Creative Quarantine: Artist Steve Walters

Screwball Press Screen Print | © Steve Walters

Artist Steve Walters chats with Esthetic Lens about what his life has looked like during the pandemic. Walters discusses how his creative practice has been altered during the past year and shares how members of the Chicago community have inspired him during these times.

1.How are you holding up?

Oof. That’s a big question. The short answer is that I’m getting by. I guess my outlook changes day to day. But I’ve been in a good place, at least creatively, lately. Not being terrified of reading the news to see what new fresh hell is happening in the government seems to help. I’m looking forward to returning to the usual business-as-usual horribleness that we’re used to, unfortunately.

Collage | © Steve Walters

2. Has Covid-19 had an effect on your work? If so, in what way?

Hugely. Aside from the obvious fact that there is no live music, hence, no posters for shows. Back in March, I naively (optimistically?) thought that we’d get through this in a couple months. I also thought that I would use the time to start making my own art-for-art’s-sake. But I learned that I depend on deadlines more than I realized. But I’ve been working on disciplining and motivating myself, and I feel like I’m getting better at it.

3. What are some of the unexpected creative things or projects that have developed for you while navigating the current state of the world?

Well, the first thing I did was to start printing t-shirts to sell on my Big Cartel page. I think it was 20+years ago that I said I’d never do shirt jobs for other people again. But then Hideout asked if I could do totes for them, and I’m not going to say no to friends who own my favorite bar where my son was almost born. Then Edmar, The King of Bridgeport asked if I could do shirts for Marz Brewery and some of the thousand other projects that he runs. And he’s such a good, community-oriented guy, that I wanted to help him, so he’s been keeping me busy, which I am grateful for. Many thanks also to my friend Scott Marvel for letting me borrow some of his spare t-shirt equipment.

2020 Waco Bros. poster designed by Steve Walters, won Gig Poster of the Month from Chicago Reader | © Steve Walters

Taintstore and Pandammit novelty tees designed by Steve Walters and Jennie Kay Banta at Burgoo Chicago | © Steve Walters

Then, with the help of our kind landlords that we rent my shop from, I got some extra space upstairs to print in and we turned the storefront at 1736 West Greenleaf Avenue into a gallery/shop called Burgoo Chicago in Rogers Park. My girlfriend, Allison Gerlach runs it and we know a lot of artists so we packed the place with a lot of different stuff. The name Burgoo comes from a Kentucky stew that is known for having a little bit of everything in it and it is only open Saturdays and Sundays. December went pretty well for us with the holidays and all. I expect January and February to be slow, but I think it might turn into more of a gallery with actual shows of specific artists and opening parties when it is safe to do so. We’ll see.

Allison Gerlach and Steve Walters, owners of Burgoo Chicago | © Steve Walters

Other than that, I’ve been dusting off my design chops and I’m working on a book cover, a logo job or two, Joe Shanahan is commissioning a design and printing for a poster for the GMAN Tavern and another project I can’t talk about yet. Busy is good.

Steve Walters exquisite corpse style collaboration with Pam Lee | © Steve Walters

4. Who do you wish were still with us to provide pointed commentary on what we are collectively experiencing and why?

George Carlin. I don’t even have to pause to think about that one. While I have always been a big fan, it seemed like in his last few HBO specials, he was really at the top of his form in terms of pointing out the absurdity of American politics and voters without being partisan about it.

2020 Arts in the Dark poster designed by Alex Pataky and Steve Walters. Steve has designed posters for Arts in the Dark for all three years | © Steve Walters

5. What artists, performers, writers, have you come across recently that have created poignant work about where we are at right now?

Honestly? Nothing I’ve seen comes to mind as having a having a serious artistic “truth” that speaks to where we are. There have been a lot of humorous/angry things that I appreciate. I think that’s import while we are going through it, but I also think that it is going take some time to get a real perspective for someone to really create something that speaks to our situation. That said, I think the aforementioned Scott Marvel, who has been running the Give a Shi*t project to benefit Streetwise for quite a few years has really hit home harder than usual this year. I’m always a fan of projects that strive to make a difference in the community at large. Ed Marszewski is another example of someone who has been using art for community benefit. Heather Whinna/Steve Albini’s Letters to Santa project is another. All of these seemed especially important to me this year.

Screwball Press Logo Screen Print | © Steve Walters

6. What are you looking forward to?

Hugging my mom.

Steve Walters with a Screen Print | Photo Credit: ©Allison Gerlach

“Steve Walters was central to a resurgent interest in screen-printing by artists involved with Chicago’s burgeoning alternative music (or independent rock music) scene during the late 1990s-early 2000s, a period when Chicago-based recording labels increasingly gave opportunities to little-known bands and artists. In 1991, Walters opened Screwball Press, a printing venture specializing in the production of fliers, posters, CD covers, and other items for Chicago’s independent rock music community. Walters began printing for the local entertainment venue, the Lounge-Ax. By 1993, Screwball Press was printing posters for nationally known musical groups and major record labels. Screwball Press operated on a small scale until the studio reopened in a larger space in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood in 2003. Screwball Press served as a training ground for other artists interested in traditional screen-printing techniques. One result has been thriving and collaborative networks of artists invested in the idea of elevating ephemeral objects, such as the poster, to high works of art.” – Explore Chicago Collections.