THE INDEPENDENT VOICE OF THE VISUAL ARTS
By Evangeline Reid
If you’ve never visited Firecat Projects in Bucktown, you’re in for a surprise. A small, excited dog named Ella will greet you at the window and pace around as you admire the art. Ella belongs to Stan Klein, who owns and runs the gallery. The single room is bathed in natural light from the front windows, inviting an almost meditative approach to viewing. A former artist studio, the cozy space now offers less traditional artists a commission-free way to share their work.
When I visited, intricate quilts filled the white walls with color. Betty-Jane Lau’s exhibition, “Syzygy: To Yoke or Pair Together,” showcased her most recent collection of double-sided quilts, created from thin strips of discarded fabric. You may have seen her work before. Last year, Lau showed a collection of quilts at Fourth Presbyterian Church on Michigan Avenue.
Lau works with a diverse range of textiles in her practice, including rich African and Hawaiian prints. A single piece might include silk, cotton, wool, and flannel, woven together in unexpected, playful ways.
In Hansel & Gretel in American Woods, the dense tangle of brown and blue hues embodies an expanse of forest beneath a blue sky, and, upon further inspection, reveals deer peering out from the squares. The interlaced colors and textures create a sense of almost pointillist-like depth. Each of her quilts is hypnotizing, rhythmic, and evocative.
Lau often gives each side of a quilt its own title, creating contrasts. Fire/Ice is one such work. One side shimmers with reds, yellows, and browns; the other is less busy, composed with dark blues, blacks, and white. Yet even on the quiet side, Lau includes some red fabric from the reverse and lets the frayed edges of fabric from the other side poke through between each strip of black fabric. Somehow the two concepts are married, complete only with bits of the other. Her pieces revel in the details.
The results of Lau’s deep craftsmanship are undeniably art. Yet she insists those who purchase the quilts use them. Her quilts only hang until they find a home. In this way, she straddles two traditions of textile work: high art and folk art.
Firecat Projects feels and acts authentically in its love for art. Firecat has been around for seven years now, showing artwork without asking for a commission on sales. Instead, it runs on the support of sponsors, space rentals, and the sale of donated artist pieces.
You can browse the gallery’s collection of donated works in the back room. The eclectic assortment is representative of the richness Firecat promotes and supports. There are pieces from a 12-year-old, a woman from Canada, tattoo artists, and cartoonists. Some pieces are side projects from professional artists. Others come from years of untrained dedication. Still others are experiments from better-known artists. Each piece is undeniably well-executed. Each piece is undeniably unique.
Firecat Projects is required viewing for any true art lover in Chicago. The gallery turns over each month, welcoming a new set of work, and with it, a new artist’s vision. Up next is Rupert Glimm’s “Non-narrative Paintings,” with abstract shapes and bright colors reminiscent of work from the early 20th century. The opening reception is February 23rd. But don’t despair if you miss Lau’s quilts. I’m sure there will be one in the back room.
Evangeline Reid graduated from the University of Chicago, where she studied English literature and art history. A former editor and writer for The Chicago
Betty Jane Lau, Eclipse—Cahokia, 2017 65 x 70, 2017.10 (both sides of piece). Photos courtesy of Firecat Projects.