We’re moving! As new members of the Logan Square community, we’re talking with some of our favorite businesses about why they love their neighborhood. Follow the progress of our new mixed use commercial retail and loft apartment, Logan Certified, on our blog. We’ve renovated and refreshed Logan Certified from its humble beginnings as a food and liquor store and we have a residential loft and commercial office/retail space to rent. The building had fallen into disrepair on the outside, but upon exploration, we found many salvageable elements and of course kept the “bones” of the building, a crucial component of our favoring adaptive reuse over the generally more wasteful demo/rebuild cycle. Our fifth and final new neighbors are Jason and Erin Brammer, whose murals you have probably seen in Logan Square (hint: it’s generally a large octopus and a cacophony of color). Don’t forget to check out our other interviews in this series with Bric-a-Brac, The Dill Pickle, Boulevard Bikes and Antique to Chic.
The day of our photoshoot the sky was overcast and grey, but all the better to highlight the bold color and lush texture that Jason Brammer’s work adds to his microcosm of Logan Square public art. In adjacent Humboldt Park, where we visited him in his studio, the facade is covered in teal tentacles, dramatic irises and windows to another world. Perhaps his most recognizable work is the mural on the side of the Boiler Room with its orange striped arms and magenta suckers clasping three (from the looks of it chilled) cans of PBR. But Brammer’s been making his mark in Logan Square for much longer, from a show at The Comfort Station in 2011 where his futuristic/steampunk/mixed media pieces popped into three dimensions, to a stint at Dunlays, to another Octopus on Milwaukee Avenue (that has since been painted over—such is the life with street murals) Jason and his wife/manager Erin have been getting inspired by their environs in Logan Square for eleven years and don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. Read on for their favorite places in the square both present and long shuttered and the genesis of Jason’s portrayal of octopi in his artwork.
LET’S TALK ABOUT YOUR MURALS IN LOGAN PARTICULARLY. HOW DID YOU DECIDE WHERE THEY WOULD GO AND WHAT THEY WOULD CONTAIN?
Jason Brammer: The first piece that I did in Logan Square was through Billy Craven with Galerie F, who was procuring spots for Milwaukee Avenue. I wanted to do a piece that was an underwater creature—an octopus piece—and create some spatial depth and illusionism through the space. People saw that piece, and then I was approached to do The Boiler Room.
Erin Brammer: That wall was chosen for us. It was commissioned by The Boiler Room and PBR, who were both great to work with. It was an adventure. Jason needed to use a lift to do it, and we ended up having to remove the neighbor’s fence. Some of the managers at The Boiler Room even pitched in on painting the base coat for the wall. Jason was out there for about three weeks up on the scissor lift.
JB: It was the first time where I was able to go vertical. You really don’t want to surprise people when they commission your mural, so there were a lot of meetings to make sure everyone was happy. I learn and practice my technique in the studio, so the murals are more just an implementation of that technique.
HOW DID YOU GET YOUR MURAL TO SCALE?
JB: I figure out where the center point is. For this piece, it was the eye. Then everything else radiates out of that. I used an automotive spray gun. I had a composition in mind, but it was a gestural piece. It was completed last summer towards the end of July.
OCTOPI FIGURE A LOT INTO YOUR WORK. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WHY THAT IS?
JB: It’s kind of a long story. It started out as these aliens descending from some type of sky. You’re looking out on this rural landscape, painted in sepia tones; the future and the past colliding. So you had this invasion-type narrative [gesturing to other work]. The idea was you have this time traveler traveling from the 1800’s who went into the future and took all these photographs and came back to the 1800s. And then I’m finding the pictures that he took of the future.
But the octopus imagery now has also been influenced by map making and by Albrecht Durer with the really detailed ink drawings. And intaglio print-making techniques. I’m aging the papers and making them look like found artifacts. It’s really influenced by the Art Nouveau aesthetic of the late 1800s. With those tentacles you can get a sense of rhythm and motion through a piece, which draws the eye.
EB: When he first started doing those octopus paintings, this is maybe in 2007, 2008, it really resonated with people who saw the work. At the time we were doing art fairs, and people would just come up, and they’d be like “Oh you know H.P. Lovecraft”, like Cthulhu. He’s like a tentacled deity. It’s interesting though, because in Lovecraft’s stories, Cthulhu can have mind control over artists and can kind of like drive them insane and drive them to paint images of Cthulhu.
JB: I was like “who’s Cthulhu?” So that was sort of ironic.
HOW HAS THE NEIGHBORHOOD INFLUENCED YOUR ARTWORK?
JB: Originally, I was really influenced by the EL tracks. Just seeing the shape of those and the color palettes from that and how things decay in the city. How rust affects things.
EB: Comfort Station was probably one of the best shows in Logan Square. We worked with David Keel and Jessie Devereux. The opening coincided with the opening of the Milwaukee Avenue Arts Fest, which used to go through that area. We were there that entire weekend and we sold a lot. That was just an all around great experience and we met a lot of people in the neighborhood that way, too. People who have subsequently collected his work and who have just been generally good people to know. Before that, he had shows at New Wave and at Dunlay’s. He had a show in 2015 at Galerie F. It was a solo show where he debuted lots of little drawings (the Creaturology series).
JB: We sold a huge piece from Dunlay’s. This guy from Texas was there and he bought a six foot painting. I was surprised.
ANY NEW MURALS ON THE HORIZON?
JB: One of the things in the neighborhood that I’m looking for are definitely opportunities to paint. On our street and around the Blue Line.
EB: We’d love to do one on the Chase bank building.
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE THINGS TO DO IN LOGAN SQUARE?
JB: I’ve done some drumming in the neighborhood, by the monument. Then when the kids come around we hand out shakers. It’s fun hanging out at Comfort Station when they do screenings in the evenings. And we go to The Logan Theater all the time.
EB: One of my favorite things that happens in Logan Square is Tour De Fat, the Fat Tire festival every year. I always block that out in my calendar. I went to Lost Lake with some girlfriends and got way too drunk. Those drinks are deceptively delicious—PSA for the community. We used to go to The Whistler when that first opened. Besides coming over to the studio, we rarely leave our neighborhood [laughs]. There’s just so many great places to eat. Our favorite restaurant is Reno. Lula has been in the neighborhood for decades. We saw Fred Armisen eating there one time [laughs]. A new place that I like a lot is Same Day Cafe. It’s really tasty. Masa Azul on Diversey is delicious. They make really good margaritas from scratch.
JB: Another place we like a lot is Township. The Boiler Room is great. I think it’s cool that Galerie F is in the neighborhood. Something a little different, more affordable art. They’re bringing a lot of young artists to town.
EB: And just making the neighborhood cool with all the street art. We just love the neighborhood. We’ve been here for 13 years, and we have no plans on leaving. And it’s really exciting to see more coming to Diversey.
JB: We used to hang out at the Rinky-Dink, there was that toy shop around the corner. Right around where Dunlay’s was. And Dunlay’s was another place before, called the Boulevard Cafe. There was this place, it’s not there anymore, called The Rooster. Are you interested in places that are gone? [laughs].
JB: Here’s when I realized I was getting older, was when I walked down to the skate park, and watched the kids skate. I was like ‘holy cow, I’m officially old. Like I don’t feel the need to skate here. I enjoy just watching the good skaters down there.”
Now that there’s a lot to do in the neighborhood, my late night days are sort of behind me. When my nieces come to town, there’s awesome places to go. I’m like “I see a lot of people hanging out in front of here. I think this is where people go to drink alcohol, in this building.” [both laugh]
EB: We’re in our forties, so you know, we don’t party so much anymore. But it’s like ‘if only all these cool bars were here when we first moved into the neighborhood.’
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE THING ABOUT LOGAN SQUARE?
EB: I love the boulevard system, and it just feels like a neighborhood. We have the best farmer’s market. You go down and you hang out with all the neighbor’s dogs. All the summertime festivals are great. When we were looking to move out of Wicker Park, Logan Square was always on my mind. We were looking at places in like the South Loop and Printer’s Row. But we wanted trees! There’s so many trees here.
The Brammer’s studio adds lots of visual interest to the passersby
Brammer did this poster for a My Morning Jacket show in NYC in 2010. Verbatim from his website: “the concept behind the poster is that the band is a mechanical control station powering a futuristic city off in the distance and this futuristic city is “Z”.’