The Morpho Gallery, located near Foster and Damen, is one of those small, out-of-the-way gems of a place that makes urban legends. It is not just small, it is very small – only two rooms, one of which houses the main show and the director’s desk, and the other, which features gallery artists and a wonderful collection of antique prints. There is a lot to see here, despite the small size, with lots of wonderful prints in bins to thumb through as well as a large selection of fairly small paintings on the walls.
Director David Leigh has a double life: He is a gourmet chef as well as a gallery director, and he seems to get a thrill serving gourmet snacks to patrons at gala openings. He favors Chicago artists and photographers. Of his gallery, he comments, “A lot of Chicago artists appeal to me; whether figurative, landscape, surreal or abstract. I look for things that are well-crafted and imaginative in any style. I like to carry a mix of things, each of which has something unique.” While the gallery offerings are truly a mix, the surreal and fantastic seem particularly prominent at many of its shows.
Artists featured in Leigh's gallery include latter-day surrealist Karena Karras, who often shows fantastically tall, slim women with bird-like heads wandering through dreamy neo-classical chambers.
Printmakers include artists Berte Menco, whose work is inhabited by shy, airy characters that might have wandered in from a latter day Commedia del Arte troupe, and Stephen Hazard, whose black-and-white etchings conjure Brueghel-like visions of hellish places heavily populated with creatures who are half-beetle and half-human.
There are very nice pastels by Judith Roth showing heads and sections of the body. These works have a warmth and immediacy that is refreshing, showing a touch of classicism (one thinks of Antoine Watteaus’s chalk drawings) and a touch of realism, but they are done in the broad strokes that show the influence of latter-day expressionists.
In the back room you can see a wonderful collection of old 19th century prints from the eras of Lautrec and art nouveau, as well as old graphics from magazines (often at surprisingly low prices) which are beautifully designed and full of zest. These alone are worth the trip to the gallery.
Openings at Morpho are fun, informal, and party-like. Toward the end of one opening, a few patrons asked to use the director’s computer to watch an old Douglas Fairbanks movie, and had a great time talking art and watching the old silent comedy on You-Tube. A lot of known artists like to hang out there, even those who don’t exhibit at the gallery, making it a good place to meet interesting people.
The art is generally of excellent quality, and it is reasonably priced. Openings run late, usually until 11 p.m., so art patrons can drop in after other galleries have closed and have some late-night toasts of paté and wine while gazing at art. One final quality makes this gem truly the stuff of urban legends: Street parking is usually easy to find nearby!
— Robert Kameczura
Below are examples of artwork representative of that shown at the Morpho Gallery. Click any image to enlarge.