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Chicago Underworld

  • Vertical Gallery
  • Vertical Gallery
June 22, 2014
Ana Bambic Kostov is an art historian with passion for contemporary art.

Before the Great Chicago Fire, quite some time before the infamous speakeasies and the mafia rise, Chicago was developing as the most American, promising city of the country. An enormous building enterprise hid a lot of secrets even back then, proving itself to be a fertile ground for all kinds of shady businesses. As the great city was being built, below it, in its underground, a parallel, dark and illegal world was growing.

This obscure world of 19th century crime and vice will be enlivened through the exhibition of Xenz, a British graffiti artist who, inspired by grim stories of historical Chicago, conjured up a series of work. The exhibition entitled Building The Dream consists of paintings, drawings and prints deeply infused with the spirit of the Windy City from the 19th and early 20th century. Opening on July 5, Building The Dream will be hosted by Vertical Gallery, remaining on view through July 26, 2014.

Vertical Gallery
Xenz – Slabtown

Inspiration in a book

Based in London, but originally from Yorkshire, Xenz was moved and inspired by the story of the most notorious man in Chicago of the second half of the 19th century, Roger Plant, who was an immigrant from Yorkshire as well. Reading the literary work of Gus Russo, The Outfit, the artist got a vivid insight into the urban lifestyle of the city before the fire of 1871, and into its underworld as well. Interpreting the scenes and imagined situations from the book, Xenz came up with a wonderful series of works, dressed in a distant, mysterious and dangerous air, reminiscing general scenery from the early industrial revolution stories.

Vertical Gallery
Xenz

Chicago and its Underworld

As the city was being built, large buildings had to be raised on jack screws and secured because of the muddy, porous terrain. As these huge structures were risen, underneath a whole labyrinth of passageways and alleys was created. At first, rats were the only dwellers of the under-town, but soon enough criminals and others involved in illicit professions started populating the maze, until it became the swarming center of early organized crime in Chicago. Roger Plant was among the first to make use of the underworld, as he established the most wicked place in America, his notorious Under The Willow club and brothel. The underworld was accessed through the establishment, while the club itself was the center of all sins. At the time, Chicago was the last big stop on the way to the wild west and everybody was searching for a good time, which, in every sense of the 19th century word, Under the Willow provided.

Vertical Gallery
Xenz – Skyscrapers

Old and Wicked

Works by Xenz portray this shady and distant world, coloring it in sepia shades, as if it were a collection of old photographs. In the distance stand visions of new, majestic skyscrapers being erect, in the foreground – hints of sin and decay. The overall emotion of Xenz works is still positive, as the progress oozes from every angle of his works. The face he focuses on the byproduct of the alive social building activity provides his pieces misty atmosphere, and the dose of the surreal suspense, typical of great works of literature or cinema.

Stories untold are woven into these sheets and canvases, as Xenz transports the visitor into another time of the same place. The promising show and installation Building The Dream will be the American exhibiting debut for Xenz, with one question hanging in the air – which Dream is he really talking about?