Ilan Gutin is originally from the Washington, D.C. area and is the oldest of five kids. He received his BA in Studio Arts with a concentration in Printmaking from the University of Maryland in 2008. Right now, he is currently finishing his MFA in the Printmedia Department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, graduating in May 2014. He is also in the process of starting his own gallery space in Ukrainian Village, which should hopefully be up and running by the end of April.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do. I like to consider myself a wanderer. I love to travel, and see new places, people and things. After I finished my undergrad, I spent about 5 months teaching English in Thailand, and about another 4 months after that traveling around the world. This was an extremely defining period in my life and has left a huge impression on me and my work ever since. I developed an intense case of wanderlust after it was all over, and only wanted to travel more. Since I have been in Chicago, working on my MFA, I have been trying to put those kinds of feelings into my work. I am very much trying to create a sense of wonder, which is based on the ephemerality of nature, of wandering, and of really looking at things. I also really, really love the sunset.
What are some recent, upcoming or current projects you are working on? I am working on a really large scale installation/sculpture right now. It’s something that I have been thinking about and working towards for a while and now felt like the right time to just go for it. It’s hard to get into too many details without giving it away, but it is the biggest piece I’ve ever tackled. It has a lot in common with my previous work, just on a different scale, and a few new materials and processes. I only see my work getting larger, more encompassing environments…I am really interested in creating an experience for viewers, something that they want to be surrounded by. I have been hugely inspired by the Light and Space movement so I love James Turrell, Robert Irwin, Doug Wheeler. I think what they all do is just amazing and I love the minimalist aesthetic of their work, and what it does.
What are you currently watching on Netflix/what’s on your Netflix queue? I just binge-watched Bates Motel and got hooked. Also, The Returned was a really atmospheric and creepy French show that I got into. I just watched a found footage Norwegian movie called Troll Hunter that was pretty great. Also, anytime there is a new zombie movie that shows up on Netflix, I’m sold.
How did your interest in art begin? For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been interested in art. As a kid, I was always drawing, I used to be really into drawing cartoons. I took painting classes when I was young, and did ceramics and photography in high school. I always knew I was more interested in art then math or science, I just never really took to those subjects. If you looked back at my notes from my math and science classes in high school, they are completely covered in drawings all over the margins of the page. When I got to college though, I almost ended up majoring in creative writing. I was actually really encouraged by my parents to pursue art further, and I owe them a lot for that.
If you had to explain your work to a stranger, what would you say? It’s really colorful and it’s really shiny. My friends have a joke about me that my work is about something anyone can experience any day, simply by going outside—there’s more to it than that, but it’s not too far off.
What materials do you use in your work and what is your process like? I tend to work very fast, and very spontaneously. Usually, when I start a piece, I don’t really have an idea of how it’s going to look when it’s finished. I make very quick, intuitive decisions as I go, which sometimes work and sometimes doesn’t. My process is a lot about curiosity, seeing what happens if I try this, or don’t do that, etc. I would say that I mainly work with screen-printing, but I don’t use it in the traditional sense. I never edition my work and I make all my own inks from pigments and acrylic paints which gives me a lot more control of the color, and the transparency, and allows me to get effects that I just can’t achieve with regular inks. I like to use a lot of interference paints, which change color depending on light, what color surface they are on, and the viewer’s position. These paints allow me to get a phenomenological effect in the work that makes you want to move around them. It is incredibly hard to document my art though, it takes a long time to get the right photo since the works are so dependent on light and movement. You really need to see and experience them in person to get the full effect, which I actually really like. I’m also getting more and more into light as a medium… There’s a film I like to use called Radiant Light Film that gives off a beautiful northern lights type of glowing reflection when light hits it. I also just discovered Phillips Hue light bulbs, which can replicate exact color hues of almost anything, so I’m really excited to do something with those.
What artists are you interested in right now? Like I mentioned before, I’m really into James Turrell, Robert Irwin, Doug Wheeler, but I’ve also been into so many more: Anne Katrine Senstad, Berndnaut Smilde, Dike Blair, Gedi Sibony, Craig Kaufman, John McKracken, Isa Genzken, Olafur Elliasson, Raphael Hefti, Adrian Schiess, Doug Olsen, Peter Alexander, Sam Nias. I’m also absolutely fascinated by the author Rebecca Solnit; I’ve read her book, A Field Guide to Getting Lost, about three times in the last month. Her writing really connects with me and a lot of what she writes about are the kinds of things I am interested in portraying in my work.
What’s your favorite thing about your city? I really love Chicago. This winter has been tough to get through, but hopefully it’s almost over. I love the feel of Chicago though, it’s laid back, it’s easy to get around, it’s affordable. The summers here are the best, and I love having a beach in the city, there are festivals and farmers markets every weekend…always something fun going on. I love the art community, it’s a really exciting scene here and there’s a lot of great work going on in the city. I love how integrated SAIC is to a lot of the outside art community, and all the smaller artist run and pop up spaces. I just wish it didn’t get so cold in the winter!
Any current or upcoming shows we should know about? I’m in a show at Harper College, the 37th Annual Works on Paper Exhibition from May 24-April 17. And I will be in the MFA Show in the Sullivan Galleries at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, which opens on April 25.
If you hadn’t become an artist what do you think you’d be doing? I would love to be a National Geographic photographer and just travel the world taking pictures. Or be Anthony Bourdain.
Can you share one of the best or worst reactions you have gotten as a result of your work? One time in a critique last year, I had a piece that has light reflecting on it, but you can only see it in the dark. So when I turned off the lights to show it, the whole critique panel went “Ooooooooooohhh.” That reaction made me feel pretty good.
What is your ideal studio situation/workspace? I mentioned earlier that I am in the process of starting my own gallery space in Ukrainian Village. Right now, I’ve got a big front window space for the gallery and I live in a small space behind it. If I could turn that back space into my studio, have the gallery in the front, and live in the apartment above me, that would be pretty ideal. Maybe one day!