey Niffenegger, Nicholas Sistler, Marcelo Eli, Louise LeBourgeois, the Zhou Brothers, and Edra Soto.

Kerry James Marshall in his studio in Bronzeville. Last year he became the first African American to have a solo show at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., and later had a show in Antwerp, Belgium, that is now touring Europe. When I saw him in his studio, he looked glad to be home.


Audrey Niffenegger in her attic studio at her home on the West Side. The skeletons are her pals and models - they've made cameo appearances in several of her pieces - and so is the taxidermied raven on her desk; the bird modeled for several images in Audrey's most recent graphic novel, "Raven Girl."


Phyllis Bramson is shown in her West Loop live/work space. "I'm trying not to care so much," she said of her painting/collages, but that seems to be coming along slowly. Stated in regards to a change in visual strategy as Bramson gets ready for her Thirty Year Retrospective at the Rockford Art Museum, opening in October 2015 - January 2016.


Nicholas Sistler in his home studio in Bucktown. The clown outfit was his idea; as he put it, "Why not have some fun?" Good question.


Louise LeBourgeois in her Rogers Park studio. She specializes in paintings of Lake Michigan, one of which recently was acquired by Fermilab, the particle-physics research facility in Batavia, IL


Marcelo Eli in his Bridgeport home studio. For the photo shoot, he sat on a wooden stool that he's had since he was a small child. He's a grownup now, as the beautiful painting behind him shows, but the stool still bears his weight nicely.


Edra Soto in her home studio a few blocks from the Garfield Park Conservatory. She worked until 1 o'clock in the morning the day of the photo shoot because she had an exhibit opening that evening, "Say Everything" at the Lloyd Dobler Gallery. She still looked fresh and rested for the shoot.


The Zhou Brothers in their Bridgeport studio. During the shoot, I asked the brothers how they manage to stay in such good shape, and especially how they keep their midsections so trim. "Well," DaHuang Zhou (on the right) said with a smile, "I suck it in."


Kevin Nance @KevinNance1