The first thing anyone saw when visiting Nomadic Studio were Jeff Zimmermann’s gigantic twinned portraits “Norf” and “Sowf”. But they weren’t in front of the entry. They were at the back front wall of the Main Gallery, but they’re so large that your eye was immediately drawn. They’re maybe seven feet square each and are painstakingly detailed. If you’ve lived in the city, or even visited it for an appreciable amount of time, you’ve likely encountered his larger than life surrealistic pop art murals. They really are everywhere. Jeff is an art teacher turned maniacal muralist, but that truly sells it short.
Jeff Zimmermann makes massive hyper-realistic psychedelic paintings that span the edges of his imagination, but also deliberately and distinctly feature everyday people. We knew each other in passing before Nomadic, but this ended up the spark for several years of collaboration. I think this might be a good time to introduce George Joseph Miller IV, and Reid Garrison Miller. We met Joe the day we installed the Rumpus as he and Reid both worked at the Museum. Beth Wiedner and I had no clue that they’d both become such an important and integral part of our lives for the next decade. A big part of our numerous collaborations with the Miller Brothers were a pair of interview documentaries between Zimmermann and I about his studio and his art. Full disclosure: when you step out of the men’s room outside 1871 in the merchandise mart you will see a five foot portrait of my head looking down on you to make sure you washed your hands. The mural just lined up that way! Honest.
We have tons of photos of “Norf” and Sowf”, as they were essential to the identity of the room. They were there on day one, and stayed the entire run of the exhibit representing the everyday faces of Chicagoans from the North and South Sides, respectively. I had the luxury of looking at these intricate portraits every day. If we weren’t at work, we were at the museum for five months. Funny thing is, just towards the end of the exhibit, I was having a conversation with a common friend of Jeff and I, Tim Hogan and he offhandedly asked me: “You know that the one painting is John Barnicle, right?” I totally did not. I had known Barnicle for about a decade at that point, and this information blew my mind. I was looking at him every single day for months and missed it completely. It’s 100% him. An exact match. Duh. I guess that’s one of the many things I get out of Jeff Zimmermann’s artwork. You get so lost in the details, that you can easily miss the big picture.
Works by Jeff Zimmermann
All are acrylic and spray paint on paper
Bio: Jeff Zimmerman has achieved international recognition for his large scale murals featuring painted images of contemporary pop culture and sensitively rendered portraits. In an effort to subvert the notion of what corporate and entertainment culture considers newsworthy, Zimmermann incorporates into his murals a diversity of people who live and work in the communities he visits—these are not the faces we know from the news, magazines, and television, or those whose historical or political status already qualifies them as subjects for public art.
All photos by Kelsey Moher