Artist of the Week: Sofia Leiby

Sofia Leiby is entering her final year at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with a focus primarily in printmaking.  In addition, she works in painting and drawing, with a strong background in visual and critical studies.

How has living and working in Chicago affected your art practice?  The Midwest is a very strange place to me still. I moved here from Maryland, where I received very minimal art training at a public high school. Chicago is great for many things; a sense of community runs through the art scene that is very unavailable in many other cities, and there are many unusual opportunities for alternative gallery spaces. As well, Chicago is home to many of the most inventive visionary/ “outsider” artists (Joseph Yokaum, Darger, etc) many of whom are great inspiration to me. At the Hollis Sigler lecture at the Cultural Center, Jim Yood praised the Art Institute and the city of Chicago as a place where emotions and authenticity in art is revered, rather than scorned. SAIC has housed some of the most inventive American artists in history; the Imagists, George O’Keefe, down to Hollis Sigler and many others. It is an amazing opportunity to be taught by legendary artists Karl Wirsum and have access to the Roger Brown Study Collection.

What are some recent, upcoming or current projects you are working on?  This summer I have been working on small, narrative-based works. I made a series of artists’ books in which I composed images on Japanese rice paper of forests and underwater landscapes to attain a particular delicacy and vulnerability. Later in July I will be working on a project with one of my good friends Betsy O’Brien where I’ll be making larger collaborative-based drawings.

What is one of the bigger challenges you and/or other artist are struggling with these days?  It is very easy to relegate oneself and one’s art to a digital realm, since our generation exists amid a revolving door of constantly evolving technologies and trends. I think it is important to respect the history of art making and somehow try to avoid the overwhelming presence of the internet, with its constant stream of flat ironic disaffection. Which is harder then it sounds.

What kinds of things are influencing your work right now? I am very inspired by the work of early modernist American painters such as Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, Jacob Lawrence, Charles Burchfeld, Vera Andrus, and others, particularly those interested in
landscape and nature and form invention. My interest in visionary art is rooted in the fact that I admire those who work outside of convention and with a particular sincere conviction that opposes stuffy ironic and lofty assertions. In my work, I struggle to present some idea of the “authentic” or sincere by making work as honestly as I can.  It’s kind of a controversial idea. I just like it when things are kind of sweet.

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What materials do you use in your work and what is your process like?  I started off at the School for painting and drawing but have settled in mostly as a printmaker. I use screenprinting as the means to an end, not the end itself. The screen is a tool through which to organize my conceptual and formal ideas. The most recent images on my website are composites of photo transfer processes, screenprints, collage and digital printing.

How has your work developed within the next year?  I have been struggling to present a new body of work this year that, unlike most of my work from 2009 and earlier, lacks an explicit figure or message. It has been said that my works are romantic, and I am trying to make them so less directly.

What are you really excited about right now?  In two weeks I’m going back to Oxbow. I went there last winter for landscape painting and it changed my perspectives about a lot of stuff.  I’m hoping a less intense monumental shift will occur but all the same, it is an amazing place to stay and work. It’s a completely insulated environment where they take away all responsibility, with nothing left to do but make work.

Any current or upcoming shows we should know about?  July 17th my show with Betsy O’Brien opens at Finger Garden, a great new apartment space at 3144 W. Carroll. As well, viewings of my books in the Journeymaker show at the Depths are available by visiting 1539 W. Haddon.