photo: David Ettinger
Deb Sokolow has been steadily inking her way into the hearts and minds of Chicago's art world. Since graduating from the School of the Art Institute in 2004, she has shown at 40000, Gallery 400
, and had a solo show in the MCA's 12 x 12 series. Her whimsical drawings analyze pop-culture phenomena, such as the movie Rocky
, office culture and Americans' fear of terrorism, and mix the aesthetics of children's books, diary writing, New Yorker-style cartoons and personal sketching.
Last week I caught up with Sokolow in her Logan Square studio to learn more about the voice behind all the voices in the drawings.
What are some things that are going on with you right now?
I just finished the map for the next season for the West Town Gallery. Well, it's not just a map, there's a mystery involved, but I can't really talk about it yet because it involves a certain Chicago art person and I don't want to spoil it.
Were you making these kinds of drawings when you started making art?
About half-way through my third semester of grad school I became fed up. I didn't have any personal investment in what I was doing. Someone said to me, "You should really just go home. Don't make art. Do the thing you would be doing if you weren't making art."
So I went home to my apartment and thought to myself if I wasn't making art I would be renting movies and eating take out food. So, that's what I did...I rented Rocky and watched it and became completely fascinated. I watched Rocky for about a month and a half. The movie started to take the place of my own love story. At some point I had to figure how this love story could be possible between two opposites. I mapped out this huge flow chart, scene by scene, to understand the love story between Adrian and Rocky. That was in 2003 and I've been making drawings ever since.
When I look at your art I see as much of a writer as a visual artist behind it. Do you feel that's accurate?
Yes. Starting a piece is really hard because I'm not sure whether to write or draw first. Right now I'm starting to work on something new called the "Winchester Mystery House" piece and I've started to piece it together. I've done a lot of research and found images which I'll use to trace onto the bigger drawings.
Can you tell me about the Wite-Out that appears in all of your drawings?
In most pieces I do there are three levels of consciousness represented by the text. The main level is always in black ink, the primary voice of the narrator. Then the secondary voice is usually in red, this one questions the first voice. The third voice usually then disagrees with the second voice.
Would you say these drawings are autobiographical?
It's my alter ego. When I was making "Someone tell Mayor Daley, the pirates are coming in," I realized my paranoid narrator was a version of me when I was 12 years old. My stuff is about mysteries, Nancy Drew stories, big mansions, pirates...Though there's always something sort of dark below the surface, about fear. It's about being suspicious, which is really a symptom of larger world issues.
Is this where the Wite-Out comes in?
A lot of my work is about editing down. Worrying about getting people to read the work has been an issue for me. One of my art instructors once told me, "I just don't like to read art. I won't do it. It feels like I'm doing homework."
Probably because I'm a writer, I especially love your work.
I could easily have been a writer. I think the reason why I'm not writing novels is because I don't have the patience for it. This is the perfect marriage of two things that I love: the written world and the visual realm.
(Deb's cell phone rings, with the Rocky theme song ring tone)
What influences you as an artist?
Movies and mystery novels, definitely. I'd also say I'm a news junkie. I listen to news every day. It makes me think more in terms of the larger scale. Also I go see a lot of art. But for some reason, it's the movies. The way they're shot, the way the story unfolds.
What are your favorite movies?
The Godfather Part I and II. The Michael Corleone character is so fascinating to me. The movie Fight Club also is a big influence. It relates to the interest I have in that internal dialogue and how complex people are cognitively.
Sokolow's installation of drawings, "Someone tell Mayor Daley, the pirates are coming in" can currently be seen at the Museum of Contemporary Art as part of the "Drawn into the World" exhibit (through October 15).