Satellite Resident Artist: Allie Shapiro
"Art is also so subjective. If you’re creating, you’re doing it right."
In this interview, I spoke with Allie Shapiro, our Satellite Resident Artist, featuring pieces from their Beautiful Masculinity project…
Collin: Tell me about how you made it to Chicago—where you’re from, what brought you here, that sort of thing.
Allie: I’m from Michigan—the Metro Detroit area. So you won’t see this, but I’m holding my hand up and you point to Detroit and say where you’re from in relation to that. But I came here for college—I went to Columbia College, graduated two years ago now. And now I just live here, thriving.
C: I know this because I know you, but you didn’t study art.
A: I did not! I studied Comedy Writing. I’m, uh, a very successful comedy writer. I write for the popular evening show, Saturday Night Live. It’s weird that they have me bring stuff from here… I’m just kidding. I actually do still write though. I am currently writing a sitcom, and I just finished my pilot.
I’ve always done art—since I was little. My mom is an artist, so that’s where it kinda started. I debated studying it in college, but I felt like I had a handle on it and didn’t really want to study it like that. I wanted it to be a sort of free time kind of thing. Which is nice now, because whenever I make money off of it, I’m not stressed about it. It’s not something that really gets me down. If I have too much going on, I don’t feel bad if I’m like, "I need to take a load off." Right now it’s a really good creative outlet for me as I’m trying to figure out what’s next.
C: What does your mom do?
A: She does murals. I’m the youngest of three, so when I was little and my siblings went to Elementary school, my mom would take me on her painting jobs. We would go to different people’s houses and she would paint on the wall and I would scribble on a pad of paper. So she and I have that going—that thing between us.
C: Do you think that has influenced your style?
A: Kind of in the way that she was very of the mind that if you want to create something, you should and you can and you have the ability. There’s a technical way to do this, but also art is also so subjective. If you’re creating, you’re doing it right. So being raised with that idea made me unafraid to explore different things with my own style. It was pretty cool growing up with an actual working artist because art school was never a debate—if I wanted to do it or not, or if I could—because my mom was always very supportive of that stuff. And even now, when I talk to adults who are hesitant about creating, it’s been foreign to me. I’ve always been like, “just start!”
C: Tell me about the five pieces you have up at Satellite and the Beautiful Masculinity series.
A: I was inspired to start because of the Obama’s portraits because I liked that Barack’s was more feminine and Michelle’s was more masculine, and I had never seen that before in a piece of visual art at that scale. So that really inspired me—his “feminine” features and attributes are the things that make him really a great leader. And same with Michelle in the opposite way—I feel like the things that make her “masculine” are what make her a better leader as well. So at first, I did one of him because that inspired me. And then I was thinking about other people in my life who possess more fluidity across their gender representation and their whole energy—who they are. My brother really inspires me because he’s one of the most gentle men that I know and that means a lot to me as a person who has struggled with being around men. Having him in my life has always been nice because he leads with comfort and grace, rather than aggressive stuff. My fiancé’s brothers also possess more gentle-masculine qualities.
At first, it wasn’t a queer-focused thing, it was just people in general no matter how they identified. And then I did some more and I started talking to other queer people about it and I really loved that. I spoke to them individually about the project and what it meant, and asked them for what flowers they liked. That was funny because everybody had a specific flower—nobody that I talked to was like, “oh, whatever.” Everyone was like, “these are the flowers that I like and yes, you can absolutely do those only.” So that was a pretty fun discovery. But it was also nice talking to those different people about how they present, and I liked making other people feel seen. I haven’t felt like I have had that specific impact in my visual art quite yet.
C: How many pieces are in the full series? Is it a continuous project?
A: It is. 10. I would like to do more. It makes me feel good because I’m also exploring my own versions of that. Doing it has been really comforting to me because I think people saying yes to letting me put them in this series is brave. It’s a weird conversation to have with a lot of people. So many people don’t know even the concept of what toxic masculinity is, so taking the time to spend an hour drawing somebody else and those elements of them, for me, is empowering and comforting and therapeutic.
C: You also did 365 days of self portraits last year.
A: I did.
C: That was around the time you started focusing on producing art full time?
A: Yes. I had just graduated college and was pursuing comedic performing in the Chicago comedy community pretty heavily, and it was not giving me the results that I liked. And I also wasn’t putting the kind of energy I liked into it, I didn’t like the person that I was there. So I was painting more, and I was like, I should be painting every day, because if you do something every day you’re going to get better at it. So I was like, I’m going to paint something every day for a year, and I’m going to make it a thing. And then it was like, what will be my subject or what will be every day’s prompt? And then I was like, why not myself? Which was weird for me because I don’t think very highly of myself, I have a hard time talking about—actually this is quite surprising for me, that I’m able to talk so much, and I actually think that project helped that. I don’t consider myself something that is considered beautiful or something worth looking at, so I started doing that and it was very interesting to me emotionally. Every month I did in the style of an artist. So the first month I did just pen and ink, but the second month I did in Van Gogh’s style, and then I did Lichtenstein—which was very cool—and Picasso… So it was kind of a study of me but also a study of art in general. From that, I’ve gotten a lot of work. I did only make it 10 months of the year, which is actually pretty impressive, and I used to beat myself up for it. And I fell in love in the middle of it, so if that’s any testament to my commitment—because you know when you start falling in love and you don’t want to do anything else…
C: Tell me about your style—what inspires you in the world and how does that translate to your work? I know you do commission work as well.
A: When I’m doing commissions and stuff like that, it’s more commercial and about making money. So I do portraits of people or pets, pictures of locations and buildings, and I actually do really like doing that because people love them. I have the most delightful interactions with people—either online or in person—when they see them done. If it’s a bigger piece, I’ll share the process along with people—this is [the piece] in pencil, this is a basecoat. It’s really fun because during the time I’m working on it, that person and I will form this special little bond. Sometimes they will tell me about the subject when I haven’t even asked which is delightful! Or the buildings especially, people will share the story of how long they lived there or what they’ve done there. I did a series for someone that was for their wedding that was the first place she and her now husband kissed when they got engaged, where they had their first apartment—I’m getting chills thinking about it! It was so lovely to share that moment with her. Selfishly, for me, it’s very nice to go through that.
When I’m creating for me, I like doing portraits of people most. People are interesting and also so colorful. They have a lot of elements to them that I think our culture doesn’t like to talk about. Sometimes even with portraits, the difference between expressions, there are so many things within them. A simple line can change everything.
C: What inspires you the most right now?
A: That’s a good question. This has caught me off guard! Last year I went to the West coast for the first time. I fell most uproariously in love with the mountains there. I have never felt that centered in my life. Right now, maybe those mountains might be the answer. They’re never going anywhere, and they’re always awesome no matter what anyone else says or does.
C: You live in Ravenswood-ish?
A: I live just north of Ravenswood, right outside of Andersonville.
C: Do you feel that being in this area specifically, or just Chicago in general, has affected your artwork?
A: Being a member of multiple artistic and creative communities here has been a learning experience and also a challenge in some ways, of course. In positive ways, the architecture here is breathtaking and inspiring because it’s got a lot to offer. When I started doing building pictures, it was just places in Chicago that I liked. And then people saw them and were like, “I want one.” With the physical architecture, I have a little romance happening.
This is my first time living up here, in a quieter place. It’s important to me to have studio space in my apartment, so everywhere I’ve lived I’ve made sure that there is a corner or something. Right now I have this really great window in my living room, so I have my draft table right in front of there. There’s this big tree outside so it’s all green outside the window, which is nice while living in the city. I think throughout my six years living here there have been ups and downs with my relationship with the artistic community. But as an artist—in a literal way—having my feet on the ground here has been positive.
Allie is a Chicago based artist and illustrator. Allie is thrilled to have their series "Beautiful Masculinity" at The Satellite Cafe. This project aims to highlight people who posses a masculine presence and/or elements of masculinity that is not toxic or an insecure performance of strength. Their work has previously been showcased at First Slice, The Playground Theater, and Your Happy Place Liquors. You can also find them on instagram (@allieshapiro) where they post frequently and also take commission requests.