Young Couple Eyes Chicago’s Future
By FRANCK MERCURIO
Note: this interview is from the January-April 2016 issue of CGN.
Walking into Wicker Park’s Scone City, it’s quickly apparent that you haven’t entered a typical coffee house and bakery. Complementing the smells of fresh-brewed espresso and tempting displays of baked goods is an impressive collection of artwork.
“From our perspective, art isn’t just a painting on the wall,” says Jessica Canning, co-owner of Scone City along with her husband Tim Canning. “We try to create environments that live on their own, which is what we really want art to do.”
This philosophy is apparent inside the bakeshop and espresso bar. The space is activated by a smartly curated selection of works by urban and street artists, including the likes of Hebru Brantley, Stinkfish, and Ben EINE.
“Just having that pop of color, that inspiration from another world, and being able to bring it into a neutral space—it’s what I love about the kind of art that we’ve started to collect,” says Jessica.
Even though the couple began collecting only recently, they both have an eye for selecting strong works. Jessica, 36, has a double-major in studio art (photography) and economics. Tim, 40, trained at Kendall College as a chef. Both acknowledge the creativity of their grandparents—who include an architect, a jewelry designer, and a painter—as early influences on their love and appreciation of art.
Before meeting Jessica, Tim began collecting art on his own. He became intrigued by the paintings and illustrations of Charles Glaubitz, a Tijuana-based artist known for his (somewhat sinister) cartoon-inspired imagery.
“Glaubitz’s work was visually different than anything else I had seen,” says Tim. “He is able to mix his abstract, illustrative world of El Niño Burro [a recurring figure] to convey views on politics, human nature, and this crazy world we live in.”
After moving to Chicago from Boston, the Cannings became more focused in their art collecting. They joined the Chicago Artist Coalition’s Chartwell Collectors Circle and began visiting galleries.
“When we walked into Vertical [in Ukrainian Village], we just kind of stopped and knew we were in the right place,” says Jessica about the Chicago gallery owned by former marketing executive Patrick Hull, which features works by urban and street artists.
“Patrick has such an immense knowledge,” says Jessica. “Since we were just starting out in this collector world, we didn’t know who the up-and-coming artists were in Chicago—but we sure found out who could tell us.”
Hull not only connected the Cannings with local artists, he also introduced them to the work of many internationally known urban street artists and helped them select works for their growing collection. That collection has spilled over from the couple’s home and into Scone City where works by lesser known artists such as Jenny Robinson, Rene Gagnon, and Michael Rodriguez are displayed in dialogue with the better known works of artists from Vertical Gallery.
The Cannings felt they needed to make Scone City a destination – distinct from all other businesses competing for attention along Division Street in Wicker Park.
“We’re on coffee row, so we need to have a different look and feel from what’s already here,” explains Jessica.
“We wanted to have a place we love and that showcases our interests.”
One of the first works that customers see when they enter the shop is Ego Trippin’ by Alex Yanes. It’s a collage-like assemblage of three-dimensional pieces, brightly painted, that feature cartoonish characters. For the Cannings, it serves as a visual, tongue-in-cheek commentary about not taking oneself too seriously.
“It has a really great element of fun to it,” says Jessica.
“And for us, art is never too serious.”
And yet, the Cannings do display serious pieces that tackle heavy subjects. Near the Yanes piece are a number of works by Hebru Brantley, including Coffee Makes You Black, a painting that references stereotypical racial images from America’s past. This small work—a commentary by an African American artist—has received a lot of attention from customers.
“It has spurred more conversations, clearly, than anything else in the room,” says Jessica. “It’s a bit controversial. Some people find it offensive. However, for me, I’m excited that people want to talk about it.”
Adds Tim, “You can’t go around walking on egg shells. You need to put some stuff out there and let people react—and it’s okay to let them react—whether they embrace it or not.”
The Cannings consider Brantley a friend—and so they know his art and understand the context of his work. It’s the type of relationship that they are striving to have with others in Chicago’s art scene.
“Chicago is amazing. There are incredible artists popping up everywhere,” says Jessica. “We’ve just been brought into the circle with eyes wide open, and we are really excited to meet new people and get into the art community.”
Top image: Jessica and Tim Canning pictured in front of Chapinero Woman, by Stinkfish