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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Friday, December 2

Gapers Block

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Born in Santiago, Chile, artist Rodrigo Avila has during the past two decades been featured in solo and group shows locally and nationally, namely New York City. Recently, Avila created Juniortown, a gallery at 1255 W. 18th St., which in its short existence (Juniortown's first show was in May of this year) has steadily proven to be a vital addition to Chicago's art scene. Avila explains, "Juniortown started out as my work space. 18th street is very active with a lot of foot traffic, and I kept thinking it would make a nice exhibition space. I know several artists in the area that either don't have a venue for their work, or simply don't want to be part of the slimy commercial scene. They were happy to participate."

"Back to Basics-4: Abstractitude Adjustment," Juniortown's newest show, opens Fri. Sept. 29 (opening reception 6 to 9pm) and runs through Oct. 14. Besides Avila, the show features artists Erinn Kennedy, Carl Virgo, Shelby Donnelly and John Salhus. Juniortown is open Saturdays noon to 5pm, or for appointments call 312-666-3237. Visit Juniortown's blog at

Q: The thing that is most appealing to me about your work is that you illuminate a clear sense of heroism. To me it appears that you approach your subjects with a deep sense of reverence — a reverence that doesn't necessarily involve empathy. Besides approaching your subjects in this manner, do you approach the craft of painting as being a heroic endeavor?

Avila: I've never consciously tried to make a work heroic; however, choosing a subject involves a lot of search, study and commitment, especially if you are working realistically or with any kind of imagery. The results of that search could lead to a kind of reverence for the subject I suppose. I think that whatever a person puts down on paper (or canvas in this case) will reflect conscious and subconscious attitudes that that person has about life in general. It's the old surrealist automatic writing thing. Or: wherever you go, there you are.

My biggest concern when working is to do the job correctly as far as I see it. I've always tried to approach painting methodically. It's a craft first of all, the same as carpentry or knitting. I think the most important thing to concentrate on is the mechanics of the craft. The non-physical stuff will come through regardless, whether you like it or not.

Q: What is the prerequisite for you to commit something to canvas? I mean, do you feel there is a story to tell when you put the brush to canvas, or do feel that there is a story you must heed?

Avila: The subject has to have a number of layers and meanings and interpretations, something dimensional, and, to me, somehow inexplicable. The other thing I consider is how to treat that subject: Painterly vs. tightly rendered, composition, color choices, size of the work, the formal stuff. All these variables push and pull the subject in a certain direction. That direction is subconscious for the most part, it's a constant back and forth between the mechanical and the ethereal... I guess.

Q: Art could be a painfully lonely endeavor. I would propose that artists are in a constant internal argument between the attributes of solitude and the lessons of community. Do you sense that being able to offer a space and a means for fellow artists to show has improved you as an artist?

Avila: One thing I have learned with Juniortown is that running a space requires an insane amount of work. I have a new-found respect for gallery people — all the stuff they bitch about is mostly true. As far as improving myself as an artist, I'm not sure yet... It's very nice though to be able to show good work by sincere, committed artists that might not be seen otherwise. I'm sure the lessons of this whole endeavor will surface sooner or later via our outstanding bills; right now I'm just too busy trying to hold it together.

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About the Author(s)

John Hospodka is a life-long Chicagoan, and today lives with his wife in Bridgeport. He does not profess to be an expert in anything; he's just a big fan of the arts and is eager to make more sense of them. Direct comments or suggestions for interviews to

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