Before you head to Artropolis-the rechristened Art Chicago, hosted by the Merchandise Mart from April 26th through 30th (for tickets go to artropolis.com)-or one of the city's other spring art events, consider this list. Chicago polled gallerists and experts to find out which rising art stars we should be collecting now; see their work at Artropolis or visit the galleries that represent them.
Geoffrey Todd Smith
Simply put, Geoffrey Todd Smith, 33, likes to make pretty drawings. "Sometimes people call them ‘decorative' and they use it as a pejorative, but I love it. I want to make something that's beautiful," he says, describing his hyperactive pieces that often get mistaken for digital prints. Smith, a self-proclaimed drifter currently between apartments, draws with gel pens (he favors the Sanford Uniball) on scrapbooking color paper "that teenaged girls might use," he says. The results resemble stills from early video games. "It's about shapes that I find interesting and how intricate I can make them just using my own hands," says the artist, who works while listening to music or having the TV on in the background. PRICE RANGE: $500 FIND IT: At Western Exhibitions, 1821 W. Hubbard St.; 312-307-4685.
This photographer loves Neil Young, a fact that helps explain a photograph of her covering her face with the musician's self-titled LP. "He wrote his first solo album at 21," says Melanie Schiff, 29, who composed the shot and asked a fellow artist to snap the pic. "This idea of being gifted, that's something I've always had an admiration for." Part of a series dedicated to everyday beauty as well as the nostalgia of teenage rebellion, Schiff's delicately composed yet meticulous photographs capture fleeting moments such as light through CD cases, the sun setting over a bottle of Jack Daniel's, and interiors of a fellow artist's studio. "They're slow, quiet, and melancholy, but provocative," says Schiff, who hopes that the subtlety of her photos will transport viewers to that specific time and place-and perhaps inspire individual epiphanies. "I told my grandmother she could pick a piece and she wanted the whiskey bottle. That was a surprise." PRICE RANGE: $3,000-$4,000 FIND IT: At Kavi Gupta Gallery, 835 W. Washington Blvd., #2W; 312-432-0708.
A few years ago, Deb Sokolow dumped her boyfriend for Rocky Balboa. "Rocky began to take the place of my own love story, because it was so much better," says Sokolow, 32. The result was a nine-foot-long, text-heavy, idiosyncratic cartoon that featured Sokolow herself as an alternative love interest for the boxer. Since then she has also dumped an unfulfilling sculpture-based studio practice and pursued her unique form of large-format diagramming-meets-storytelling. Sokolow's stories are almost always told by a paranoid narrator who is fascinated by the nefarious goings-on in the world. Subjects ripped from the headlines and whimsical themes like a pirate invasion of Chicago (Someone Tell Mayor Daley the Pirates Are Coming, now in the collection of the MCA) pepper her larger-than-life charts. Recent Hollywood interest in her work has fueled her exploration of the overlap between actors and the characters they play. "There's this sort of confusion about who celebrities really are, and I love that." PRICE RANGE: $4,000-$10,000 ($300 for smaller work) FIND IT: At Gallery 40000, 119 N. Peoria St., #2C; 312-738-0179.
The only U.S.-born member of her Ecuadorian family, Gisela Insuaste, 31, who lives in Ukrainian Village, doesn't consider herself a landscape artist. "[My work] takes into consideration physical space, emotional space, politics, culture," she says. "There's a tension that exists between these layers." Layers also characterize her twofold creative process, in which she incorporates intricate wood and wire installations (often reminiscent of tree canopies) with abstract drawings and paintings. "I've had people say, ‘Your drawings are so much better,' but I have to do both," she says. Though much of it is inspired by her family's native landscape, Insuaste's art captures the similarity of manmade and natural forms across the globe. "I am fascinated and humbled by the landscape-in Peru or in New Hampshire." PRICE RANGE: $1,000-$5,000 FIND IT: At Bucket Rider Gallery, 835 W. Washington Blvd., second floor.
This Evanston artist, 31, doesn't want his friends to know that he owns a lot of Grateful Dead CDs. "I have a really big jazz collection," he adds, as if to offset any stigma that may come with his previous admission. And while his current paintings depict sections of a forest, Howard Fonda explains that his work really reflects sixties counter-culture (no surprise, then, that he often references ontology and transcendentalism in conversation). "Political and social aspects of the music just lead back to my interest in Plato and Thoreau," he says. His inviting paintings of trees intersecting with grass and sky encourage viewers to ponder their place in the world the same way they would if they were "plopped down in the woods. I like the notion that any square meter of the woods is the perfect microcosm or meta-phor for the world at large," he says. "I believe that there is meaning in that." PRICE RANGE: $850-$8,000 FIND IT: At Duchess, 1043 W. Grand Ave., fourth floor; 312-933-5317.
It's tempting to label Michelle Grabner, 44, as a multitasker. An established artist, she teaches at the Art Institute, writes reviews for the magazine Art Forum, curates Oak Park's Suburban gallery, and is a mom to Ceal, 2, Oliver, 14, and Peter, 19. But as far as she is concerned, "painting happens in a hierarchy over all those other things." Grabner's engrossing black-and-white spiral paintings, which start as one dot in the center of a canvas, represent her quest for order in her hectic lifestyle. Done by hand, one dot at a time, the seemingly composed structure is the antithesis of the balancing act between what she lists as "writing, running down to school, teaching art, and being with the kids." Still, she says, she wouldn't have it any other way. "Sometimes I think, What if I would just pop one thing out? Say ‘I don't do it anymore.' The other things would change drastically." PRICE RANGE: $2,500-$12,000 FIND IT: At Shane Campbell Gallery, 1431 W. Chicago Ave.; 312-226-2223.
Like Polvo, the artist-run alternative gallery/project space that he cofounded in Pilsen in 1996, Miguel Cortez's art doesn't slip easily into one category. "I jump from stuff to stuff," the 36-year-old explains. "I like the freedom of [not being] tied down to digital photography or drawings." Cortez's work spans from medium-sized abstract paintings of imaginary aerial landscapes ("Whenever I come back from traveling on planes, I start sketching," he says) to sleek digital prints and small stickers that he plasters around the city. "I made anti–Alderman [Danny] Solis stickers to protest the changes I've noticed since I've been living in [Pilsen]," he says. "It seems like he's lost touch with the community." Community is something that Cortez takes very seriously: in addition to keeping a blog where he posts recent works, he also curates for Polvo and helps produce the gallery's publication. "Artists should be aware and react, not just stay in our little bubbles." PRICE RANGE: $800-$3,000 FIND IT: At Polvo, 1458 W. 18th St., 1R; 773-344-1940.
Last year, Monique Meloche organized Scott Stack's first solo exhibition in ten years; since then, the 54-year-old Oak Park resident has been known in certain circles as the artist who sells out his shows. Still, when the younger set asks him to share the secret of his success, he claims to have no idea. "I have advice for the plan that will get you attention in your mid-50s," he says, laughing. Stack's large-scale monochromatic paintings explore the elusive nature of surveillance, a theme he subtly twists by focusing on familiar icons like Buckingham Fountain. His purple-and-green depiction of the Chicago landmark seems eerie in this age of heightened security measures, but Stack says he was drawn to it for another reason. "That Buckingham Fountain is being watched is one thing, but trying to paint cold water at night appeals to me as a painter." PRICE RANGE: $1,800-$9,000 FIND IT: At Monique Meloche Gallery, 118 N. Peoria St.; 312-455-0299.