Our last stop on the Slow Ride with New Belgium this Spring was a personal favorite. I’ve been a fan of Dan Grzeca's work since I first took notice of his iconic half-bird-half-other animal series on the walls of neighborhood cafes around Chicago overt the past decade. His cross-over into the rock band and craft beer world didn’t hurt either, making posters for Three Floyd’s Dark Lord Day and perhaps most recognizably, Apocalypse Cow.
Ending our series with a day of scratchboard and screen printing in his studio was as much motivated by my own desire to explore his creative space as it was to share his personality and skills with the rest of our Slow Ride crew.
Dan’s process is unique. He starts with a delicate hand-skill in scratch boarding, using a small board that he scrapes away at with an exact knife with elegant mark-making, pulling away a primed layer one scratch at a time. “Working on these boards means I can work anywhere,” says Dan. He often carries a board or three in his bag and works on the train. “My wife loves the elite boards when I’m done with them — they’re pretty and delicate looking — but I’m not happy with them until I’ve brutalized them on the way to a making a larger print."
To arrive at a full-size screen print, Dan photocopies the boards, blows them up to their resolution breaking-point, and then starts to create layers of color blocking with black paint and Sharpie on transparent layers. The result is a crunchy, noisy relationship between positive and negative space that’s come to define Dan’s style, and a restrained use of color in the screen printing process. While the distortion of the line-making creates Dan’s signature tone, the energy of the marks are still represented in high contrast.
I find a personal excitement and refuge in Dan’s work — his pieces can be found on the walls of both my home and GBH’s studio. His iconic animal/object hybrids are smart, energetic ideas brought to life. His dreamscapes and narratives are the upward visions of a simple philosopher who wrestles with earthly responsibilities. I can tell through his work that Dan is two pats father and one part punk kid from the 80s. He's an impressive example of an artist who can channel some of that artistic vision into a commercial practice as well, sometimes using only texture and tone to deliver a commentary of the world we share. This is what I sound like when I write about art, I guess.
Hosting a Slow Ride Session with Dan turned out to be a stellar idea. Not only did he share some unique skills and processes, but he also created a chill environment where people felt comfortable drawing and sketching their own ideas. Anyone who’s tried to get a classroom of adults to dig in and make something vulnerable knows how rare that is.
We were proud to hang the final Slow Ride print, and selections from Dan’s body of work at the final Collective party at Kaiser Tiger. Pat Berger pinned a cask, our friends from the Slow Ride Sessions set up shop, and we had a great time drinking beers and raising a few grand for the Rebuilding Exchange. And one lucky guy went home with a custom made bike from Heritage Bicycles that commemorated the series collaboration between GBH x New Belgium Brewing.
Thanks to everyone that came out over the last couple months to usher in the Chicago Spring with a few lazy Saturdays and night classes with some of the city’s best artisans. Want to catch up on where we’ve been and what we’ve done? Head over to the permanent Slow Ride Sessions page and take the deep dive. And bookmark that little slice of the web for next year.