Gapers Block has ceased publication.

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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Thursday, November 30

Gapers Block

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Artist Kathleen Judge has been a longtime standout within Chicago's poster art world. Her striking work has graced posters for Neko Case, The Hideout and American Music Club, among many others. In addition, she has done CD covers for Devil in a Woodpile and Jon Rauhouse, and she created illustrations for each chapter heading in the book Growing Up in Slavery, edited by Yuval Taylor. She has also created the cover for the upcoming book The All-American Industrial Motel by Doug Crandell (Chicago Review Press, 2007).

Judge received her BFA in painting and animation from The Rhode Island School of Design, and she currently prints out of Screwball Press in Chicago. She will exhibit her posters at The South Union Arts in a solo show that runs alongside the group exhibit "My Apocalyptic Playground" opening Friday, Oct. 13th, with her work remaining up for viewing until Nov. 2nd. You can see samples of Judge's posters, drawings and prints at

Q: I see your work and I see Americana — Americana as opposed to American. From what I've gathered, "Americana" suggests a culture, whereas "American" defines a character. Do you find that either one of these two distinctions figure in the execution of your work?

Judge: To define my work as either "Americana" or "American" is difficult as those words seem so distant and unfamiliar that I can't even grasp their meaning. To define my work between culture and character... I'd say neither. It's more of a place or geography. I grew up in the Motor City and Midwest in the 1970's during the first wave of car industry woes and factory closings. That culture of decay and atrophy seeped into my groundwater, and from then on I've always been interested in places falling apart.

In some ways people who have grown up in towns and cities that lost their major industry may have something in common with places that have been ravaged by war. That's an extreme comparison, but in making it, I refer to a sense of severe loss and nostalgia which is felt in both situations. The same way people say, "Oh, it was a beautiful place before the war," I grew up hearing similar comments from my friends' parents (mine were from Jersey City) who would speak of the streets in Detroit they grew up on that now may hold only one vacant home on an empty block. Neighborhoods once vibrant, strong communities which were then demolished to make way for a car factory which eventually closed — leaving entire neighborhoods either empty or rusting carcasses of the former industry.

My memories are from the decline of Detroit. I don't have memories of a beautiful Detroit, not in the traditional sense of beauty. Because I had nothing to reference, I was free to find another kind of beauty in the vacant buildings, lots, and rust. My drawings are steered by this history. So, by saying I am influenced by geography or place may be more accurate than "Americana." Although I was raised in an urban environment, and am attracted to landscapes of industrial abandonment, I can find that same feeling in rural decay, in disintegrating silos and desolate farmlands. Some of my posters I've also created with a broken quality which has grown out of my childhood in Michigan.

Q: Poster art has always strived for... for a visual abruptness, so to speak. Subtlety in a public announcement — a utilitarian art — doesn't make much sense, or does it?

Judge: There can be subtlety and power in one image. Posters are a quirky medium because firstly you want to communicate an idea or event, and then secondly you have to consider the variety of places a poster may hang. Will it be brightly lit on the street, in the dark of a bar? Can it be read, and tell the information clearly, is it commanding — will you add subtleties that show up when viewed longer? It's a good challenge.

I fell backwards into poster making. My background is more as a fine artist and illustrator than a graphic designer, so I'm always striving to improve the strength of text and image working together. Utilitarian art can actually be a great ground for being subtle. Street art and poster art, by the fact that it's not intimidating, are great mediums to convey ideas. There are some amazing prints at the Mexican Arts Center in Pilsen, which were pasted onto walls and buildings in Mexico in the late 1800's to inform people of treacheries being committed but which weren't being reported in the news. The news was controlled by the government at that time, so artists used the print medium as a way to get news and info into the streets and out to the people. Who doesn't look at walls, poles or buildings when they have images? It's a perfect medium to convey ideas or to promote events.

Q: When we speak of narrative in art we're often talking about the patience required for the imaginative resurrection of a history. Do you find any sense of patience playing a role in your work, or is patience a nonfactor?

Judge: Patience as an artist? Or patience as a viewer? "Patience" is a strange word. If I am deeply involved and interested in what I'm making, patience doesn't even entire my mind. I can say that I have a hard time working on numerous drawings at once. I pretty much get consumed with one image at a time and try to work that drawing or print until it's done.

Certain mediums require a different frame of mind. Kind of like when you are going on a trip, if you know you're taking a train you set your mind up for a longer trip, you don't lose patience. The same holds true for various mediums. Etching, lithography and silkscreening all take a certain kind of time, much of that can sometimes be process and prep time. If I am going to work in any of those mediums I won't tell myself I'm about to take a jet somewhere. Those are definitely longer rides.

Patience as a viewer? I'd say that because of the speed of today's society anyone who takes the time to look at artwork, or to see their environment, has to have a discipline for observation. I'm not sure it's patience as much as it's a dedication to being present and a commitment to focus, regardless of distractions.

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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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