Bringing the Underground Art Scene into the Fine Art World
By Vannesa Bernal
Many of today’s street artists are being discovered through unconventional methods. Some mark their territory near train stops or in alleyways, but some are posting their work to social media outlets such as Instagram, which local art dealer and gallery owner Sara Dulkin says has become one of the most efficient ways for artists to get recognition for their work.
Dulkin, an art dealer, curator and owner of West Town “anti-gallery” Chicago Truborn, named to honor both Chicago-born natives and transplant residents, says she uses social media platforms to find artists to showcase in her gallery. Using herself as a prime example, Instagram was her avenue into the world of the street art. After moving to Chicago about 11 years ago from the suburbs of Detroit, Dulkin became immersed in the community by searching Instagram for artists, actively discovering their work throughout the city streets and posting photos of her favorite findings on the app in hopes of being connected with the artists responsible for the work. “Through Instagram, I would see what [the artists] were doing and I would go out there, start meeting them and making connections with the actual artists,” she says.
Before moving to Chicago, Dulkin had begun a different career in education. After graduating from Northeastern Illinois University with a degree in early childhood education and teaching pre-school for five years in Lakeview, Dulkin says her focus began to gravitate elsewhere. “I was starting to make these connections with artists and learning more about myself,” Dulkin says. “I needed to work for myself and be a little bit more independent. Teaching ran its course. I was ready to do something more exciting and fun.”
As she began interacting with various Chicago street artists, she used Instagram to contact them when trying to buy their art or learn more about them as artists.
“When I first started getting interested in [street art], I would ask ‘Where can I go buy your work?’ or ‘Where do you sell your work?’ and most often the answer was that they had pieces in their living room,” she says. “It was underground and counterculture; there was a void that needed to [be] filled and a certain respect that wasn’t being fulfilled in the gallery scene.”
Dulkin has long, wavy black hair with streaks of gray and tattoos covering her arms. She wears a black T-shirt depicting a Bald Eagle wearing aviators and the words ‘Fuck Yeah’ displayed below. With her shirt tucked into a hunter green skirt that flows to her ankles and stops above her nude high-heeled wedges, Dulkin radiates a vibe that matches her gallery’s. “We try to keep [the gallery] approachable, inviting and affordable. That’s the main distinction I try to make between typical galleries and [Chicago Truborn],” she says. “Sometimes we call ourselves an anti-gallery [because] we don’t necessarily like the negative connotation associated with [other] galleries.”
Chicago Truborn stands out among the shops and restaurants nearby with its colorful murals displayed in the windows and a trendy, scripted sign in Old English calligraphy font scrawled across the front entrance of the gallery. The gallery is filled with paintings that showcase some of the most popular characters by street artists in the scene—some artists draw a monkey or use a special signature to make their work identifiable—and other paintings convey significant social messages, as well as a variety of installations of spray painted street cameras and makeshift items made into sculptures. “We chose this location because it has expansive window displays and our goal is to change the way [our] audience is introduced to artwork,” Dulkin says.
Chicago Truborn was founded in 2011 and the gallery’s first physical storefront opened in 2013 through capital and a clientele list Dulkin and her coworkers grew over time. Organizing a number of monthly pop up events and art shows as well as selling artwork at summer street festivals from 2011–2013 led to the gallery’s opening.
The name “Truborn” is a nod to native Chicagoans and those who chose to make Chicago their home. “[As] a Michigan native, I am one of those people who may not necessarily have been born and raised in the city but proudly call Chicago my home and have for over a decade,” Dulkin says. “We walk these streets, know the neighborhoods inside and out and we’re dedicated to contributing to our community.
Artists like Left Handed Wave, Mosher, Mr. Switch and a printing group from Rockford named Fatherless were some of the first artists to collaborate with Chicago Truborn in 2011, and some of them have gone on to receive popular commercial acclaim. More recently, Chicago Truborn has worked with hundreds of other artists by the names of Kashink, Sentrock, Ras Terms and Greve. “Collective consciousness and communal empowerment begins as a feeling and can only take shape through our actions,” Dulkin says. “The first step for us was to utilize local resources and support Chicago artists.”Through Chicago Truborn, Dulkin fills living rooms with art that might otherwise be discarded. That aspect of the gallery makes it a platform for artists to get recognition and to profit from their work. “We call ourselves an artist collective, a gallery but also a boutique,” she says. “We offer jewelry, T-shirts, prints—different things that people can shop for every day—not just a hefty piece of artwork.”
Chicago Truborn offers a variety of work at different prices that are more affordable than art at competing galleries. With smaller items including sticker packs for $5 and shirts for $20, original artwork in the gallery can go for $50–$350 and more substantial pieces priced around $500–$1,500. Dulkin says she is passionate about providing something for everyone, regardless of age. “You don’t want to walk by a gallery and feel intimidated or that you can only see through the window or that you can’t afford anything in there,” she says. “I want to provide affordable artwork to people who want to learn and who want to be collectors.”
Edited by Kyra Senese
Photos by Vannesa Bernal