When I first spotted She Art’s pinup-embellished sign, I was simultaneously intrigued and on guard. What should I expect from an art and vintage shop dedicated solely to the female figure? Objectification or feminism? Upon entering the welcoming Andersonville space, however, the vibes were definitely of the latter, accomplished through a wonderfully overwhelming diversity and eclecticism.
Each of the plethora of art objects in She Art represents or adorns the female body. “My partner and I have always collected female form,” says gallery owner Candy Johnson on the collection’s origins, “and I got a little carried away. So in order to help me focus, we decided to open up a store just dedicated to the female.” The first space opened in 2005 in Oak Park, and after two years and “the kids were grown and gone,” Johnson and her partner moved and reopened in the Andersonville neighborhood in March. “This is my neighborhood,” says Johnson. “I lived here from the 80s through the 90s.”
Near the entrance, I was enamored with a storybook-esque anthropomorphic portrait called “Deer Woman” by Chicago artist Jeffrey Dean. Displayed nearby are abstract figural handmade jewelry pieces by local metal artist Carmen Perez. On adjacent walls, more paintings from local artists flank vintage fashion illustrations. A popular seller, says Johnson, are the bright, whimsical reverse glass paintings by Elena Diadenko–my favorite of these was the somewhat silly but beautiful “I Love My Cat.” Meanwhile, in a glass case near the back of the store are stacks of 1940s arcade cards designed to tantalize in a pre-Playboy era.
“It’s an eclectic mix,” laughs Johnson, and accurately likens her collection to “a collage.” “I’m getting to know my customers here, which is a lot different from Oak Park,” she explains, “People here are a little bit more selective in what they’re looking for I think, and it’s a little bit higher end.”
Johnson searches five days a week for her vintage treasures and regularly encourages local emerging artists to place works on consignment. “I try to mix old with new to stimulate the eye,” says Johnson, and indeed, in every nook and cranny such juxtapositions tell silent but striking narratives. The most telltale is perhaps pair of framed World War II era Japanese advertisements featuring demure women in traditional-meets-modern attire. They hang beside Jo Minaxe’s black and white photograph of breasts tattooed with “Kismet,” and the red caption “I Will Seal My Own Fate.”
Thus the female form as a primary theme has proven far from limiting, and the collage-like collection at She Art reconfirms that femininity in art, through past, present, East, and West, can mean just about anything.
She Art is located at 1519 W. Foster Ave. For more information on the gallery and artist
consignment opportunities, visit SheArtChicago.com.