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Mike Pocius on Cardboard Canvases and Blue-Collar Artists

He curates the Bridgeport All-Stars show this Friday.

Curator Mike Pocius wants to put the spotlight on neighborhood artists.   Photo: Courtesy of Mike Pocius

Up next in our series of interviews with notable, in-the-know locals: Mike Pocius, who curates the art show Bridgeport All-Stars at Co-Prosperity Sphere this Friday.

What can you tell me about the show?

I wanted do a group show of artists in the Bridgeport community. These are people who either live here or have their art practice here. The name of the show is in keeping with the neighborhood. It’s spring, and we have the White Sox. I consider the folks we’re showing the all-stars of the art world in Bridgeport.

Can you talk about the art scene in the neighborhood?

When I was growing up here in the ’60s and ’70s, art was out of the question. It’s a neighborhood of immigrants, so with art, it was like, “You can’t make money from that.” Pilsen was the huge art community. Then, when those folks got pushed out of the neighborhood, the next logical spot was Bridgeport. We have a lot of do-it-yourself folks in the neighborhood: carpenters, metalworkers, even beekeepers. In this show, we’re trying to show that Bridgeport is going through a change. We absolutely have culture in Bridgeport and it’s been a long time coming.

Who are some of the artists?

We have one fellow, Steve Stankowicz. He’s an immigrant from Russia, a self-taught folk artist. We have Steve Badauskas, who runs Bernice’s Tavern, a local watering hole on 32nd and Halsted. We have a fellow called John Salhus, who’s an art restorer and does incredibly large canvases of waterfalls, which is indebted to his growing up in Minnesota. There’s also Mario Gonzales Jr. who used to do graffiti growing up. His art is a mash-up of graffiti art and abstraction, sometimes incorporating sound into his panels. We also have an artist called Carl Virgo. I consider him one of the finest abstract artists in the city.

Are you an artist yourself?

I’m an independent curator. I curate shows. The problem is, lots of galleries in Chicago are exclusive. I’m a real art nut running around the city, and if I see folks with talent, I try to give them some opportunities. Being in Bridgeport has given me a blue-collar attitude. I believe in democracy of art.

What else do you have coming up?

Well, for the last 15 years I’ve done a show called The Cardboard Show—we make art on pieces of cardboard. We love cardboard because it’s reusable. Plus, if you can’t afford canvas, you can order pizza and do your art on the back of a pizza box.

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