Dealer Patrick Hull’s Street Art Gallery
By FRANCK MERCURIO
“I never really enjoyed going to galleries,” confesses Patrick Hull, 45, owner and director of Vertical Gallery. “I always felt like I’d walk in, and it wasn’t the right environment for me.”
That all changed, however, when Hull became enamored with street art and began visiting galleries in San Francisco that featured the work of prominent urban artists. The vibe, for Hull, in these specialized galleries was different from those that sold more conventional art.
“I found [the atmosphere] very approachable,” explains Hull. “You could go to the openings and meet the artists. It really spoke to me that they were allowing everybody to see their art—it wasn’t exclusive.”
Hull is a former marketing VP for Birkenstock and Woodruff-Sawyer & Co., and by all accounts, was tremendously successful in his previous career. But three years ago, he left the corporate world, bid farewell to his long-time home in San Francisco, and moved across the country to establish Vertical Gallery in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village neighborhood.
Vertical features a constantly changing roster of urban and street artists, some of whom are just getting established and others with international prominence. It’s a mix that Hull felt was missing from the Chicago art scene.
“Even though there were some galleries exhibiting this type of art [in Chicago], I didn’t feel like they were showing what I was seeing in London, Paris, New York, LA, or San Francisco,” explains Hull. “So, I decided to bring this hybrid of local, national, and international urban street artists here.”
Since opening Vertical in 2013, Hull has shown the work of many well known artists, including Ben EINE, OAKOAK, Shepard Fairey, and StinkFish. Perhaps Hull’s most famous local artist is Hebru Brantley, whose public murals are popping-up around the city. Brantley has even designed shoes for Nike’s Jordan Brand.
“Hebru is primarily a gallery artist, but he loves getting out on the street,” says Hull, referring to Brantley’s public murals. “He’s done graffiti before in the past, and then went into film, and now he’s a full-time artist. We did a very successful, sold-out solo show with him in June.”
Which begs the question, how does one sell “street” art—a genre that is typically created for free for public consumption—within a gallery context?
“Some of the artists we work with are definitely studio artists, like Hebru,” explains Hull. “While Ben EINE is a graffiti artist, he has a whole body of [outdoor public] work that he’s transformed to be shown in a gallery space.”
“I wasn’t exactly sure how OAKOAK would interpret his art for the gallery space,” adds Hull, referring to the French street artist known for his clever public interventions featuring visual puns. “But I think it’s brilliant what he’s done with composition, making his art interactive within a frame.”
Indeed, in OAKOAK’s recent solo show at Vertical Gallery, cartoon like figures physically bust through mats that surround his images. In other works, gargantuan movie monsters—including Godzilla and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man—invade the ready-made landscapes of vintage French posters. Even though these smaller works are made for commercial consumption, they stay true to the intentions of OAKOAK’s signature public works.
In addition to bringing street artists from around the world to Chicago, Hull also helps coordinate public commissions of their work here in the city. He’s connected to private building owners, as well as business and non-profit organizations, such as the West Town Chamber of Commerce and the Wabash Arts Corridor, who commission large-scale mural installations. Recently, Hull has helped facilitate public murals by Ben EINE, Never2501, and Hebru Brantley. Four more are planned for 2016, including murals by Collin van der Sluijs, Seth Globepainter, HERA, and a second by Ben EINE.
“When I work with the artist, I try to find out what kind of space they want, scale-wise, and try to get some funding and get their work out there,” says Hull. “It’s great PR—I mean, a smart artist will definitely realize that ‘If I get a 240-foot-long mural, that’s going to mean a million people will see my work who never knew my work existed.’”
April 2016 marks the third anniversary of Vertical Gallery, and Hull is planning a special group exhibition featuring three well-known artist duos: Jana and JS, Ella and Pitr, and Expanded Eye. An opening reception will take place Saturday, April 2, 6-10pm. Upcoming solo shows will feature Collin van der Sluijs, Greg Gossel, and HERA, perhaps the best known female street artist working today. All exhibition openings will incorporate Hull’s welcoming, accessible approach to visitors.
“If you come to one of our openings, you will see a wide range of people in one room, and it’s really great,” says Hull. “I love that we can bring people together.”
1016 N. Western, Chicago (60622)