Keith Skogstrom is a man in motion and his work is no different.
This Chicago artist is doing it big, 6 feet by 38 feet to be exact, in his latest project for The Violet Hour, a super swanky prohibition-themed speakeasy that Keith has re-decorated by creating an installation across the ENTIRE external facade of the building with Sharpie shrine-worthy work.
It’ll be up for another two weeks so if you’re in the Windy City you can swing by and check out Keith’s mechanical masterpiece.
Keith has graciously agreed to enlighten us about what it takes to create such an installation, what inspires him and his passion for Sharpie, of course!
Tell me about yourself! I was born and raised in Ohio. I received a BFA from Ohio University in 2007. In 2008, I moved to Chicago after a show titled Neoporkopolis. The show was in Cincinnati and one of the artist was from Chicago and suggested the city. I signed a lease and moved downtown a week later into the Ukrainian Village. Don’t move to Chicago in January. (We could have told you that! Although, funnily enough I made the same mistake!) The artist that encouraged my move was Andrew CopperSmith and together we had a show at a gallery as the “Binford Experience”. Andrew got into the graduate program at the Chicago Art Institute and there was little more production of artwork until the following February. I participated in a group show for Toyota at the Creative Lounge located at North Ave and Damen. Since then I have been operating out of a studio in Wicker Park as Geodesic Designs. I hope to continue making murals and furniture and soon to be doing so professionally. Someday I would like to have a furniture store/studio in which I sell furniture and artwork as well as a working space.
What is inspires you as an artist? I am inspired by mechanical motion.
How would you describe your style? I would describe myself as a kinetic artist. My sculptures are both active and interactive. As a sculptor, I create a “machine” that consistently replicates an experience from a collective childhood unconsciousness. I would stylistically describe my flat work as “Implied Kinetics”. I create the illusion of “movement” by using shapes and patterns that resemble mechanical components such as cogs, pulleys, bearings, and timing belts. To increase the illusion, I use a combination of contour line drawing and cross hatching to add volume to the individual components.
How did you get started working as an artist? How do you get the creative juices flowing? My artistic career started in high school when a teacher, Mr. Mike Simpson, encouraged my artistic talents. I went to Ohio University and graduated Cum Laude in 2007 with a BFA in painting. My current work, which I categorize as the Brockton Operation series, is based on a commission I completed in October of 2010. The Brockton Operation became a complex in Mass. where Thomas Edison ran experiments for developing a central power grid. The finished product is a shaped wooden panel with varying intensities of Sharpie marker.
For inspiration I’ll take things apart or watch Youtube videos about differential gears, engines, or any complex machine’s workings.
How do you use Sharpie markers in your work? I use Sharpie markers to make the lines and fill in blocks of color. I use rubber bands to attach the Sharpie markers to compasses to make perfect small circles. For larger circles, I have created a trammel point-like apparatus that holds a Sharpie marker on one independent clamp, and a sharp point on a second independent clamp. The two clamps attach to scrap lumber allowing for circles to be created at any diameter.
Favorite Sharpie? Why? My favorite Sharpie markers are the fine tip and the chisel tip. I use the fine tip for intricate elements and fine circle circumferences. I use the chisel tips to fill in large blocks or add a specific texture.
Describe the process for creating such a large installation piece. As an artist, I use plywood because the wood grain contrasts the mechanical images. As a draftsman, I am interested in the plywood because I can create high contrast lines that can and are sanded to varying levels on the value scale. The style for this current installation is inspired by the “Brockton Operation” series, but the arrangement for the eleven main circles is based on an artifact found in a Greek wreckage call the Antikythera mechanism.
The process for translating the image from paper to mural was as follows: create template, translate template to individual panels, thicken panels, create registration, mount panels on registration, draw first layer, sand first layer, draw second layer, remove panels from registration, coat panels with protective finish, and finally mount panels to façade.
To create the template, I covered the façade in a six foot tall level cardboard sheets. I drew my shapes using a spacer and level based on the drawing I created and used to propose the installation. I cut out the cardboard shapes and took them to a large home improvement store. I traced the shapes onto matching plywood maple panels, making sure the grain ran in the same direction. I squared the shapes by backing them with and inch thick border then routing the edge plum. Next, I built a six foot tall by 38 foot long faux wall that was the exact length of the Violet Hour façade but broke down into 8 four foot structures and 1 six foot structure. I mounted the faux wall directly to the actual façade approx. one foot down from a support beam. I then mounted the 53 shaped panels to the faux wall and removed the entire structure from the wall leaving the pieces attached. I created the first layer of the finished image in my studio 20 feet at a time. I built a slide for different panels to be added and removed as completed. Once the first layer of drawing was done, I took the faux wall back to the Violet Hour and confirm a consistent distribution of detail throughout the 38 feet as I had only seen it 20 feet at a time up to this point. At this point, I sanded the first layer with a 120 grit orbital sander until I got a blue/gray “faded” image. The faux wall then gets placed back on the slide to be finished with a second “layer” of detail. Once the image was completed, I sent them to a finisher that I commissioned. I primed and painted the façade of the violet hour over a five day period. Once returned, the panels were arranged and mounted to the façade with thick blocks behind to create depth between the back of the panel and the wall.
How did your installation project get started? The installation got started because I was a regular at the Violet Hour. The Violet Hour is a prohibition themed speakeasy where the mural now hangs for another two weeks. The owners provide a wall for artists in the area to create murals upon and to do so on a four to six week rotation. I initiated contact with the owners via a wonderful hostess, now friend of mine, named Lara. She arranged a meeting for the owners and myself where I pitched the mural with a drawing and an example of the artwork from the “Brockton Operation” series. They agreed that I could use the wall in September, but due to a delay on my part the unveiling was pushed back to October.
Advice for other young artists? Make things. You can’t have shows or design your website without something to document. I am constantly getting questions from artists about how to setup their website or market themselves when they have few artifacts and even fewer competent images or documentation of the work. Most importantly, artists need to create objects or conceptualize thoughts in order to develop an identity. The process of creating unique artwork starts with the action. Critique and refinement can only be applied to fully realize artistic investigations. Without attempts at making art, artwork can not be fully developed.