BY KEVIN NANCE Critic-at-Large
Strolling down South Halsted Street in East Pilsen, you don't expect to find a taste of Kentucky. But Marco Logsdon, owner of one of the most interesting galleries in the still-developing Chicago Arts District, is bringing some of the best contemporary artists of the Bluegrass State to the Windy City.
Logsdon 1909 Gallery & Studio is one of dozens of participating in the 37th annual Pilsen East Artist's Open House, today through Sunday. Its current exhibit, "Gestalt," is a group show of Kentucky artists -- including Steve Armstrong, Lucinda Chapman, Jim Dee, Michael Goodlett, Diane Kahlo (a distant relative of Frida's) and others -- almost all of them from Lexington and Louisville.
Best of the lot, though, is Logsdon himself, a Lexingtonian whose abstract paintings in oil, tar and beeswax -- with their saturated colors, glistening finishes and patterns often derived from found materials such as floor tiles and the dividers used to stack tires -- have found a strong market in Chicago.
"Kentucky is more interested in the figurative tradition," he says. "Chicago is much more metropolitan, obviously, and you meet a lot of people who want larger and particularly more abstract pieces for their homes. It's been great for me here."
It all started two years ago, when Logsdon brought a vanload of his work to the Around the Coyote art festival in Wicker Park.
"I'd been getting their mailings for years, and I just decided to see what would happen," he recalls in the lightest of Southern accents. "I think my work was different from anything people here were used to seeing."
During a pre-festival seminar, Logsdon was told not to expect to sell anything for more than $300. "I didn't believe them," he says, "so I did my own thing." He sold 14 pieces that weekend, including several approaching price tags of $3,000.
Soon after that, Chicago patrons who'd seen his work at Around the Coyote bought more large pieces, which he delivered himself. During that trip, he found himself in East Pilsen, where the Podmajersky family was offering several gallery/studio spaces for lease.
Last fall, finally, Logsdon 1909 -- the name, handily, refers to the address on South Halsted -- opened for business, with the artist living and working in the back of the building. (To learn more, visit www.logsdon1909.com.) But at his first open house, the artist/gallerist sold 15 pieces, many of them large, amounting to about half of his unsold stock. It was a good problem to have, but still a problem.
The solution was to exploit the gallery's potential as a showcase for Kentucky artists, including several of his longtime friends who were also looking to expand their markets. While continuing to display his own work as it's completed, Logsdon has hosted a series of handsome solo and group shows, highlighted by Chapman's paper collages, Armstrong's wooden assemblages, Waseem Touma's installations ("people went nuts," Logsdon recalls) and Michael Martinez's strange ceramic drones.
But Logsdon remains his own best seller. Some of his most in-demand pieces have a faintly Asian quality that started appearing a few years ago in the form of Zen-like circles and the deep oxblood color associated with Chinese lacquered furniture.
"I was doing yoga, which involves a slowing of the mind," he says of this development. "I'd been doing these gridded things, but I found myself opening up the surfaces of the paintings more and allowing color to take over."
The resulting paintings tend to fly off the gallery walls almost before they're dry. It looks like a Kentuckian has found a home away from home.
'PILSEN EAST ARTIST'S OPEN HOUSE'
Galleries on South Halsted, north and south of 18th Street