"I go crazy around blank walls. It's super unnatural to me," says Steve Krakow, a visual artist who draws comics and caricatures, pens a strip for the Reader called the Secret History of Chicago Music, and spearheads the Galactic Zoo Dossier fanzine. He's also a musician in Plastic Crimewave Syndicate. Oh, and he's the owner of over 30,000 comic books, more than 7,000 LPs, a ton of cassette and VHS tapes, hundreds of old stuffed animals, a vintage jukebox, and a bunch of Mr. T paraphernalia … among other things.
As I navigated Krakow's Humboldt Park apartment of psychedelia, it quickly became impossible to tell if art was imitating life or life was imitating art—a visual chicken-or-egg mindfuck. Krakow's practice of collecting is an art form in and of itself, with his apartment playing the part of a museum—only this museum houses child-size animatronic bears, sunglasses collections, and other bizarre artifacts of 60s and 70s culture. Collaged with comic books, posters, and drawings, the walls tell stories like a graphic novel—towers of cassette tapes look like sculptures, stuffed animals smile from the tops of kitchen cabinets. No surface is untouched. Even the ceilings are covered.
Krakow isn't collecting just for the sake of collecting. He has a relationship with all of these objects. "I don't have a comic I haven't read or a record I haven't played; I'm not just filling in the issue numbers."
At the same time, his collections are curated. On his 21st birthday, he received his first stuffed autographed dog. "I vowed to get 100 of these," he says. "I was really into manufactured assembly-line sort of stuff. I like things in quantity. They're so rushed looking and sometimes their faces are printed on the wrong side. They don't even have back legs—it's just, like, a stump."
Krakow has lived in his apartment for 17 years, and by looking around, I can see why he's stayed so long. "It's an albatross around my neck if I ever want to move."