Correction: In addition to her BFA in photography from the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design, Cassie Tompkins has a BFA in visual communication design from SAIC. The article has been corrected.
“Chicago’s art community is so small, and it’s pretty exclusive,” Tompkins said. “I just thought it wasn’t even possible. I’d just moved on. I was working toward my design career, but this is really what I wanted to be doing.”
Between her 15 scattered years of art school, Tompkins has never exhibited her work until now. Tompkins, senior designer in the design department at the Art Institute of Chicago for six and half years now, has a BFA in photography from the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design and a BFA in visual communication design from School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC).
“It’s Just Color” is a showcase of dyed fabrics and layered colors, pulling techniques from both tie-dyeing and screen-printing. She used stencils to achieve the straight, firm lines and boxes on the sheets.
Tompkins began getting interested in textile work again about three years ago. Working with a love for design and photography on a more daily basis at her job, she had started to miss making more physical art with her hands. That’s when she started taking classes in the fibers and materials studies department at SAIC.
If she hadn’t, she may not have received the push she needed to exhibit her work.
Fraser Taylor, a teacher at SAIC in the department of fiber and material studies for 16 years now, first encouraged Tompkins to showcase her work when she took his class.
“I encouraged Cassie to exhibit her work because her art is very accomplished, contemporary and ready to go out into the world and be shared with others,” Taylor said.
Tompkins didn’t have much luck when she first started submitting her work to galleries, and she found that she was looking into places where much more established artists would show their work. Eventually, she realized she’d need to start looking into the places where more emerging artists were exhibiting.
That’s when she stumbled upon Comfort Station.
“I like that this is a space that anyone can come into,” Tompkins said. “It’s not intimidating like a lot of gallery spaces can be, usually in a higher-end neighborhood … [where] people might not stop in and look at the art and understand the art. I think it’s just more inclusive here, anybody can come in and look.”
Mary Wells, program director at Comfort Station, acts as the lead curator for their visual arts programming. According to Wells, Tompkins’ work was on everyone’s list on the selection panel.
“I think this is one of the more traditional shows we’ve done, which is a great thing. The pieces are largely based on 2D techniques, [and] materials and are hung in a very standard way…I think viewers are going to love Cassie’s use of color and the scale of her pieces.”
The fabrics are hung a little higher on the wall than would work for a normal exhibition, according to Tompkins. This is because of how they resemble banners and tapestries. Tompkins wanted to make clear for viewers the materiality of the artwork.
This is all part of a new goal to exhibit and experiment with her work in front of an audience.
“It is important for artists to exhibit their work as it is worthy to engage with new audiences and communities,” Taylor said. “It is useful to experience your work outside the confines and safety of a studio. It helps to expand conversations about your practice and understand how others experience and understand it.”
Tompkins has two more upcoming exhibitions as well. She is currently in a field residency at Chicago Artists Coalition until April 10, which teaches her the business aspects of being an exhibiting artist.
This residency helped her acquire a spot to create the flags on the roof of the Lillstreet Art Center, which are also color-based and will be up from Aug. 18-Sept. 24. Tompkins also has another an upcoming solo exhibition at Spudnik Press in the Hubbard Street Lofts from Aug. 11 – Sept. 30.
Until then, you can view her show “It’s Just Color” at Comfort Station until the end of April.
“If the weather is still getting you down, these pieces will give you hope that warmth and sun are just around the corner,” Wells said.