Artist Glenn Wexler says he can't look at anything without imagining a screen print on it. He's silk-screened pictures on cast cement, brushed steel, marble slabs, enlarged photos of old paintings, a variety of found objects, and on canvas too. He's even cropped and printed images from Renaissance art on cutaway sections of tree trunks.
The el clatters outside the windows of Wexler's Wicker Park studio, which is full of commonplace items--a picnic basket, a gasoline can--that haven't escaped the screen treatment either. He points to a concrete block covered with renditions of familiar Italian statuary. "Years ago people would've chiseled away at it. But then I thought, why not put an image directly on it? Just because I'm not sweating over it doesn't mean it's going to fall short of being an interesting piece."
Wexler's day job involves screen printing exhibit notes on the walls of museums and galleries; his latest handiwork can be seen at the Art Institute's Monet show (a shop across the street has Wexler-designed T-shirts emblazoned with Monet's name). He mentions Andy Warhol--a onetime commercial artist--as an obvious influence on his screen-printing obsession. "Everybody says he invented it, but I say so what? You can expand on it. Warhol pioneered the idea of taking what was already out there and using manipulated imagery. I don't think the idea has been fully covered."
Wexler's work has been shown in New York, Miami, Paris, Venice, and Hong Kong. He's exhibited locally both in River North galleries and in a variety of restaurants and coffee shops. His large, loudly colored canvases of appropriated and ironically juxtaposed imagery--lifted from Asian art, religion, mythology, art history, and pop culture--have become ubiquitous in Wicker Park and have helped to shape the neighborhood's motley aesthetic, embracing and subverting such sources as surrealism, outsider art, comics, tattoos, graffiti, and advertising.
A native of Austin and Oak Park, Wexler was recently featured in an exhibit of work by young artists influenced by Chicago Imagist Ed Paschke. "He has a certain energy and excitement that has inspired me," Wexler says. Yet his latest work is less jarring, more meditative, moving away from what he calls "the standards of pop culture." Many of the works contrast religious and military icons. Sinister images--radiation warnings, jet fighters, atomic submarines--are printed on Formica in wallpaperlike grids, and end up looking more benign through repetition. He says the finished pieces appear "as if they'd been manufactured, that they were made that way on this type of material. I thought there was a strength in that idea."
Wexler's work is currently being shown at the Vedanta Art Gallery, 119 N. Peoria. Gallery hours are 11 to 7 Tuesday through Saturday; call 432-0708 for more.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Jim Alexander Newberry.