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Up the Stairs

Something incredible is happening in the Near West Side. Amid industrial complexes and warehouses, a group of seven artists have banded together in the newly-opened Stairway Studios, a massive space with room for painters, sculptors, metal-workers, and carpenters. Besides the seven core members—Jason Hawk, Eric Gushee, Trevor O’NeilLaura Davis, Jonathan Cernak, Fred Gerdes, and Salvador Dominguez—Stairway has space enough for more creative residents to set up shop on a temporary basis. To celebrate this brand new community, Stairway is throwing a grand opening gala on October 26 complete with works by area artists, industrial designers, and artistic scholars. I visited the new studio space and spoke to steel-worker Jason Hawk about their plans over beers.

Despite the collection of materials, tools, and intriguing clutter of seven artists’ studios, our voices echoed in the sheer volume of the space.  “Right now we’re in this unique position where never again will we have this much space,” he says, gesturing with his beer hand. “In a few months it’s all going to be full, there will be new walls everywhere, and this and that. So, for our opening gala, we’re just literally white-walling everything, we’re bringing in about 25 artists, and doing a super-legit grand opening.”

Stairway Studios, 2013. Chicago, IL.

With the residents’ diverse tastes and their huge gallery-to-be, the show will have something for all tastes. “There’s going to be a really fucking exciting mix of really high-end design, artwork, and stuff that bridges the gap. We’ll have both two- and three-dimensional stuff. We’re going to have two lighting designers come in too, and just do baller-ass lighting installations. And then we’re going to have catering, DJs, everything.” The display list includes a huge assortment of distinguished creators in all mediums. “There’s Lynn Basa, the woman who wrote the definitive book on public sculpture. We’ve got this dude Stanislav Grezdo, who’s the lead curator of the Ukranian Institute of Modern Art over here in the Ukie Village. He’s got some stuff that’s just bonkers. We’ve got designers Steve Haulenbeek and Ben Stagl, Suzie Kimball and Kevin Ware rocking some brilliant sculpture… the list goes on.”

Jason Hawk, Love Me, Love Me Not (disassembled), 2013. Steel and polymer plastic. Image courtesy of the artist.

Along with Dominguez and Gushee, Hawk’s last studio was at the now defunct Red Gate Studios in Logan Square. Unlike those two, he had a metal shop to move to the new location. “It was a rugged, rugged, rugged endeavor. Our first idea was like, okay, we’ll just box everything up and we’ll carry the boxes over. I packed two or three boxes and I thought, this is crazy. Physically, we cannot do this. There’s going to be thousands of boxes, each weighing at least 50 or 60 pounds. So we ended up just doing the whole thing on pallets… I guess we did it in about two weeks. And the thing that’s fucked up is that, Eric, all his shit is wire, it’s light. EVERYTHING I own weighs like ten thousand fucking pounds. I clocked it in. I own nineteen-fifty. Nineteen thousand pounds. Of shit. I collected 19,000 pounds in three years, and I’m just getting started. It’s terrifying.”

For all that mass, the space is still intimidatingly large. The possibilities are virtually limitless, even with certain losses. “Right now it looks like I have way too much, but the thing is it’s all chaos because I’m reorganizing. At Red Gate, we had basement storage, I had a little house I’d built that I was storing shit on top of. We had all that extra storage there, but here, we just have literally everything out. Still, we’ve basically doubled our studios.”

At the gala celebration at the end of this month, guests will get a glimpse not only of the guest artists but of the residents’ work as well, from Hawk’s steel commentaries on American life to Gushee’s web-like material experiments and Cernak’s meditations on some of the world’s most famous paintings. Come by Stairway Studios at 2548 W Lake Street from 6 p.m. to midnight on October 26 to get a look at a studio on its way up.

To find out more about Stairway Studios, visit stairwaystudioschicago.com.

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