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The Screen Scene 

Chicago screen printers love their work and each other.

You may not think of yourself as an art collector, but if you're one of those people who carefully pries the staples out of the gig poster as soon as the band's started playing, you just might be. The difference between a silk-screened concert poster and an art print made using the same humble technique can be pretty negligible--what it comes down to, as local screen printer Dan Grzeca puts it, is that "for some reason when you don't have a band name on there, it's more expensive."

Screen printing, as another local artist, Rob Doran, notes, "is for the proletariat." Not only is it cheap to buy, but it's easy to learn and inexpensive to do. Chicago's local screen-printing scene is extremely healthy--tons of bands plus relatively affordable studio space equals lots and lots of poster work. But there's something else going on too, a camaraderie and collegiality that foster the art. Almost every artist I talked to for this feature pointed me enthusiastically to several others--apparently they're all in a mutual admiration club, of which the de facto president is undoubtedly Steve Walters of Screwball Press.

Walters, who started printing in 1991, has used his shop to nurture a whole community of screen printers. Many of his disciples have moved on to teach or start their own studios; in particular Jay Ryan, current vice president of the American Poster Institute and proprietor of the Bird Machine, has mentored many younger artists. Anyone who goes through Walters's six-to-eight-hour Screwball Academy program can continue to use the space to print in perpetuity--and several of the established names here still do.

Though this roundup of 17 artists and studios isn't an exhaustive list by any means, it's a representative sample of this thriving community. You can see more work by many of them this weekend at two big screen-printing shows: artists from all over the country, including a handful from Chicago, will have gig posters for sale at Flatstock 13, a poster convention hitched to the Pitchfork Music Festival in Union Park (see our pullout guide in Section 3), and an overlapping group of artists will be featured at "Posters Schmosters," a companion exhibit of noncommercial work opening Friday at the Butcher Shop. "I know it sounds hokey," says Ryan, "but as we become more and more bombarded by perfectly Photoshopped ads and shiny Web pages, e-mails, magazines, and newspaper inserts, I think people are beginning to appreciate even more the fact that here in this screen-printed poster is an image created imperfectly by a person who left their fingerprints and a couple smudges in the ink."

click to enlarge Butcher_vandermark5.jpg

NICK BUTCHER

dba Sonnenzimmer

printing since 2001; moved to Chicago in 2003.

specialties Posters, art prints, artist books, record covers

collaborators Shares a studio and sometimes collaborates with his girlfriend, Nadine Nakanishi. "We both see each other's stuff in every stage and are pretty hard on each other."

describe your style. "Handmade, improvisational, minimal, constructed, dated. . . . Big image, little type."

any local screen printers you admire? "Jay Ryan has been my mentor since before I moved to Chicago. I interned with him when I was in school and he was a huge influence on my early posters and prints. He's a huge supporter in so many ways. . . . It's been so awesome seeing Mat Daly come into his own over the last five years. He's the best printer I know. He does things I've never seen anybody do, ever. I have no idea how Dan Grzeca makes his prints. He is truly a madman. It's been great seeing Nadine figure out screen printing. I'm jealous of her typographic skills and her focus. Steve Walters--sort of the grand pooh-bah of the community--has helped so many people get started and has been producing quality stuff of his own for a long time. Billy and Jason from Delicious Design League consistently make really nice stuff."

clients Third Coast International Audio Festival, Metro, Longbox Recordings

gallery shows Foundation Gallery (now in LA), Judy A. Saslow Gallery, TAG in Nashville

where to buy Sonnenzimmer's Web site

prices Posters cost $30. "We try to keep things affordable. We also try to pay rent."

on the web sonnenzimmer.com, nickbutcher.net

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