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Meet Cassie Tompkins

Today we’d like to introduce you to Cassie Tompkins.

Every artist has a unique story. Can you briefly walk us through yours?
I grew up in Sterling, IL, a small farming and factory town about 120 miles west of Chicago. I’ve made art for as long as I can remember: my mother paints as a hobby and taught me to draw and paint at a young age. In high school I explored many mediums from painting to graphic design, but it was photography that resonated with me most. I attended the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design, becoming the first college graduate in my family, earning a BFA with a concentration in fine art photography. After school, I struggled to maintain an artistic practice, partially from burnout and partially from a lack of inspiration. Life in my twenties at the turn of the century proved difficult to navigate and my art practice diminished. After being laid off from three different jobs before I turned thirty, I wanted stability, so I went back to school for design—something I could apply my creative talents to while maintaining stable employment—at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Working mostly in print design, I became fascinated with layering colors of ink to create new hues, a technique often used in screen-printing. I like its efficiency and how it reveals the process. I began incorporating this technique into my design work, as well as experimenting with different colors and textures of paper. After a few years of working on the computer nine to five, I grew restless and had the urge to make art again, specifically with fibers. I wanted to get my hands in the material and was attracted to process-based work. I explored weaving, felting, dyeing, and screen-printing on fabric, the latter two clicked and have become my main practice.

While I was expanding my practice and exploring the expressive possibilities of fibers, I was taking classes with the artist Fraser Taylor, who encouraged me to exhibit my work, something I had not considered a possibility for quite some time. This push catapulted me into the two most fruitful years of my artistic career thus far—I had my first solo exhibition at the Comfort Station in April 2017, followed by shows at the Annex Gallery at Spudnik Press, and Lillstreet Art Center, as well as my first residencies at the Chicago Artist Coalition and ACRE. So far, 2018 has been just as rewarding: I attended the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts open studio residency, participated in two group exhibitions, was an award recipient of the Cleve Carney Art Gallery’s juried emerging artist exhibition, and presented a solo exhibition at Mana Contemporary Chicago.

Please tell us about your art.
My work is grounded in the fleeting and sublime moments of quotidian life. In creating screen-printed and dyed fabric monoprints of saturated, colorful, and abstract environments, I aim to capture the ephemeral of the everyday. Using a language of geometric and organic shapes and the sensational experience of color, I work as an improviser, balancing compositions through intentional and serendipitous marks. Forms and vivid colors yield transcendent landscapes, fusing elements found in design and minimalist painting. However, the extensive process of hand dyeing and screen-printing on fabric—inherently defined as craft work and traditionally considered female roles—re-contextualizes the clean, straight lines explored in minimalism and challenges the painting canon.

The demonstration of opposites defines each piece. Colors are complementary, soft-edged dye mingles with the masked-off sharp marks of ink applied with a squeegee, and light and dark undulate throughout. Contradictory perceptions of space appear, within the surface imagery and in the three-dimensionality of the object. Hung unframed, the fabric drapes, is mutable, responding to gravity and movement. They are both orderly and chaotic, lively and static.

The fabric is marked by its own history—lines from being folded and bound, stains from submersion into pigment, and layers of printed ink dried onto the surface. Guided by experimentation, play, clumsiness, and anxiety, each print is an act of trust informed by past lessons learned, a metaphor for existence itself.

The prints act as evidence of experiences that blur boundaries between material objects and cerebral observations. They encourage viewers to reconsider their own surroundings—to revise their perception of commonplace life—through material and designed transformations.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing artists today?
I’ve been financially challenged my entire life—I don’t know any other way of being. It’s not ideal, but it has given me a strong work ethic and made me resourceful and resilient. The myth of the starving artist is one that needs to go away: we’re not starving—artists are the hardest working people I know, but we live in a society that does not value the work we do. I currently work full-time as a graphic designer, I have a regular freelance client, and make the time to make and exhibit my work. What has helped me along the way is to take advantage of opportunities available to me, for example, I began making my current body of work while taking courses through a tuition remission program offered by my employer. This introduced me to a mentor and other artists and gave me a studio to work in. My advice to others is to apply for everything—exhibitions, residencies, and grants. When I began searching for exhibition opportunities, the Chicago Artist Coalition had just launched the Field/Work residency, and I applied and was a part of their inaugural cohort. This residency taught me vital business, creative, and professional practice skills, and introduced me to a network of like-minded artists in different stages of their careers.

How or where can people see your work? How can people support your work?
My work is currently featured in Five Works, a bimonthly project series presented by Mana Contemporary Chicago that features five new and/or recent works by emerging Chicago artists. In October, my work will be part of a group exhibition, “Life As We Know It: A Storehouse Project”, at the Eckert Gallery at Millersville University in Pennsylvania.

My work can be viewed online at and on Instagram @cassietompkins.
You can support my work by signing up for my newsletter via my website, attending exhibitions I’m in, hiring me for freelance graphic design, or by purchasing one of my pieces!

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Michael Sullivan / On The Real Film, Nora Renick Rinehart)

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