On view now in Sasaki’s gallery space is Going Modern, an exhibition of portraits of modern design icons by David Lee Csicsko. We sat down with Csicsko to discuss his work and gain insights into his inspiration and process.
Q: A common thread that spans your work—in a variety of mediums—is the use of color and pattern. How did you develop this style of dynamic colors, bold graphics, and playful patterns?
A: I grew up in the age where most of the children’s books had a very distinct aesthetic style of wonderfully odd color choices and illustrations set within a large amount of white. This early inspiration emerged later in my practice, and of course has since continued to evolve and change.
Cscicsko makes remarks at the exhibition opening
Q: How did your artistic career begin?
A: I studied at the Cleveland Institute of Art, where the curriculum was designed to be like the Bauhaus School. Coincidentally, Walter Gropius, the founder of Bauhaus, is depicted in this exhibition! For the first two years of school, you get a foundation in all of the fine arts like painting, sculpture, drawing and such. Then you choose one to focus on for the next three years. I ended up choosing graphic design, but I was always kind of a maverick in my program—solving problems in different ways than the other students, often with a large illustrated image concept. The instructors always liked my fine art references and unique approach to my projects, so I kept doing it!
Q: Who are your artist (or designer) inspirations?
A: I’ve always been a fan of Picasso. He broke all the rules, and he was always changing over his career.
Q: How do you arrive at a specific theme for a work or group of works?
A: The portraits on display at Sasaki begin as personal project. Someone wanted a Frank Lloyd Wright portrait, so I did a lot of visual research and reading. My goal was to tell their story, and give the viewer a sense of the personality, and reflect the look of the individual’s design legacy. I really enjoy the path you take while reading up on someone, and finding about their work and friendships, one person leads me to the next individual. I just kept creating more and more, and drawing more and more. Now I have literally hundreds of these portraits—composers, designers, artists, and so on.
Q: In addition to these portrait series, you create mosaics, stained glass works, and graphics. How do you choose which medium to work in?
A: A lot of my work is really indebted to the Bauhaus tradition and training that I had. I like to find the right medium for the job based on the content.
I also have a lot of strong relationships with other artists and craft makers, who are always innovating new ways of working. I was working with a tile-maker for an installation at a hospital, and she devised a way to make organic shapes instead of rectilinear shapes, so that enabled me to start making really fascinating designs from all sorts of shapes.
Q: We asked you to create a portrait of Hideo Sasaki for this exhibit. What guided your depiction of him?
A: I did some research to find pictures of him—and he always seemed to be wearing a proper shirt and tie. So I gave him a symbolic print shirt with oak leaf motif and a period skinny tie. I chose the oak leaves to represent his work as a landscape architect as well as his Japanese-American heritage. I hope I depicted him as the shining individual I know he was!
Q: What are you working on right now?
A: I just completed my most recent project, which was a big public art piece in a library just outside of Chicago. It has these amazing 18 inch by 18 inch multi-color high gloss glazed tiles, with icons on them and intricate mosaic panels. I’m hoping that it really makes a big impact by bringing a lot of life and color into the space. I’ve designed imaginative icons like a walking book and a dragon, a light bulb person, to suggest story telling possibilities —playful, accessible designs that feel right at home in the context of this library.
“Going Modern” is on
display and open to the public in the Sasaki Gallery through March. Click here to view more of Csicsko’s work.