Did you know that prior to the Chicago fire many of the city’s buildings were sinking? So, to save them, the buildings were jacked up and placed on beams which, in turn, created a series of alleys and tunnels below the city. These tunnels created the perfect atmosphere for the creation of organized crime. No photographs of the tunnels remain and very few drawings of it can be found. But when a London based artist, Xenz, learned of the tunnels while reading “The Outfit,” by Gus Russo, he created a series of drawings and paintings inspired by the fact based story of Chicago before the fire for his show at Vertical Gallery. Xenz even built a 3-D mulit-layered model of what he imagined art of the city to have looked at the gallery’s storefront.
Xenz creates images that convey the sense of grime a literal underworld would contain as well as characters who might be milling around down there. He layers washes of umber, sepia, cream and gray to lure us into his compositions and make us feel as though we are entering a tunnel into the world below the tall buildings. Above, we see faint suggestions of structures of familiar modern skyscrapers that allude to the title of the exhibit, “Building The Dream.”
The drawings and paintings are now my favorite of what I’ve seen this summer and I want my book club to read “The Outfit.” Someone please buy me one of these paintings, they are compellingly gorgeous.