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High Risk not the usual art gallery Print E-mail
Written by LISA MENZEL   
Thursday, 15 April 2004
After earmarking a digital portrait of a 1965 maraschino-glazed Mustang at the corner mechanic’s garage on Belmont and North Seminary, I noticed the blazing blue scaffolding of where I was headed and quickly lost interest in the car. Something more early-man and impulsive was calling to me.

High Risk Gallery
1113 W. Belmont Ave.
Chicago, IL
(773) 296-6974
Hours: 2 to 8 p.m. Fridays
11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays
11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays
Light bulbs hung overhead in the archway, which looked to be made by a cartooned electric company as I approached the entrance. I couldn’t see into the immense building, something I found strange. Most galleries in the city are raped with wattage and blanketed with plaster as if authorities aren’t going to recognize foul play. Their rooms shout, " Buy everything on the wall. This is how it will look at home. Move it, you pretentious yuppie: make with the abstract novelty checks."

But this place seemed like it was still waiting to be filled with all of that. There’s never even any admission.

When I rang the doorbell, I noticed an apparition of a Pete Townshend-looking man, wearing a dark sweater with the sleeves pushed to the elbows start to grow on the glass. Suddenly, he pushed hand plate on his side, making the hinges wail. He looked at me with a few nods and an intuitive smile that I was the person who came to talk to him for Lumino.

"The door is always open," Rick told me, not the least bit condescendingly, but rather amused at the well-behaved stress I am accustomed to when I enter what I used to think was the art world. I was beginning to see that I had not yet ever really visited there.

Once inside, I saw the backdrop, which looked like a basement that Pollack could work in, filled with an emblazoned generation in different media from the natives of the city. It was collection of a non-biological family, from children to adults, men and women, who would show Chicago to the culture-capsule harvesters that come from everywhere to see if what they hear is true. Whether they be corporeal or otherwise

Curators Rick Schmitz and Chad Februada opened the gallery on July 2, 2002. Since that time, they have seen such phenomena as being on every local city and college art department’s must-see list, openings which have grossed 250-800 attendees, even in the wake of some of the area’s worst blizzards, and having Hollywood ask to use the space in some of the most popular television shows airing today. Is this because of some name-dropped trend that makes the wealthy and bored feel privileged to know about? Hardly.

The recipe lies in the genus of a social outreach larger than Rick and Chad themselves-and something else in Rick’s soon-to-be-famous, nonpareil Atlanta cheesecake, substituting for sugar, which Rick won’t disclose to me.

This is not just an art dive. This the most thought-provoking rec room in the collective Chicago brownstone. Rick and Chad live there.... and are welcoming you home.

A moxious man who pays generous, but not undeserved compliments to Andy Warhol’s early years and could be a one-man-fan base for the brilliant David Hockney, sat down with his partner, Chad Februada, a more reticent, yet extremely endearing man, who can single out no artist whom he loves in particular from his affection for the Impressionist era. With their blend of two perfectly opposite, and therefore balancing tastes, these men took as much of their time as needed to tell me about how their dream became an obsession for mouths and ears throughout the art world.

Rick came to Chicago 13 years ago, as he loved the city for its beauty and the fact that it was up and coming in terms of a hotspot for art. He loves that fact that it’s a safe place compared to other major cities, and now feels that he has a duty to bring art to others in Chicago as all art programs have been cut from the local schools. Those that remain or are trying to be revived are still suffering. Rick just can’t bear the fact that in a center of such heritage, diversity, and think-tanking that art is being deemed as a hobby.

This all seems very humbling for a man who told me that he " can’t paint worth a stitch," and always considered himself, " a jock." It proves his point all the more that art is for everyone. That art is for you.
He says that he had built the gallery as he envisioned it, and as a present for Chad. And of course, Chad is sharing the gift with everyone.

The gallery is for you as art is for you. Especially if you hate the idea of art. All myths will be disproved.

The golden-complexioned and demure, Chad has always lived here and always loved the city. He also had a feel-good gallery in mind. Featuring the work of the whimsical Steve Draeger, the vividly urge-encompassing C. C. Wallace, and the technologically-key expressions of Eric Fehrenbacher, the pair has introduced necessity to a punch line that art is just a spare-time scribble.

To further negate the existence of spare-time scribbles, the gallery is not just used for the purpose of touchable sketches, paintings, and sculptures.

Custo Barcelona has hosted one of his fashion shows there. High Risk has also provided a place for the theater companies to perform. Film screenings. Music. And Rick would love for anyone who doesn’t play acid jazz to call up, come in, and expose their style to the public.

David Hockney, of course, is always welcomed to do a show there as well. Though perhaps, I should not have named names, because the artists or guests of the gallery were not chosen based on what the curators liked. They were chosen as to whether their art form had eye-appeal, if the attitude of the artist was friendly and personable towards the other artists represented, the enthusiasm for how powerful art is in general, and how much she or he believe in their own work. All the artists there believe so much in their work, in fact, that all of the work is being sold for a tenth or a fifteenth of what its worth. The artists want people to have it.

In the vein of artist-networking, no one falls by the wayside for Rick and Chad. One artist who had a stroke recently, made such close ties with them that the first day of her regained speech she wanted to spend with Rick and Chad- talking about art. That was the day of our interview.

However, Rick does not care much to talk to magazines. He would much rather talk to children about art in their lives. He told me that even if he’s wearing a suit at openings, he will sit on the floor and play with the kids who come in. Rick even encourages people to bring their pets. He wants to talk to whoever wants to discuss art and life with him. I was even surprised when he asked me who instead of the name of who I was marrying. Even if he didn’t know him, he wanted to. And if you want to ask him if you should be a commercial artist because it makes your mother happy, he will be intent on telling you to do it only if you want to.

These guys love people and do not have to boast about their humanity. He and Chad are blunt and are always more concerned with you.

Rick is also a wedding planner and runs Coup de Gras, which sponsors the gallery. The catering business keeps High Risk alive, so that he can dispel the notion that art can not earn one a livelihood. Anyone can book any type of party, furnished with a lovely reception and the best food one can eat in town. The gallery is a blessing on all events.

Everyday Rick is still finding new things in the art work, which is laid into the enormous lacquered floor. This permanent collection makes theirs the only gallery of its kind. When Rick sees how his vision replenishes itself with surprising him still, he is satisfied that there isn’t anything he doesn’t like about his job.

He looks around the room and says, " Five-hundred years ago, Renoir, Van Gogh, and Michelangelo were all considered masters. I see this wall and I think that maybe this is not what the people are looking for nowadays. Maybe in five-hundred years Michelle Sharp or C.C. Wallace will be considered masters. I dunno. Being a master seems to come with time and death."

Although they may not be professional painters themselves, I’ll call Chad and Rick masters. Without them we would not see all of this.

I don’t mind showing up 500 years early.

Photos courtesy of Jeffrey Blacklaw and High Risk Gallery

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