Last week, I had the opportunity to speak with John Maloof regarding his new gallery and studio, Miishkooki Art Space, which opened in Skokie late this summer, just east of Downtown Skokie. Read on to see what he had to say about what spurred the decision to open his new gallery, upcoming events, his influences and more.
Andrew DeCanniere (AD): So, how did you come up with the concept of opening an art gallery in Skokie in the first place?
John Maloof (JM): I guess I’ve always been an artist. I grew up drawing and painting and doing all kinds of arts and crafts. As a child, I always wanted to be an artist. As time went on, I got into different forms of art, music, photography, filmmaking and stuff like that. So, painting and drawing weren’t always at the forefront. In the last four years, I’ve been painting more and doing more art with my hands, versus the last eight or nine where I’d mainly been a photographer. It’s kind of a full circle moment where I was excited about painting again. Anyway, I started creating more work — as one does when you’re making stuff by hand — and you need room, and so I thought I would go look to see what’s available as far as studio space goes.
I wanted something where I could have events — small gallery showings, film screenings, stuff like that. When I saw this place, it had so much more potential than what I had in my head. It’s a non-profit art space, which means that the gallery takes its time to find, curate and setup a show because, in my opinion, if you’re putting work on the wall that’s only for sale, a lot of things don’t end up making it to the wall. People sometimes won’t buy certain art if it isn’t easy to put in their house, for example. I wanted to sort of throw that concept out the window and just focus on art that’s interesting and on stuff that I like. That’s what this art space ended up being. There’s a studio, where I and others work, and then there’s a gallery for art that I appreciate and would like to show and promote. That’s kind of how that ended up unfolding.
AD: And, being so close to the CTA Yellow Line Oakton Street station, it seems to have worked out pretty well in terms of location as well. It’s fairly centrally located within the community.
JM: You know, the location is interesting because there aren’t a lot of galleries over here, or as much over here as far as an art community, versus Chicago. I think that’s why I was attracted to it. I didn’t want to open something that was traditional. So, that’s why I was excited about doing it there.
AD: And it’s precisely for that reason that I think it’s a valuable addition to Skokie. It sort of fills this niche that was previously unfilled. As you say, there wasn’t a whole lot around.
AD: What exhibits do you currently have going on and what, if anything, is in the works?
JM: Right now there is a show that was extended. It’s the first show we’ve put on. It’s a pretty large exhibit of 16 artists — 12 of them are international and four are local Chicago artists. There are 95 works on display, most of which are paintings. The theme has a very comic-inspired, illustrated, pop-art element to it. The show was extended because there’s been a lot of interest and there have been a lot of appointments being made. So, we pushed it back a few weeks. After this show, there’s going to be another show. Actually, there are a few shows lined up, but a couple of shows that I can confidently talk about — without worrying about things changing in the future — are a couple of artists that are doing some interesting paintings. One of them is also a sculptor — that’s one that I don’t have the dates set for yet, because it’s hinging on a couple of other things. Then, there’s another show with a kind of David Hockney-esque flavor to it with a couple of artists. I don’t want to firm up whether it’s going to be a two or four-person show, because if it ends up growing before the show goes up, it’s possible that things can change. So, there are two other shows in the process of being worked out, which means that altogether there are at least four shows in the works.
AD: Sounds like you have quite a lot going on. You said that you have studio space as well. Will it be available for anyone to work in or is it mainly just specifically artists you’re working with? How does that work?
JM: It’s really for artists who are working on something for the space. So, if we have a show coming up and we want to have some sculptural elements, then we will have a space for that to be made, or if some other pieces we want to have made specifically for the show, exclusively, then that’s another option. There are all kinds of uses for it.
AD: I was also wondering, what plans do you have for the gallery’s future? Where do you see the gallery going?
JM: There are a lot of things we’re going to be doing. There’s a mural that is being painted on the east side, which is a big white wall that butts up against the parking lot. An artist from San Francisco by the name of Lauren Asta has been commissioned by Skokie and myself to paint the entire wall. That happens at the end of the month, so that’s going to be a really cool thing to see, because you’ll see it from down the street. That whole block is kind of carved out. It’s a great vantage point.
Though it’s not firm as far as when it’s happening as of yet, one thing I would definitely want to add is that we’re going to have a benefit exhibition that will benefit wildlife conservation — mainly anti-poaching efforts for elephants and rhinos. That’ll probably be in the fall of next year. I’m trying to organize it where I can have some of the larger charities help us with that event — with promotion. It’s hinging on a couple of things, but it will happen nonetheless.
AD: I don’t know if you’re able to pick just a few, but I was wondering whether you have favorite artists and/or who your influences may be.
JM: I have many influences and always have new ones. I would consider my current influences to be the Memphis Movement designers from Milan, Italy, graphic design of the 80s, and the Chicago imagists. For my photography, I would say it’s Joel Meyerowitz, Barbara Crane, and other color photographers like William Eggleston.
Miishkooki Art Space is located at 4517 Oakton Steet in Skokie, Illinois, just east of Downtown Skokie and a couple of blocks from the CTA Yellow Line Oakton-Skokie station. Hours are by appointment. To learn more, or for instructions on how to schedule an appointment, log onto their website. You can also follow Miishkooki on Twitter and Instagram.
UPDATE: Please note that Miishkooki Art Space permanently closed in 2018.