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Chicagoan Sam Kirk shines through art
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times

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Sam Kirk was always drawn to use her imagination.

As a kid, for instance, she'd ride her Mickey Mouse-themed Big Wheel Racer in Bridgeport, and Kirk's imagination would soar in different directions, creating scenes out of the big brick buildings that surrounded her.

"Some of my favorite childhood memories include sitting on the edge of our sofa with my twin sister, Jenny, eating cereal and watching early morning cartoons, [such as] Woody Wood Pecker while waiting for the school bus," Kirk said. "My mind was stimulated with art from the minute I woke up, and I carry that with me even today.

"I drew on everything growing up, [from] napkins [to] the sides of my notebooks, and I found myself continuing to do this during meetings at work. I worked a corporate job, first in insurance for six years and then advertising for eight years. Advertising definitely fueled my desire to be an artist and prepared me for the industry. While working in advertising, I continued painting and began exhibiting my work with galleries. During this time I recognized a drastic shift in my interests. What was once a hobby became something that I was now using to emote and connect; it was enthralling."

Now 33, Kirk has homes in her native Chicago and New York City. She works as a multidisciplinary artist and owns a company called Provoke Culture, which sells artistic products that celebrate culture, while giving back to organizations that help others. She is an out lesbian, in a relationship.

"I was born attracted to art. My eyes have always been stimulated and my hands have always had this burning desire to create things," she said.

So her days now start early, often before the sun comes up. She paints with music blaring. That environment drives her inspiration, she said.

"My strengths [as an artist] are definitely my ability to mix multiple mediums while developing my ideas. I am constantly putting this into my work," Kirk said. "You can find my work on everything from t-shirts to murals to the concept and designs of restaurants. You can also find my work hanging on a wall in a gallery or in a custom construction for one of my ad agency clients. I don't limit myself and that is what helps me to stand out. It is what I enjoy most about my work because there isn't an opportunity for me to get bored. I am constantly generating new ideas. This process/ability has helped to build up ample clientele and collectors that benefit from my aptitude and appreciate my style. It is extremely rewarding.

"Art is a form of expression. It has the ability to draw people in, communicate a message in an authentically original way and impact the masses in a way that nothing else does. It is a necessity for my life in that it fills my heart with great energy and my mind with limitless possibilities."

Kirk's art roots have ties to this very publication. Well, to Windy City Times publisher Tracy Baim, to be exact. When Kirk was 19, Baim invited Kirk to exhibit her work in a new gallery she was opening called "High Risk" in Boystown. "I was thrilled. I was still figuring out my identity and painted quite a bit of work that explored this search," Kirk said. "Boystown was a dream neighborhood to me. As a young mixed girl that grew up on the South Side of Chicago, I didn't get to go there often, but Tracy gave me that opportunity.

"I remember being honored, yet very worried about the opportunity. My work was so personal. It was my way of communicating what I was going through. I didn't want to sell it and was worried that when I spoke with Tracy about this she would take me out of the show, but she didn't. She coached me through the pricing and as the youngest artist in the room, I was able to really enjoy my first opening without the extra anxiety. I am thankful for her guidance. She opened my eyes to a possibility that I may not have explored otherwise. I knew I had talent, but I did not have anyone in my immediate surroundings to help me see this path."

Kirk still has every piece that she exhibited at High Risk.

"One piece, my most cherished, hangs in my mother's house, and the rest are in my studio in Chicago," she said.

Kirk said the best thing about being an artist is the ability to impact others, create beauty and shed light on a multitude of experiences. "My life is filled with inspiration, non-stop ideas, fascination in small everyday matters and bigger-picture items," she said. "I am fortunate to create stories through my work, which is influenced by all the above and relate to my audience."

Kirk's art can be seen in several public locations in Chicago, such as murals throughout Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood. Plus, she designed the entire concept for the restaurant The Art of Chicken, 2022 N. Western, including the logo, layout, characters and more. Her work also is on display at Viper Alley in suburban Lincolnshire.

Kirk, in late 2014, wrapped up an exhibit in Miami at the Scope International Art Fair. She was one of two artists selected to exhibit work by curators for Red Bull during Art Basel 2014.

Growing Up, Chicago Syle

Kirk was born and raised on Chicago's South Side—and proud of it. Her family moved often and she noted that her mother "made sure we were engaged with different cultures on a daily basis." They lived in mostly white neighborhoods, but attended schools that were predominately Black or Latino.

"My Chicago upbringing has shaped my work and identity," she said.

"I lived in specific areas to certain groups, but the locations where we attended school gave us a slice of the many parts of the city. Growing up with kids from South Commons, Robert Taylor Homes, Ickes, Bridgeport, and other South Side neighborhoods provided a mix we would have never received otherwise. Because of this, we had the things we did in our neighborhood and the things that our friends brought from their neighborhood mixing into our day to day constantly."

Kirk admitted that, until recently, she shied away from being labeled an out lesbian artist.

"In a good amount of my [early] work, I avoided the subject and rarely spoke about it in discussions or interviews. My family and friends were always accepting, but somewhere between growing up in Chicago and dating women who did not have accepting families caused me to unintentionally hide this part of myself in my work," she said. "In the last two years that has all begun to change.

"I was in New York working on a project and I started to rediscover myself. [I] tired of seeing the difficulties that LGBT youth go through and knowing from experience what that felt like, [so] I decided to combine my marketing background with my artwork to help organizations that helped LGBT youth."

She started a social project with an exhibit that donated funds to the Center on Halsted's Youth Program and followed with an initiative that directly spoke to the mission and goals of Project Fierce Chicago.

Kirk's current partner also helped her coming-out. "She helped me notice when I was hiding my identity and filtering my actions," Kirk said. "She walked into my life at a time when I was literally in transition and the amount of emotion and stories I have yet to paint are all currently coming to surface. I've celebrated so many cultures, identities, and discussed social issues in my work, except my own, my participation in the LGBT community, and that is all about to change.

"I feel free in a way I haven't felt since I was a teenager and there is so much to discuss."

For instance, during her exhibit in Miami, Kirk showcased a piece labeled "Lesbian Gothic," featuring Frida Kahlo and Josephine Baker.

"I've worked hard to get to where I am and refuse to not create stories about the love and conflicts that impact me the most," Kirk said. "The LGBT community has been very good to me. We are a culture that has so many layers within it that need to be explored, celebrated and shared. I am honored to represent the LGBT community as an artist and am eager to see what comes from this build up that I have held inside for so long. I'm excited to be one of many LGBT artists that support our community through the arts and other initiatives that help us to be understood."

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