Each month, we ask 6 questions of a friend whose creative work we admire.
This month we’re featuring Chad Kouri, working artist and designer based in Chicago. Past and upcoming collaborators include The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Studio Gang Architects, Poketo, The Pitchfork Review, IDEO, and The Ace Hotel.
1. How’d you end up doing what you’re doing now?
Well, my early interests were in typography and design, dating as far back as middle school. In college, I always had a handmade element to my work, whether that was photo collage or hand drawn typography. Teachers and students always asked me if I’d rather be in the art department.
Art production has always been this medicinal process for me, whether it was to just get off the computer for a while or to blow off some creative steam that had built up after doing a lot of creatively unfulfilling design work. In 2013 I decided to pivot a bit and focus more time on making artwork in the hopes that it would be an alternate source of income alongside my work as a graphic designer. Four years later, I’ve had some success in keeping a steady flow of art commissions coming into the studio. It’s allowed me to be a bit more picky about the kind of design work I do. I don’t imagine ever cutting out the design work all together as it informs my studio art practice and vice versa. At the moment I’m lucky to be making both designed pieces and fine art works for clients that I share a mutual respect with, and that’s been a tremendous privilege and honor. I can’t imagine it will always be this way, but I’ll take advantage of it as long as I can!
2. Describe a typical day.
On a good day, I don’t set an alarm. That is key to having a steady and productive work day for me. My work hours are generally between 11am-7pm, with the potential of having a “third shift” of computer time after dinner. What happens between eleven and seven varies greatly. I could be answering emails all day in the studio—like today—while waiting for a package to be delivered. I could be in the studio working on some cut paper pieces or works on canvas for an upcoming commission or exhibition. I could be running errands to the framer or the post office. I could be hitting an early evening music set somewhere or playing some music with my studio mate Andy Hall. I could be working on a branding project or book design for a cultural institution locally or elsewhere. The variety of work keeps my mind fresh and nimble. I can’t imagine it any other way.
3. What are you working on now that you’re most excited about?
I’m just about to wrap up a large commission for Ace Hotel Chicago that has been nearly 18 months in the making. These are large panels of hand dyed fabric that incorporate glyphs from my jazz movement study drawings from over the past eight years or so. (See below.) I worked with cornetist and local jazz historian Josh Berman in order to put together a playlist of 12 seminal jazz recordings from the Chicagoland area over the past 85 years. These tracks were listened to extensively while doing drawings—and collecting shapes and gestures from older drawings—to create a library of shapes to incorporate into the artwork. It’s been equally challenging as it has been fun and rewarding. In an ideal world, all my projects would be that way.
4. What have you done there that you’re most proud of?
I like how this project has allowed me to explore some new materials and processes while also investigating a grouping of work that is second nature to me at this point. I also really love that this project has given me the ability to hire artists and thinkers in my community and pay them appropriately for their time.
5. What would you most like to work on (fantasy or reality)?
I’ve been very interested in the idea of making public art lately, whether that is a painted two-dimensional work or a sculpture of some kind. I like the idea of Art living in unexpected places and serving a purpose other than just looking pretty. I’ve got a couple of concepts in the works, but no specific opportunities quite yet.
6. If you weren’t doing this, what would you want to be doing (fantasy or reality)?
I’ve always said if I was to go back to school I’d study mathematics. Currently working in a field that is overtly subjective, I love the pure fact of mathematics and physics. I’d also consider music performance as it has the same theoretical fact-based grounding to it as mathematics while still allowing for expression and freedom.