Margie Criner, a local mixed media artist, has created a few sculptures that feature dioramas of traffic. “Ever since I’ve done that, I don’t mind traffic anymore,” she said. Instead, she thinks of the art while she drives, contemplating how to use her LED lighting and one-way mirrors to reflect the scene. When the viewer peers into a small oculus within the sculpture, the scene within looks infinite and like the model cars are moving. She plans to explore phobias similar to this in future works.
In the meantime, her current works are on display in Skokie at A+C Architects (4840 Main St.) through the end of September. Eight sculptures and 14 paintings are on display. She has an artist talk on September 23 from 3-5 p.m.
The dioramas Criner creates are within typically wooden sculptures, using scraps from the luthiers with whom she shares a space in Logan Square. The studio at 1919 N. Springfield Ave. is in a warehouse space she shares with Kevin Caton and Jake Serek, who create guitars and basses. The trio moved into the space about a year ago, she said, but her journey to build these complex dioramas began as a child, with every step of her experiences teaching her something for the next career move.
Her father was an engineer and had a woodshop in the basement. Criner was not allowed to use the hand tools, but naturally, “when he wasn’t home, I would sneak down and do it anyway,” she said.
In college, she studied textile design, experimenting with pattern making mixed with environmental science. After graduation, she worked in graphic design for some years and later took a Bauhaus furniture-making class, which allowed her to work with wood, mallets and chisels. After a few months, it was enough to get that desire back in her system to make 3D work again.
She started her own business, Red-Belly, which sold functional art made of wood, wool and vintage toys. She went to the New York Trade Show with her work. “It was great, and I came home angry,” she said. People ordered hundreds of the same things. Her husband then told her she’s an artist and not a manufacturer; it was an aha moment for Criner. “I filled those orders, closed shop and started making something totally impractical,” she said with a laugh. Red-Belly closed in 2014, making way for her to build the sculptures she creates today.
Coming full circle, Criner’s father now admires her work and asks her to take them apart so he can see how she made them.
Criner has another admirer, Kelly Velasco, of West Dundee, Illinois, who has collected Criner’s art since about 2014, she said. “The architectural designs of her pieces are beautiful in themselves, but then there’s a peephole that takes you to another place,” Velasco said. The next creation she’s purchasing is called “Hero,” which is a diorama of a record store. Velasco is an avid record collector, making this piece very fitting for her home.
Criner was working on this during the interview with LoganSquarist. When asked what her favorite piece is, she said that “it’s usually the one I just finished,” so by the time she displays her work, it would likely be the record store.
The next favorite pieces for Criner are already in the works. She has a piece that the Library of Congress is commissioning, which will look like the interior of the art nouveau building and its Tiffany ceilings. She’ll also be displaying work in Minneapolis with her husband and another show in Michigan City. Her busy year will round out with a display at Firecat Projects in Chicago next June.
Within her busy schedule, she plans to explore themes of phobias, such as drowning, crowds, pain, loneliness or long lines at the DMV, she said. By being outside of the scene, viewers would feel bigger than the fear, and it might not seem so scary; her fear would be of the dentist office.
To ask Criner more about her current and upcoming work, make an appointment at her studio by emailing her at [email protected], or attend her artist talk on Sept. 23 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.