Chad Kouri has a promiscuous approach to interdisciplinarity. On top of being an accomplished graphic designer, he makes elegant, concise, formal artworks, socially engaged projects, and is a curious and sincere researcher. He approaches all of these projects with equal vigor. In “Art Advice” and “Arbitrary Critiques,” he jotted down museum goers’ overheard reactions to the Whitney Biennial and created a set of prints depicting the results. In “Art Basel Miami Treasure Hunt,” he confronted his own lack of knowledge while at the art fair by “finding ten familiar and ten not-so-familiar” artists, and published the resultant arrangements of text and image on his website. As part of the collective The Post Family, he’s worked on larger projects such as “LEVEL,” a collection of wood plinths democratizing users’ heights.
—Sofia Leiby, Guest Editor of the Week
Chad Kouri is a semi-nomadic, mostly Chicago-based multidisciplinary artist with equal interests in conceptual and minimalist art, ethnography, typography, design, jazz and the gray areas in between. He’s best known as a co-founder of the Chicago-based art and design incubator The Post Family, his past role as Art Director of Proximity Magazine and recognition as one of Chicago’s up-and-coming image makers in NewCity’s 2010 Breakout Artists of the year issue.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do. Hello. I’m Chad. I’m a multidisciplinary artist currently residing in Chicago. I grew up admiring typography and jazz. More recently I’ve been attracted to fashion, architecture, ethnography and minimalism, which I reference to create an array of projects including but not limited to fine art work, curatorial projects, book design, editioned works, conceptual research projects and more. I’m also a co-founder of The Post Family, a Chicago-based art and design incubator. I have two sisters, one brother and two amazing parents, all of whom are extremely supportive. At the moment, yellow is my favorite color.
How did your interest in art or design begin? It all started when I was diagnosed with Dyslexia in first grade. At that point I started some fairly experimental tutoring, the most relevant of which was writing words in sand. Subconsciously this made me extremely familiar with the anatomy of type. Years later I found myself obsessively working on my handwriting. I had pages and pages of individual letters. Six different styles of the letter “S”, four various of a lowercase “a” and so on. This is about 6th grade. A few years later I took my first freelance design job. I was 15 years old at the time and it was for the program and set design for a dance studio recital that I took classes at for about 7 years. Then vocational school for advertising and marketing my senior year of high school. After that, there was pretty much no looking back. I moved to Chicago to study design and haven’t left since.
How has your work developed within the past year? This past year has been super interesting. Cody Hudson and I decided to partner up for a year in early 2013 on some pattern, apparel and graphic design work, giving me the ability to devote more time to my fine art work. It’s really paid off. I’ve sold more work since starting with Cody than I have in all other years combined. I also had a pretty substantial show in NYC, locked down a solo show late 2014 in Chicago (more on this further down in the interview), and have gotten a handful of custom commission requests for residential and commercial spaces alike, which is all really exciting work to be doing.
What materials do you use in your work and what is your process like? Most common materials in my arsenal are cut paper, Google search, and colored index cards. Each of these make their way into my process no matter what I’m working on. Cut paper to mock up compositions and as stencils for monoprint style silkscreen applications and other art making. Google for spell check/thesaurus and their image search for references and research. And index cards I carry with me all the time to jot down ideas, names, concepts and more to refer back on later.
What products or companies are you interested in right now? I’ve been paying a lot of attention to women’s fashion, unisex jewelry and ceramics lately. Some interesting things going on in those worlds. As more expressive jewelry for men comes into fashion, I’ve really enjoyed seeing a shape and color sensibility similar to my own come out in three-dimensional form.
Who is your ideal business sponsor/partner? This is a great question. One I’d typically be able to answer very easily, but I’ve had some amazing projects over the past year or two, and at this point it’s hard to think of a specific ideal partner. At the moment, I’m really interested in doing residencies at commercial offices, start-up headquarters, etc. Or even retail spaces. Anywhere where art making isn’t the norm. I’d also like to do some work with the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. A residency, some book design or otherwise. I love their space, programing, and publishing efforts ever since they opened their doors in 2011.
What was the last exhibition you saw that stuck out to you? Pretty much anything I see at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis sticks with me for weeks. Most recently, the Jim Hodges retrospective show. Such beautiful and thoughtful work, hung with great consideration to the unique space that houses the museum. Their shows are never overhung, always elegant and engaging, and the curators seem to always consider the viewer first and foremost when laying out an exhibition, which I think is to great advantage of the general public. Also, the past few shows I’ve seen at DePaul Art Museum have been pretty amazing. Specifically, the Chicago Imagists exhibition a year or two ago and their most recent “From Heart to Hand” exhibition, showcasing African American quilts from the Montgomery Museum of Fine Art.
Can you share one of the best or worst reactions you have gotten as a result of your work? The most recent memorable response to my work happened at a recent showing in New York. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to hear it first hand but Art Dossier—an ongoing representative and collaborator of mine—filled me in. A women approached the booth and explained how very moved she was by my work. She had some health problems recently and collaging was part of her art therapy during recovery. She was so inspired by my approach to collage, explaining that it actually helped her better relate to all art, in general. It’s the best compliment I’ve ever gotten. She then proceeded to purchase my favorite piece from the series of work I was presenting at the show. What an honor.
Any current or upcoming shows we should know about? I’m working toward my first solo show in Chicago in nearly 5 years at Johalla Projects, opening Friday October 17th and running through November 30th. Working title at the moment is No Wrong Answers: Paper Paintings and Various Editions by Chad Kouri.
What are you currently watching on Netflix/what’s on your Netflix queue? Bob’s Burgers on repeat. Can’t get enough of that show. The new season of Orange is the New Black is pretty great as well. And then 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation to fill in the gaps.