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Oli Watt Remakes Pop Culture Art with Inspiration from His Kids

By Josh McGhee | October 10, 2013 9:01am
 The Hyde Park Art Center has opened four exhibits since the beginning of September.
Art Exhibit Opening
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HYDE PARK — The sign at the entrance reads "pretty vacant" in cursive, pink neon lights.

It's not a welcoming sign at a cheap motel but an invitation into "Oli Watt: Here Comes a Regular," an exhibit that opened at the Hyde Park Art Center a couple weeks ago. The exhibit tell us the story of Watt, a regular father whose work is inspired by his children.

"I spend lots of time with them watching cartoons, listening to music and reading books. A lot of it is just popular culture," Watt said, explaining how the "pretty vacant" sign came to fruition.

"I made this because I was being reintroduced to the Sex Pistols by my son," Watt said. "Somewhere between those lyrics, 'Oh we're so pretty, Oh so pretty we're vacant,' I thought of a hotel sign."

The exhibit at the center, 5020 S. Cornell Ave., is based on a song by The Replacements. The song is about bar regular, but the exhibit focuses on regular aspects of life — though it does have some references to "drinking and bars."

Watt said the artwork comes "from things I make from uninteresting objects."

"I look at a lot of print-making and multiples, things for regular everyday objects, and sometimes I try to remake them as an exercise. Something will happen and I change it," Watt said.

Watt came to Chicago when he was 25, working at an art supply store across the street from the Art Institute of Chicago. That's where he saw a lot of Art Institute students and realized he wanted to go back to school and go there.

Watts, now 45, is an assistant professor in print media at the Art Institute. He was overjoyed to have an exhibit displayed at the center.

"It's really exciting because the Hyde Park Art Center has a specific history with Chicago [artists]. I'm really happy to be a part of that space," Watt said.

Watt's exhibit is displayed along with three other exhibits that recently opened at the center: "Light and the Unseen," "A Study in Midwest Appropriation" and "Amanda Gentry: Expanding."

"Light and the Unseen" displays work from seven artists using light to explore ideas about how we see the world. This exhibit features works in which Pamela Bannos scans old pictures and digitally inserts orbs of light.

"In Amanda Gentry: Expanding," Gentry uses repetitive pillow-like objects as metaphor for physical and mental weight of the human experience.

"In A Study in Midwestern Appropriation," Michelle Grabner examines use of appropriation by artists based out of the Midwest.