For its first anniversary, the owners of Galerie F, a Logan Square storefront gallery that specializes in silk-screen gig posters and street art, decided they wanted to do a show featuring the work of European poster artists. The problem, says co-owner Zissou Tasseff-Elenkoff, was coming up with a unifying theme: something familiar to both Europeans and Americans, but not so tied to pop culture that the work would be obsolete in six months.
He and his partner Billy Craven and gallery director Allie Whalen thought awhile. And then they came up with a marvelous idea: gig posters based on the works of Roald Dahl.
Eighteen artists, half from Great Britain, half from various countries across western Europe, signed on to contribute posters and original drawings to the show. Each chose a different book by Dahl. The titles range from the famous and beloved (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda) to the more obscure (Revolting Rhymes, The Vicar of Nibbleswicke).
At the start of the project, Galerie F contacted England's Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre and asked for and received permission to use Dahl's books. "It's better to reach out and have their blessing than to say, 'We're doing a guerrilla show and you have nothing to say about it,'" Craven explains.
But the posters on display will bear little resemblance to the familiar Quentin Blake illustrations. There are art deco drawings, Lichtenstein-style cartoons, a piece that looks like it was originally produced on a letterpress, and another that might have been an etching by William Blake, had he ever experienced an ecstatic vision of James and the Giant Peach.
"European artists have more of a fine arts background [than Americans]," Tasseff-Elenkoff says. "They're less geared toward what might sell. They have a much looser aesthetic."
The opening for "The Fantastic Mr. Dahl" is both a birthday party for the gallery and a pre-party for Flatstock, the American Poster Institute's three-day show at Pitchfork. The timing isn't a coincidence: the Galerie F team figured they could attract more artists if they gave them more than one reason to come to Chicago. And, indeed, eight contributors to the show will be present, as well as Mark Brickey and Billy Baumann, hosts of the Adventures in Design podcast. Prints of the posters will be for sale starting at $30; the original drawings go for a bit more.
Galerie F's regular clientele is already excited. "We have one customer who comes in every week," says Craven. "Last week she went to the library and checked out all the books."