"Ars memoria" talisman by ceremonial magician and artist @damienechols. Check our blog for a Q and A with dark art curator and gallery owner Catherine Matthews of Ars Memoria in Chicago. We were honored to check out the space today - take a look at our story to see some of the amazing permanent installations at the Gallery.
Please tell us your name and what you do.
I'm Catherine Matthews, and I am the co/owner and gallery curator at Ars Memoria.
What does dark art mean to you? Does this meaning transcend mediumship?
I have a love/hate relationship with the term dark art. I think the type of work that typically falls under this umbrella term is much more deeply rooted in the balance/counterbalance of life than the word “dark” may, at first impression, portray. The artist and artists of this genre I most deeply relate to (and admire) are all on a journey of personal exploration; a sort of excavation into the heavier, more serious parts of themselves and the world around them. They are willing and in many cases elated to explore the darker parts of themselves, but not to the exclusion of the lighter side entirely. There can be an abundant amount of joy in dark art as well!
I find zero limitation of internal expression, no matter the medium. I hosted a puppet show by Handsome Devils Puppets recently that made me weep, mourn, laugh, and find hope. Yes, a puppet show, and it was one of the most emotionally impacting things I've ever seen. It was DARK but it was also full of light and truth. That's art. That's part of why I love my job. There are no limits and I can show whatever artists and all the various mediums they work in and firmly stand behind the truth of the work. Often, that truth is dark! Ha! That's just part of what I commune with.
What has the impact of dark art been on your life?
I am not a visual artist. I lack the ability to visually describe, demonstrate or communicate internal processes or parts of myself that I may struggle with, find challenging to reconcile, or on occasion…maybe even access consciously. When spending time with some of the brilliant work I’ve blessed to exhibit, it has been able to queue off certain pieces of my psyche. I have been changed by art. I live with pieces of art daily that make me feel brave, or find beauty in the mire, or comfort me. Each piece that passes through the gallery, leaves a mark on me.
You mentioned that you're not a creator - what are some of the roles for non-artists in the art world?
I look at the non-artist’s role in the art world as being really crucial. Without an audience and the patronage and support they offer...what would artists do? What would the point be to releasing the work outside of the walls in their studios in the first place? It is our role to encourage and take in the work that is put out. To make it personal to ourselves and to give it value beyond the artist and beyond the monetary value. Art is to be adored. That’s our job.
What are five of your favorite contemporary artists right now?
This is an impossible question! I have personal favorites of every medium! For instance, charcoal, I adore Sam Wolfe Connelly, Christopher Michael Hefner and Darby Lahger among others! Watercolor, Christina Tzani and Sophia Rapata spring to mind immediately. Papercutting…Ivonne Carley is slaying lately in that medium, hands down. Painting, oh dear, so many! David Stoupakis, Henrik Uldalen, Alessandro Sicioldr, David Allen, and John Airo are a few that I love following. The arcs in the works and phases in palates of painters always fascinate me. And jewelry… Burial Ground out of Salem, Bramble&Fern and Hvnter Gvtherer here in Chicago, arg, I want every piece! Then there are these incredible, powerful artists I know who work in multiple mediums each and nail them all, like Caroline Vitelli, Esther Garcia, Tine Defiore, Noelia Towers, Heather Gabel…true inspirations! I cannot manage the list of illustrators and sculptors that I love. It is late and my brain is scrambled but I will say this…I have a deep and unconditional love of art and of the brave people who create and step out on a limb to present it to others. There isn't any art that I don't respect or admire in one way or another. I obviously hesitate to go into the beautiful artists and tattooers I'm lucky enough to have on staff with me because it seems too self-serving as an answer to this question but I would love to chat about them if time and space allows! They are all amazing.
How has Ars Memoria impacted the arts sphere of Chicago?
I hope in a good way! I do know that so many people have met each other through attendance at gallery shows or other events we have hosted. Some magnificent collaborations and dear friendships have been a product of those meetings. One of my personal goals is to facilitate a stronger community and to provide a space for that community to commiserate so I have been so pleased to see that!
Ars Memoria is a name prescribed to both the gallery and the tattoo studio. Can you speak a little bit on to how you made that decision and how the media displayed in the gallery relate to that in the tattoo studio, if any?
There is some cross over between the gallery and the tattoo studio although I consider them to be almost different endeavors. The idea to have the space to host both the studio and a gallery was based on the model Michael already had budding in his location in the UK.
Tell us a little bit about your curation project in this space. How do you create shows for this gallery? (Are they ideas that are brought to you, concepts you bring to fruition, or a little magickal mix of both?)
For me personally, I love curating and exposing people to new artists. Its also a pleasure helping people see the work of artists they already love, but in person. Hanging a gallery show is one of the activities I enjoy most in my life so far! It's unpredictable and fascinating to see it all come together to create a unique mood and experience in the space. Each show has its own personality and I love getting to know it! However, the biggest pride I take in the gallery are the charity events. I think art is important. I think what it can do is important. If I can connect art with collectors who will cherish it while, at the same time, giving back to people or causes outside of that transaction…that's where my heart is. I thrive only when I believe in what I am doing and I believe in that mission. Sometimes ideas are presented to me, sometimes they come to me in some weird stroke of inspiration, and occasionally, I swear they just seem to materialize through fate!
What are some upcoming events at your space?
We have some amazing events coming up! We are working on a show to benefit people with disabilities. We have The Exiled 2 next month which features the incredible Shawn Coss, Jay Ferguson, and Meagan Rodgers, in addition, it will benefit a suicide prevention organization that we all support following the sad loss of Jed Leiknes last year. A local maker is working on producing skulls for a group show featuring different artist's take on the same canvas, which will be wild to see that variety there! We have a guest curator coming in to blow everyone's mind with an exhibition he is curating in August. My mind is simply reeling with what he's building!!! And I'm in some talks with an artist that seriously intimidates me for an upcoming event that I don't want to announce yet but that is keeping me up at night with excitement!
How do you want artists to reach out to you?
It is always best for them to email me their work if they are interested in showing in the gallery. It a wonderful portion of my email inbox! That address is Arsmemoriagallery@gmail.com
What are some qualities that you look for in a potential showing artist in your space when they reach out to you? Does social media presence matter to you as a gallery?
One of the first artists I reached out to had a social media following that was basically nonexistent but the work moved me. It stuck with me. I actually ending up buying the piece for myself because I loved it so dearly and she hangs in my home where I see her first thing every morning. I show what inspires me and sometimes what repulses me. It just has to have truth and content. There are no rules. I like taking a chance on lesser-known artists. This is a terrible thing to say when you own a business but to me it isn’t about the money, it’s about the art.
More on that, what sorts of tips do you have for artists who are trying to show in more physical galleries?
It’s a tough game! I always strive to take the intimidation factor out of the equation entirely. Galleries have to make money and do play an important role in the art world but I try to take as little as possible from an artist while I’m simultaneously providing them with the best support and experience exhibiting that I can. Find a gallery that can make you feel comfortable and believes in you. Send out work. Don’t be afraid of rejection. It doesn’t matter. You will always land where you need to be. Just keeps making the work and pushing yourself.
What advice do you have to them as a creator, gallery owner, and curator to our readers?
Keep making art. It matters!