Eye Opener

Inside the eccentric studio—and mind—of a well-known Chicago artist

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The artist with his self-made Styrofoam meats. Photo Gallery :::

The space: Artist Michael Thompson’s Garfield Park loft (michaelthompsonart.com). The vibe: Real-deal bohemian: short on furniture, long on art and collections. The stuff: Thompson is the first to admit that “there’s a lot of jazz” in his studio. His artwork—including large-scale paper-and-bamboo kites (sold at Pagoda Red; two appeared in The Dark Knight, the recent Batman movie); chunky, reclaimed-wood sculptures; prints; collages; and kinetic sculptures made from Erector Sets—cover walls and fill shelves to capacity (additional work is tucked away in portfolios and flat files). A combination etching/litho press, which he bought while studying fine art at the School of the Art Institute in the ’80s, occupies one corner of the large room. “I figured for the same money, I could either buy this press or finish school; I bought the press, and ever since, I’ve been trying to prove that I could have graduated from art school if I wanted to,” he jokes. His claim to fame: About half of one long wall in Thompson’s studio is devoted to his famous (and, in some circles, infamous) stamp art. Since the ’90s, he has been producing sheets of counterfeit postage stamps (at first using a copy machine and later, computers), copying the designs and typefaces of official stamps from around the world and using his own—usually politically charged, humorous, or erotic—images to illustrate them. A “Spanish” stamp celebrates an anniversary of the Spanish Inquisition; a “Chinese” one features a sole man standing in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square. He mails letters from around the world using these miniature works of art as postage, sending them to friends, who then return the envelopes to him so he can create his pieces (usually composed of a sheet’s worth of any given stamp and one or more letters posted with it). Morlen Sinoway, who sells Thompson’s work at his West Loop gallery, gets the majority of the letters; hundreds more have been confiscated by mail workers around the world over the years. Not surprisingly, the U.S. Postmaster General is not a fan.


Photography: Kate Roth