According to writer James Baughn, Webmaster of the Southeast Missourian, “The never-ending rivalry between St. Louis and Chicago has been one of the most intense in American history. While St. Louis has long maintained the edge when it comes to National League baseball, the same can’t be said about business or politics. The arts may well be one place where the Gateway City and the Windy City suspend their rivalry for the Greater Good.”
From the Gateway City to the Windy City, artist Sujata Tibrewala embodies the Midwestern Aesthetic through and through, in spite of her beginnings in India’s Pink City, Jaipur. The Midwestern Aesthetic of the 21st century isn’t exactly corn fields and apple pie. Coined by artists Stacie Johnson and Michael Behle in 2008, the term “Midwestern aesthetic” in the arts is driven by artists “feeling the responsibility to nurture their local community rather than being supported by it.” Johnson and Behle celebrated the artistic exchange between Chicago and St. Louis in their 2008 show “threehundredsix,” which they curated jointly at Hoffman LaChance Contemporary Gallery in St. Louis.
Half a decade later, the “threehundredsix” exhibit still resonates with both Chicagoans and St. Louisans, and the unique artistic synergy between the two cities has gained a new outlet in the form of F.I.R.E. Art Studios & Gallery, cofounded by Tibrewala and Merike Adams. F.I.R.E—for Feel, Introspect, Rejuvenate, Express—is based on the sort of inclusion that Johnson and Behle wrote about in 2008—a Midwestern aesthetic of support, community, integrity, and a perfect balance of spirituality and intellect.
That balance is something Tibrewala has continued to work her entire life to achieve, and it is clear from watching her growth as an artist that balance is an ongoing journey for her. She came to the U.S. as an engineer, firmly rooted in scientific principles, logic, and even a certain level of skepticism. Temper these with an almost mystical intuition and inclination toward the sublime, and the result is something the artist and others in her field term “artiscience,” or the theory and practice of integrating art and science. Sujata Tibrewala tells us it really isn’t as difficult as it sounds. “After all,” she says, “Da Vinci did it without the use of a slide rule or a computer!”
Now a full-time artist and educator, Tibrewala has gone full circle, from an artistically-inclined engineer to an artist with a scientific bent. However, to her, the change is not a diametric opposition, but a continuum, and while her themes seldom repeat from one work of art to the next, they are all stops along this continuum. Between the 306 miles that separate St. Louis and Chicago, though, Tibrewala notes a few differences.
“Chicago has much more infrastructure available for artists; resources are more limited for artists working in St Louis. For example, there are many facilities like shared studio spaces, framing services, and artist representation services, all at prices any artist can afford. In spite of all Chicago has to offer, it is easy for the artist to get lost in the jungle of art and quite simply, the possibility in Chicago. There are more opportunities, but competition can be fierce. With St. Louis being smaller and less centralized, it is easier for an artist to rise to the top.
“In St. Louis, I inadvertently became a link among the many art organizations I was involved with, such as the St. Louis Artists’ Guild, MySLART, Art World Association, and Chesterfield Arts. My artwork was also used by Culver Way Ecovillage for the promotion of their concept of an ecovillage as a safe haven for creative and ecologically aware people. Living and working in St. Louis, as well as with Life Force Arts here in Chicago, allowed me to hone many of the tools to build F.I.R.E. Art Studios into more than an art facility and gallery, but more of a family, a true art community.”
The addition of Sujata Tibrewala to the Chicago artistic community may have given Chicago a slight edge in its rivalry with St. Louis, but fortunately, once again, the greater good prevails. New works by Sujata Tibrewala are currently on display at the Montgomery Ward Gallery on the UIC campus, the Women of All Colors show at Chicago Urban Art Retreat, and of course, at F.I.R.E. Art Studios & Gallery.
F.I.R.E. Art Studios & Gallery is located at 190 East 5th Avenue in Napierville, and is open Tuesday through Saturday from noon to 8 p.m.
© M.T.Erickson 2013