Category Archives: Profiles

 Tour Guide of Future Signs – The work of John Phillip Abbott


words by Derrick Buisch

“Why are you watching? Someone must watch, it is said. Someone must be there.”- Franz Kafka

It is fair to assume that John Phillip Abbott’s paintings are made inside a room commonly referred to as a painting studio. The real question we may be left to wonder/ponder is simply – who chooses to do this and why? What motivates these works in particular? Are they random acts of inspiration? Is it just years of research, training and preparation, that result in these colored crafted chemical optical concoctions? What motivates Abbott to make these paintings of broken words and fragmented phrases in flashing colors with such powerful retinal intensity?

Are these paintings the result of some form of time travel? Do these works occupy the strange spaces in the gaps of some unknowable future timeline?

These new paintings by John Phillip Abbott are the visual equivalent of a brain freeze. Push play and turn it up loud; these paintings come in surround sound. Abbott’s paintings amplify the periphery. They spell out a condition of confusion in bold block letters – right/write below the surface of legibility. Speak to me in crystal clear color picture glyphs that are impossible to ignore and possibly even more difficult to understand. These works work to evoke, provoke, instigate those little brain tremors of synesthetic visual pleasure and poetic curiosity that great paintings can summon up on the best days of looking.

John Phillip Abbott’s words in his new paintings run out of space. They are broken, warped, and disjointed. These paintings celebrate their own inherent contradictions because they relish the mess we have come to expect from painting. They are loud when paintings are silent. They are fast when paintings are still. They unravel when paintings are finished. These paintings move, jump, pop, sing, shout…they move out into space and squirm about. Abbott’s paintings are ill behaved in the best way.

One thing these new works by Abbott represent – options, the ecstasy of possibilities, honest and joyous play, a powerful result of many hours of enthusiastic labor. As painters (from one painter to another) this is what we work for, this is where the hours of training, straining, all of the false starts, former loves, past disappointments, all the trials and errors – all the ingredients of a life lived so far under the umbrella of the vocation of painter, practitioner, studio rat – comes to this: A crystal clear body of works, all in harmony with each other, all buzzing in the same visual bandwidth frequency. POW. This is what we work for, this is what we strive for, this is what we live for – these moments of inspiration, of focused intensity, of visual levitation.

I have seen the future and it beckons bright with many colored signs. I remain an optimist. Thank you, John Phillip Abbott, for showing the way. I have a good feeling there will be many wonders there – I can’t wait.

Why are you painting? Someone must paint, it is said. Someone must be there.

An earlier version of this essay and some of these works appeared at PIER 1218 Madison, WI Summer 2012






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Etta Kostick: jewelry maker

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interview by Damon Locks                                                   photos by Arthur Mullen

This Chicago jewelry maker has been creating her wares for sale since 2009. I have admired her work for years and decided that it was high time to spread the word about this talented artist/designer.

Your designs are very sculptural, did you grow up with a background in sculpture? How did you arrive at this combination of materials for your jewelry?

I was never formally trained in either sculpture or jewelry design but consider my parents and upbringing to have had a large influence on my work; both of my parents are self-employed glassblowers. I grew up in rural Massachusetts, where my family was always outside playing in my father’s tree farm or our vegetable garden. I first remember creating sculptures inspired by these surroundings using the elements at hand such as wood, moss, and clay.

At seven my parents taught me the basics of glassblowing. The malleability of glass when heated with a flame was entrancing to me. This love of glass continued into my twenties where I found myself searching for new techniques to express myself artistically. I came across stained glass and really took to it; I liked that the properties of stained glass and soldering had many similarities to molten glass in the ways it can be manipulated. This continuous process of exploring and developing my vision for my work has recently brought me to experiment with torched copper enameling, which involves melting glass powder onto copper sheets to create striking colorful patterns. I love the transformative properties that occurs with all of these methods of manipulating glass and metal.

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For me, I see your work having a futuristic, science fiction aesthetic mixed with elaborate jewelry from an imaginary ancient culture – the perfect accent to a ceremonial outfit on a far off planet. That is most likely a reflection of my own interests that I impose on your work. Knowing you a little bit, your personal style feels more organic, closer to the countryside than to interplanetary exploration. How do you envision the feel of your work? Do you have a context in mind when you are designing?

When I started experimenting with making jewelry I was initially inspired by tribal jewelry and adornments I had collected from South Asia. I loved the strength in the shapes and the feeling of empowerment they give to the wearer. I strive to create jewelry that incorporates both these bold shapes as well as more delicate and organic elements. The patterns in the copper enamel and the more intricate metalwork that I do tend to emulate things I see in nature.

Are there resources that you go to for inspiration? 

Definitely a change of scenery whether to a different neighborhood in the city or a new state energizes both myself and my work. My last visit to Colorado inspired me greatly. The multi-colored lichen growths on rocks I came across influenced the patterns I now make with copper enamel. I also feel that I am influenced by the architecture and shapes that I see while living in Chicago- it definitely contributes to a more industrial look with many of my pieces.

What does your average work day consist of?

I work out of my apartment so it’s easy to get caught up in my work. I can spend hours in my studio, which is great because I really enjoy it, but I am striving towards a more balanced approach. It is something I have yet to master.

Would you ever want your business to be larger so you would have to have others involved in production and sales? 

My jewelry feels like an extension of myself and at this point I feel if I had others working with me it wouldn’t feel as personal. Right now I am really enjoying the solitude and satisfaction of creating everything on my own.

You can find Etta’s work at Etta Kostick Jewelry:

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In Tune: Corbett vs. Dempsey Gallery



by Damon Locks, John Corbett & Jim Dempsey


Open in the Wicker Park neighborhood for five years, Corbett vs. Dempsey is the brainchild of owners Jim Dempsey and John Corbett, both active in various curatorial endeavors in Chicago and elsewhere. The gallery, which is an outgrowth of their joint interest in the secret history of Chicago’s visual arts, has as its mission the exhibition of paintings, drawings, collages, assemblages, and sculpture by Midwestern artists of various styles from the 1930s to the 1970s. They represent various estates and living artists, as well as a select group of contemporary artists with roots in Chicago art. Given a longstanding involvement in music, the gallery presents sporadic solo performances and has presented artwork by musicians including Peter Brötzmann and Han Bennink. Their efforts at piecing together the history of art in the Windy City have thus far resulted in more than 30 published catalogs and an extensive show in 2007/8 at the Chicago History Museum titled, Big Picture: A New View of Painting in Chicago. Although the focus at Corbett vs. Dempsey is Chicago vicinity, they are not averse to programming exhibitions of artists from elsewhere, when it speaks to them, as evidenced by an upcoming show of new works on paper by the German artist Albert Oehlen. Dempsey’s other activities have included programming at the Gene Siskel Film Center, where he is House Manager. Among Corbett’s musical productions are the Unheard Music Series, an ongoing program of archival releases of unavailable creative music primarily from the’60s and ’70s, as well as a long list of live musical events including a decade-long stretch booking the Empty Bottle Jazz Series and Festival of Jazz and Improvised Music. In 2002, he was Artistic Director of JazzFest Berlin, and he contributes to Down Beat magazine each month.

We both stood round the computer and dreamed up the answers (to this interview) together. It would be impossible to extricate who said what. It’s a philosophical composite, it sort of represents the way we work at the gallery. We love it, we hope you can work with it. – J & J


You each had well developed and articulated roles for yourselves before you opened a gallery. Meaning, both of you had been working jobs for a long time seemingly suited to your interests in the fields of music & film, respectively. How did you guys initially decide to start an art gallery? Did the decision feel like a departure or simply an extension of what you were doing before? Did you feel like you were taking a chance creating a new space for yourselves personally as gallery owners?

We were both deeply involved in different kinds of curatorial activities before we set off on running a gallery.  In programming music films at the Gene Siskel Film Center, Jim was always interfacing with the local community, dealing with various collaborations; he liked to reach out to work with other institutions, like the Empty Bottle’s Adventures in Modern Music Festival, the Hideout’s live music programming, the World Music Festival with Michael Orlove. For Jim, it was important to pull together disparate parts of the curatorial community in Chicago, finding interesting continuity between music, film, and the visual arts. Likewise, John’s work as a music organizer brought together the local and international scenes in a context of mutual respect and collaboration, often featuring different media, like Peter Brötzmann’s exhibition The Inexplicable Fly-Swatter, which presented the German saxophonist’s artwork to an American audience for the first time. In our very first collaboration together, which took place at the Siskel in 2003, we not only presented films focused on Sun Ra in a month-long series called SUN RA SUNDAYS, but we featured live music and an exhibition of never-seen visual material. Since 1999, John has produced the Unheard Music Series, which issues obscure or out-of-print music from the archives.

In a certain respect, the work we set out to do with Corbett vs. Dempsey is a logical continuation of all these activities, not a radical break from them. For us, starting the gallery was a big risk because from the moment of conception to the first exhibition was a very short time, so we really hit the ground running. And there is a lot about having a gallery that isn’t simply common-sense…there are protocols and normal practices that you have to discover, so we had quite a steep learning-curve. It was a challenge that we devoured. An excellent example of how it continued activities in which we’d already been engaged is 2005’s EYE & EAR exhibition, featuring work by musicians who are artists and vice-versa. We produced a CD for that show and tied it into some programming at the Film Center. The other thing is that, each working independently, we had already built up audiences who were interested in what we were doing, so when we started the gallery some of those like-minded people came with us. That kept it from being like starting from absolute scratch…which was a plus.

When you step back and look at eras of certain genres of music made in Chicago (like jazz, r&b, soul, blues or gospel), it is possible to note attributes that, even with its diversity, make a case for a regional sound. Are there characteristics to the Chicago visual art scene that you can only appreciate over the span of time? Does Chicago art have a “regional sound?” 

It’s a very tricky business trying to articulate what makes a specific regional art form distinct from another, but there are definitely some things that are unique to Chicago, both in music and in the visual arts. We have long noted the working-class base here, which seems pretty unforgiving towards pretentiousness, snark and irony. By the same token, both in sound and image, there’s a very strong interest in vernacular sources and in humor. Chicago is a town that makes terrible requirements of its artists; many, both musicians and visual artists, have to spend their lives with day-jobs to support themselves. But this also is reflected in the work, which never gets too big for its britches. And it (Chicago) creates an atmosphere of experimentation in which the fiscal stakes are never so high that an artist can’t feel free to break his or her own rules.

With the inclusion of musical performances at the gallery, the location above a great record store and Sun Ra related projects how does your joint interest in the music world(and/or film world)play into your curatorial process?  

We love both music and art.  The decision to bring some musical events into the gallery space was specifically designed to attempt to introduce some of the music fans we know to the broader visual art world. And vice-versa, to bring art fans into a space where they can become intrigued by some sort of new music. We’ve noticed the mutual exclusivity of these worlds, which is sometimes disappointing, and we always try to break down those barriers. Live music is also just a way of making a gallery seem a little less intimidating and fussy, which is something we always strive to do.

Is there an art to creating monetary and hierarchical parameters around possibly previously unseen art?

To be clear, not all the artists we work with are, by any means, unknown.  But any time a curator attempts to assert that an obscure or relatively unknown artist is worthwhile, there’s a whole value structure at stake. One one hand, there’s a science to how things are valued, both monetarily and in terms of their historical value, but there’s also a more mysterious side to it. We try to be sensitive to both of those. It’s great fun and it’s lots of work, just attempting to decode the worth of things. For us, it starts with the basic notion that received wisdom is often incomplete. You need to question whether something has intrinsic interest, regardless of whether you’ve been told that it does or not. Answer that for yourself and then look at the bigger picture.

Why do you think it is important to focus on Chicago artists?

Through Chicago, one can easily observe how power and influence have shaped the history of American culture, obscuring or promoting certain music and art. Look at jazz musicians like Fred Anderson and Von Freeman. They’re our great beacons, the ones who stayed in Chicago and continued to make their own kind of music on their own terms. We adore that quality of independence, and we see it writ large in the visual arts as well.


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