Feature: Cornelia Arts Building Displays Compelling Variety in Open Studio Event

The Cornelia Arts Building recently held their spring open studio event where the public had the opportunity to see work by dozens of artists. The building, located at the corner of Cornelia and Ravenswood, has been providing studio space for artists for more than 35 years and hosts over 40 artists who work in various mediums such as painting and drawing, sculpture, photography, printmaking and jewelry design.

The building was constructed in 1910 as an ice blockhouse manufacturing company and later became a clay factory (a major supplier for Lillstreet Studios). It was also used to manufacture airplane parts, and was a pipe bending operation before it was converted to artist loft spaces in 1986.

Although there was an impressive display of art among the many artists who opened their studios to the public, here are some highlights from this event.


Jason Messinger

Jason Messinger has been working out of his studio in the Cornelia Arts Building for the last 19 years.

Messinger creates ceramic art that plays with the boundary between representation and abstraction. Many of the images in his work hint at language, symbols, cartographic shapes, and hieroglyphic-like characters. A good example of this is Blueprint (shown above). What is most compelling about Messinger’s work is that it can experience a change in appearance depending on the viewer’s personal perspective or mood at a particular moment in time.

Although at first glance, one can get the impression of spontaneity in his works, when taking a closer look, we see that his work involves careful planning. And in the end, one cannot help but feel a sense of joy and playfulness when interacting with his work.

Messinger’s artworks are in private, corporate, and public collections throughout North America, Europe, China and Australia.


James Parenti

James Parenti, Figure, Seated and Reaching Ahead, 2006. Oil on canvas. Photo courtesy of the artist.

James Parenti has been a resident at the Cornelia Arts Building for a little over 20 years. When asked what are the advantages of having a studio in this building, Parenti said, “Being around so many various artists has given me the opportunity to learn about other mediums and also to learn some new painting techniques that I may have never used before.”

Although Parenti does various types of paintings, his series of paintings, called “Bubbles & Blurs,” is quite intriguing. Figure, Seated and Reaching Ahead (shown above) illustrates this particular style as the viewer sees how Parenti combines his interest in the art of several different eras and the techniques and imagery associated with each. Early cubism is an influence, as is some of the work from the post-impressionist era. His work is also reminiscent of David Hockney’s fractured-image pieces.

Also on display were some of Parenti’s plein aire landscapes. This has been a recent development in his art and he stated how he loves the challenge of working outdoors compared to the controlled setting of an indoor environment.


Sarah Boyle

Sarah Boyle, Falling Slope, Sun and Smoke, 2021. Oil on canvas. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Sarah Boyle has been at the Cornelia Arts Building since 2016. While most of her works displayed in her studio are of landscapes, she has created an impressive selection of works through the different series she has produced over the years. Some of her series of paintings include: Voyeuristic views of illuminated windows; romanticized Italian getaways; various gardens; and her Tableau Vivant paintings where she creates a narrative by focusing on a particular detail in a room.   

What is most impressive about her landscapes is how she explores the dramatic relationship among color, shadow and light. In Falling Slope, Sun and Smoke, (shown above) we see how Boyle uses the element of depth to create a sense of movement. What at first glance seems like a very still landscape, upon closer inspection, one senses a rhythmic quality.

An undercurrent of Boyle’s own personal emotions also thread throughout her art. And those emotions are expressed as an intimate longing in many of her scenes.

James Broughton

James Broughton, Stolen Moments, 2021. Mixed media on wood panel. Photo courtesy of the artist.

James Broughton  has been working out of his studio for about a year and half. He retired two years ago after a successful career in architectural, deciding to focus his energy on his art which he said was always his original passion.

Many of Broughton’s abstract mixed-media works find energy, inspiration and beauty in the multiple facets and dimensions of the urban environment. “My art is definitely shaped by my career in architecture because I use a lot of construction-related materials in my work such as sand, marble dust, gypsum, iron filings, and recycled plastics to name just a few.”

His work, Stolen Moments (shown above) is a good example of how his art is influenced by his past career. One can see how Broughton’s intuitive vision as an artist is informed by an architect’s rigorous eye for proportion, depth, light, and texture.  This work like many of his other works explores the dichotomy between the processes of construction and decay.

Tiphanie Spencer

Tiphanie Spencer, Don’t Shoot, 2016. Mixed media on paper. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Tiphanie Spencer has been at the Cornelia Arts Building since 2015. Besides using her space as a working studio, she also uses it as an alternative exhibition space to showcase other artists.

Spencer uses mixed media, bold color, symbols and cultural references as she reflects on the human condition while addressing the complex realities around social injustice.

In her work, Don‘t Shoot, (shown above) Spencer addresses the senseless shootings of white police officers shooting unarmed Black men. In this dramatic work, Spencer creates a vivid scene of a police officer with a gun in hand while a deceased Black man comes back to life as a skeleton as he pleads for the violence to stop and for people to listen to his story. His hands are raised — referencing the protest chant “hands up, don’t shoot.” His eyes are “stop” media buttons, and his mouth consist of a “play” and “pause” media button, symbolizing the need for people to pause and listen. A major influence for Spencer in this particular work is the artist, Keith Haring, who had dedicated his life to the ideals of equality and social justice. 


Richard Kasemsarn

Richard Kasemsarn, Z-6 Bridge, 2021. Acrylic on canvas. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Richard Kasemsarn is a working architect who moved into his studio space just a few weeks ago. His art reveals an architect’s eye as he captures cityscapes with a fresh perspective.  He explained how kayaking along the Chicago River helped give him a different viewpoint of the city that he wouldn’t have been able to get if he was walking or driving.

His work, Z-6 Bridge (shown above), looks like an unused, dilapidated bridge, but Kasemsarn explains that it is an active swing bridge that crosses the North Branch of the Chicago River. In this work, Kasemsarn creates a strong sense of visual tension because this bridge seems to defy gravity as it juts outward toward the viewer as if it has a life of its own.

Even though many of Kasemsarn’s scenes are void of people, he creates perspectives that have a strong narrative, telling a story about abandoned structures that once had a rich history.

If you missed the recent open studio event, the next one will be held on Friday, May 20, from 6 to 10pm and on Saturday, May 21, from 11am to 3pm. The Cornelia Arts Building holds four open studio events per year and is located at 1800 W. Cornelia Ave. To learn more about the artists and to view their work, visit their website.

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Tom Wawzenek

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