May 27, 2020

During these uncertain times, SMoCA has invited artists and staff to utilize our blog Inspire as an outlet to make meaningful connections by sharing personal reflections and insight into their practice. 

This week, artist Deb Sokolow talks about her studio practice in this uncertain time and reflects on her process of You tell people you’re working really hard on things these days from SMoCA’s Collection.

Deb Sokolow’s studio. Courtesy of the artist.

I recently moved to the top floor of a former wine storage warehouse, built in the 1920s on Chicago’s northwest side. There is a tiny room on the roof, which is now my home studio. 

Courtesy of the artist.

The room is just large enough to fit a desk and some art supplies. To the right of the desk is a small window with the Chicago skyline visible. 

Courtesy of the artist.

I love being in the tiny roof room. It feels like it will be a productive space and that’s a good thing. 

I don’t own a car, have not used public transportation nor a ridesharing service since the beginning of March and have been hesitant to make the hour long walk to my actual studio in a former feather factory, with its shared bathroom and other communal spaces. This site has functioned not just as my workspace for the last twelve years, but as a prolific source of content for a number of drawings, including the 25 foot long, You tell people you’re working really hard on things these days, part of SMoCA’s current group exhibition, Unapologetic: All Women, All Year.

This piece was first installed in the atrium of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in 2010 and its narrative focused on various semi-fictitious characters and occurrences concerning an artist’s studio building in an industrial pocket of Chicago. Every other Monday I would come to the museum when it was closed to the public to make changes to those stories. Previously reported elements were subject to disappear, as contradictory evidence and new insights were developed through conversations with other artists in the building or from my own observations and imagination.

Courtesy of the artist.

Today, 10 years after I made that piece, I’m standing on the roof outside the tiny roof room. My view to the west is of a large intersection with nine corners and multiple streets converging. I’ve only been in the new place for three weeks, but already there are individuals I recognize who’ve made multiple appearances at this intersection.

I am not planning for any of these individuals to develop into characters for a new drawing. But I am absorbed in watching people, both masked and unmasked, cross the street and negotiate- or not negotiate- the space around other people. And all of this is enough to focus on and think about for now.