10 Chicago Artists You Should Know

Feb 22, 2016 / by Liz Logan / make it better

Move over, New York and L.A.: Chicago’s art scene has never been more vibrant, with new galleries popping up and homegrown artists exhibiting and winning awards all over the world. If you’re looking for an art fix, Chicago-style, here are 10 names to look out for. (And, while the art world in general remains male-dominated, women are in the majority on our list!)

Elijah Burgher
Elijah Burgher was selected for the prestigious Whitney Biennial in 2014. His frenetic, abstract, colored-pencil drawings and acrylic paintings on canvas drop cloths explore the areas where daily life meets fantasy. He creates his own symbols by combining various letters, and in doing so, his work references magic and the occult.

Tony Fitzpatrick
Tony Fitzpatrick — who has worked in a laundry list of media, from printmaking to painting — is one of Chicago’s best-known artists, with several celebrities numbered among the collectors of his work. A former tattoo artist and semi-professional boxer (could this guy be more fascinating?), his work, often inspired by Chicago street life, recalls graphic tattoos, folk art and comics.

LaToya Ruby Frazier
LaToya Ruby Frazier is definitely an artist to watch right now: In 2015, she was a recipient of the prestigious John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellows grant ($625,000 over the course of five years). With her documentary photography, she’s examines family, place and race, with a special focus on her hometown of Braddock, Pennsylvania — a once-thriving steel town that’s now decaying in the post-industrial era. Find her TED Talk here.

Theaster Gates
Theaster Gates is a name that should be on your radar: Though his training is in ceramics, he’s well known for his social activism — working to revitalize underserved, crumbling urban neighborhoods. He’s also the director of the University of Chicago’s Arts + Public Life program that seeks to unite community activists, artists, local residents, U of C staff and students in a dialogue and exchanges about the arts. Most recently, Gates bought an abandoned, 1920s bank on Chicago’s South Side for $1 and transformed it into a gorgeous arts center, the Stony Island Arts Bank, which he said in a press release will be “a repository for African American culture and history” and “a laboratory for the next generation of black artists.”

Myra Greene
Myra Greene’s work, which looks at the relationship between photography and race, among other themes, has been exhibited widely throughout the country. In her latest series, she deconstructs African textiles and then photographs the results, in hopes of better understanding her heritage.

Magalie Guerin
Magalie Guerin’s abstract oil paintings are colorful and playful, featuring various wonky shapes; they’re the type of paintings we could happily look at for hours, puzzling over their meaning. In March, she’ll have a solo show at Sector 2337 in Logan Square, and will release her book, “Notes On,” from The Green Lantern Press.

Mika Horibuchi
Mika Horibuchi is a painter who says her work explores human perception, how we see, and real versus fake. She co-founded and co-directs 4th Ward Project Space, an artist-run gallery in Hyde Park.

Samuel Levi Jones
Samuel Levi Jones’ abstract, mixed-media pieces are often made by desecrating historical materials and then reinventing them in new works, to explore exclusion, equality and power struggles. He received the 2014 Joyce Alexander Wein Artist Prize from the Studio Museum in Harlem.

Laura Letinsky
Laura Letinsky is well known for her still-life photographs depicting beautiful tablescapes left in a state of messiness and imperfection. In recent years, she’s expanded her work to include porcelain dinnerware and cashmere and chiffon scarves for purchase here. She’s curated a photography exhibition, “Unsuspending Disbelief,” on display at the Reva & David Logan Center for the Arts through March 13 and features work from 10 international contemporary artists.

Audrey Niffenegger
You might know this Evanston native as the uber-best-selling author of “The Time Traveler’s Wife” and “Her Fearful Symmetry.” But what you might not know is that Audrey Niffenegger has exhibited her artist’s books, prints, paintings, drawings and comics in Chicago and beyond since 1987. (Her artist’s books have also been commercially published: “The Adventuress,” “The Three Incestuous Sisters,” “The Night Bookmobile” and “Raven Girl.”) Her work is imaginative, quirky and even a bit spooky.