Dan Grzeca is a longtime partner artist of IPaintMyMind, and a screen printing master. He works and lives in Chicago, but has had work exhibited all over the country. He has created posters and other visual material for tons of well known bands including the likes of U2 and the Black Keys!
If you’re a Chicagoan, you probably recognize Dan’s unique style from events at local venues like the Empty Bottle or the Hideout. That’s something we love about Dan Grzeca: his deep roots to the Chicago community. We also admire the accessibility that he has built into his work, using print making to be able to sell pieces of art for lower price points, and making his work available to more people. As someone who began collecting art through concert posters and art prints, this stance is close to my heart.
Read on to learn about Dan Grzeca’s inspirations, teaching his daughter to draw owls, and what it’s like to work with bands like Phish.
EVAN: For those who somehow don’t know of you – who the hell is Dan Grzeca (pronounced “Jetsah”)?!
Dan Grzeca: I’m an artist on the North Side of Chicago. I’ve been turning my drawings into screenprints for the last 12 years or so. Probably longer. My mind gets fuzzy when I think back farther than 10 years as it reminds me that I’m not 20 anymore.
EVAN: People who are into screenprints know about you whether they’re in Chicago or not. Can you trace your success back to a particular project that has kept peoples’ eyes on your work since?
Dan Grzeca: Hmmm. I wouldn’t say a particular project per se. More likely the cumulative build up of working with bands that now have a larger following (Black Keys), and Chicago-based musicians that now have a worldwide following (Ken Vandermark). I think working to make posters for visiting musicians from the European Jazz scene helped to get my name out overseas a bit. Frank Kozik said that making a poster for a band was like making a giant business card for your artwork, and I think he is correct. People that follow my art may have originally been attracted to a poster I made for a music event etc.
EVAN: What can you say about the expansion and growing popularity of screen prints amidst the modern art landscape? I’ve always felt that the price points on screen prints have enabled a level of accessibility that maybe wasn’t established in the art world previously…
Dan Grzeca: Exactly. It’s taking the Diego Rivera philosophy of art literally, in that it’s something everyone can have. Making that a reality, is very appealing to me. I love to paint, but I can’t sell my paintings for $50. I can sell a lot of art prints for $30–$100 and people get a beautiful piece of art to hang in their home. In general, in the art world, as far as gallery sales go – screenprints go for a higher price but the editions are smaller or the artist is famous. Like Jeff Koons famous.
EVAN: What’s more fun, making a poster for a Phish show or doing a random art print?
Dan Grzeca: Well, I appreciate paying work, for sure, and all the bands I’ve worked with have helped me to pay my bills. The dynamic of making a poster for a band is different for sure. I think of some way to make what I’m doing, in my visual vocabulary, work with the band in question. I’m always working on art prints…I have sketchbooks with themes to make prints for the next 2 years, its all about having the time to get them all done. There is a definite undercurrent to everything I work on, no question about it. So, I love making prints, and I love doing something rad and fun for a band like the Jesus Lizard. It’s all good…
EVAN: The link between rock posters and the art community clearly dates back to the early days of Bill Graham, and that interaction between music and art has fueled countless collaborations since. You must feel like a contributor to that historical partnership between image and sound… did you always know you were going to find a way to live this creatively? Ever any doubt in your mind as to the viability of it, or did that not even enter into your mental equation?
Dan Grzeca: No idea. I got into designing posters and then printing my own work through a chance meeting at an art show in Chicago 15 years ago at the Around the Coyote Festival, where I was showing my paintings. Artist Bob Hartzell, who was printing at Screwball Press, urged me to try to make a poster, so I worked with him to create something for the Vandermark Five, who had just formed. As soon as I did it, John Corbett (of Corbett vs Dempsey Gallery, music writer, critic and overall impresario) who was putting together the Improvised Music Festival at the Empty Bottle, encouraged me to make more posters for the Improvised Music scene. It led to me making a poster for Steve Lacy, who is one of my heroes. From there it went on its own path, and eventually became all I do – making art and printing it. I spent about 8 years running a small decorative painting company, so that enabled me to buy time to make art continuously, as well as employ other artists and musicians like Nick Butcher and Jeff Mueller.
EVAN: Seeing how much you enjoy your kids is one of the really cool parts of who you are, as a person and as an artist. Your eldest daughter even created the art for a shirt you had for sale at the Renegade Craft Fair…was that her debut?! T’was awesome…
Dan Grzeca: My girls rule the school. My oldest, Ella, was watching me work on a scratchboard drawing of a totem of owls one morning and said “I can’t draw owls.” Which of course immediately turned into a little lesson on breaking down things into small parts to figure out how to draw them. 5 minutes later she was drawing some serious owls…
EVAN: That’s perfect man. When I saw you at Renegade I purchased your Fred Hampton print….you don’t tend to get overtly political in your content, what made you venture into said territory?
Dan Grzeca: I’ve shied away from overt politics as I don’t think I can do it as well as one of my heroes, George Grosz. That being said, Progressive Magazine asked me to make an illustration for their 2011 calendar based on the FBI/Chicago Police assassination of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark in 1969. I jumped at the opportunity since I know the history very well. I’d wanted to make artwork about in different forms throughout the years but without much success. I broke the image down into the purest forms using the 2 colors I had to work with: In black line, you see the bed Fred Hampton slept in, shared with his girlfriend, and was killed in. In red, you see the Chicago Flag superimposed. I think it was effective in getting the point across.
EVAN: It definitely was man. As soon as I saw it, I knew I’d have to scoop it up. Which brings me to your style…it’s extremely distinct…I remember a quote from Cody Hudson about settling on his style out of necessity, in that, well, he said that it was basically the only way he knew how to draw. Is the style you employ for your prints just Dan-on-paper?
Dan Grzeca: I like that quote from Cody. I would say that the way I draw is the result of drawing a lot! I have strived to make what I make look like me, and not emulate the flavor of the month.
EVAN: What has being an artist taught you about yourself?
Dan Grzeca: To ask a lot questions.
EVAN: Name one screen printer and one musicians/band people should check out.
Dan Grzeca: One screen printer – my answer would be the often overlooked illustrator Ethan D’Ercole, whose cityscapes are nothing short of amazing. Music to check out – nothing on vinyl yet but check out the YouTube videos if the Ex/brass Unbound ensemble (with horns from Ken Vandermark and others- insane). As far as Chicago bands, I don’t think it gets better than D Rider right now.
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