The two paintings by Chicago artist David Anthony Geary displayed prominently in the newest Starbucks in Chicago’s South Side Englewood neighborhood weren’t conceived for the location, but the ideas behind the works align strikingly with the store’s mission.
The Starbucks at 63rd and Halsted streets, which celebrates its grand opening today (September 28), marks another step in a program to open stores in diverse, low- to medium-incomes communities across the U.S. Like predecessors in Ferguson, Missouri, Phoenix and the Jamaica neighborhood in Queens, New York, the Englewood Starbucks aims to help revitalize its neighborhood by creating jobs and offering a place for young people to receive training. Starbucks plans to open stores in at least 15 communities, each including an onsite classroom space available for local nonprofit organizations.
On the lookout for local artistic talent to give the locale a strong local flavor, Eirik Agustsson, the Englewood store’s designer, reached out to design program manager Boise Walker, who in turn thought of Geary, who’d contributed some photos to another Windy City Starbucks a half-decade earlier.
“She had seen a lot of the work I had been doing of late,” said Geary, who’d returned to painting after exploring photography for a period. “She asked if I had any other contacts in the Chicago art community and I said, ‘Sure.’ I put together a list of seven or eight other artists whose portfolios were viewable online and I asked if it was OK if I put myself on that list.”
As Agustsson investigated the list, the creations of the 40-year-old native Chicagoan who’d assembled it stood out.
A South Side Perspective
“We were looking for an artist from the South Side of Chicago who understood the area better than most,” Agustsson recalled. “Something about David’s work resonated with me. He has this ability to take an image and add what you might call Easter eggs. His work isn’t just about face value; there’s a lot going on.”
Two pieces particularly appealed to Agustsson – a half-portrait of a split face with an American flag in the background and a series of men in suits. The former was a 1-by-2-foot painting that was too small for the space, while the later didn’t exist in physical form.
“I don’t do reproductions, but I let them know I could create something in the same vein,” Geary said.
The half-portrait, now expanded to 3 feet by 6 feet, is about “changing the narrative through portraiture of community members in the area I lived in and how they are presented,” said Geary, who grew up near Englewood in Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood.
“A lot of the store speaks about unity and togetherness and all working as a group,” Agustsson said. “For some reason, that portrait speaks to me about that subject. He has that ability to capture that sense that we’re all in this together. At least that’s the way his portraits make me feel and certainly that’s what the store is trying to do.”
The men-in-suits abstract is now a vibrant 6-by-9-foot reflection on how our style of dress can affect the way we are perceived.
“The initial idea was thinking about a huge wall on which the same image was repeated, but each version was unique in its own way,” he said. “They become an icon for the average person. Each of them represent different aspects, through color, texture and potential symbolism that may be embedded in the abstraction.”
Geary has had mixed feeling about artwork in commercial settings. Often, he remarked, art is featured with the understanding that public exposure may prompt potential sales.
“But who actually walks into a restaurant and says, ‘Hey, I want to buy some artwork’?” Geary said with a laugh. “I walk into a restaurant and say, ‘Hey, I want to buy some food!’”
He’s quite happy, however, to create commissioned works for a community hub like the Englewood Starbucks.
“I’ve always been of the mind of creating interesting things people want to see, so of course I love to go to places and see beautiful artwork,” he said. “The opportunity to have my work as part of that experience for someone else is definitely something I’m attracted to.”
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