After toiling for 40 to 50 hours a week at a day job, who has time and energy to pursue a passion? Artist and Logan Square resident Gene Pellegrene encountered this problem himself when he moved to Chicago 10 years ago and started working in the restaurant industry. Long hours made the challenge of creating art even more of a struggle.
With this all-too-common problem in mind, Pellegrene started his painting company, Artist Painters (P.O. Box 479304), which aims to provide good-paying jobs to creative types, allowing them to scale back on their hours to have more time to dedicate to their artistic pursuits. Currently, Pellegrene’s team consists of four people working in the areas of house painting, murals, deck refinishing, faux finishing and long-lasting wrought iron fence treatment, as well as other areas.
Pellegrene says his business model was inspired by the work of Judy Wicks, cofounder of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, which promotes socially responsible business practices. With this in mind, Pellegrene chose to focus on how much he could pay employees, rather than on how little he could pay them. As an employer, he goes out of his way to make the working environment fun and comfortable, even making lunches for his employees.
Though the work of Artist Painters may seem like that of any other painting company, Pellegrene says it’s not quite as simple as that. Not only is Artist Painters a company that provides a quality service, it’s also a natural byproduct of Pellegrene’s wish to pursue higher-level ideas of what art is and what it can do.
“Artist Painters is a conceptual art piece disguised as a painting company,” he says.
This is not the first time Pellegrene has come up with such an idea. Several years ago he spearheaded the “Art Sign Project” here in Logan Square, which was a collection of signs, created by individuals from the community and all over the world, that simply read, “Art.” Forming a line across several grassy patches in the neighborhood, the signs were meant to bring attention to themselves and the larger message about art’s role in society.
“It showed people how important art is,” says Pellegrene. “That’s more complicated than a painting.”
It’s this dedication to public awareness of art that inspired Pellegrene to infuse his current project with elements of personal experience and art awareness. He has conceptualized the company not only as a business with a goal to provide a pleasant, ethical workplace for employees, but also as a means to provide a personal art experience for customers, often in the form of a “surprise” piece or an added element of the job that was inspired by some aspect of the customer’s lives or personalities. It’s this extra, unexpected receiving that Pellegrene says gives a deeper meaning to the project for the customers.
For example, Artist Painters once presented a family with a miniature model of their house, which they had just painted—to the delight of the unsuspecting recipients.
“The emotional response is different from seeing something in a gallery,” says Pellegrene of customers’ responses. “Most of the time, they’re almost shocked.”
These positive reactions are nice, but Pellegrene admits that success as a business rests squarely on the quality of the painting and other work they have been hired do for customers.
“For this to work, we have to be flawless painters,” he says. “Otherwise, the art doesn’t mean anything.”