Upon visiting Creative Coworking, people are often struck by our impressive collection of local art. Surrealist dreamscapes, whimsical collages, hyper-realistic portraits, and more have all found a temporary home here, making our office space a key player in the Evanston art scene. In this blog feature, we highlight artists whose work is currently on display. Today’s featured artist is Vanessa Filley.

What sparked your initial interest in creating art?

I’ve always been a maker. From the time I was a child I made doll clothes and curtains and clothing for myself. I wrote poems and danced. In college I was wrapped up in politics and activism, but six years into a career investigating human rights violations in prisons and jails, I had a deep need to make and do something physically tangible, something I could touch. I began a company making clothing out of recycled fabrics which after a few years evolved into a need to move beyond production into a focus on art with detail. About seven years ago I shifted my practice into one that was more strictly art making. I’ve fallen in love with many mediums from drawing to watercolors to encaustics to crochet, embroidery and photography. As a project arises I often need to acquire new skills to actualize that project. So I am constantly evolving as an artist/maker.

How would you describe your style?

I’ve been called so many different things by different people, I’m not quite sure what the most apt description would be. My style is sometimes dreamy, sometimes feminine, sometimes crafty. I’m deeply drawn to color and texture and story. As artists we have so many different voices; and, for me, each medium brings a slightly different intonation of voice. I think there is some common thread in my work, but most of that is derived from color and texture.


Who are your influences?

My grandmother is a tremendous influence on me. From her award winning botanical skills to her beautiful needlepoints and documentary films. Similarly I am inspired by many different schools of making: from Dutch Masters painters to the Gees’s Bend quilters. My current love of photography has me inspired by both historical and contemporary photographers from Alfred Stieglitz, Francesca Woodman, and Sally Mann to Oleg Oprisco, Heather Evans Smith, and Robert and Shana Parke-Harrison.

What are your opinions on the Evanston/Chicago arts community? How do you see your work in relation to this community?

For years I have created work in a vacuum, sharing work primarily with friends and family; but over the course of the past year, I have begun showing and sharing my work more publicly. There are so many different facets to the Evanston/Chicago arts community. Some have been particularly welcoming and supportive and encouraging while others have been less so. I am part of a collective of women artists that meets regularly to critique one another’s work, discuss practices and goals, successes and failures, as well as showing work together. I have really enjoyed getting to know other artists in Evanston and am deeply inspired by their work and practices.

I love that we live in an arts rich community of people who are sharing work and creating opportunities to see work. Over the past couple of years it seems that more artists are creating independent spaces to share work around Evanston. I do my best to attend openings and support the work of fellow artists, as we are all in this together.  

Is there a particular piece of yours that is currently on display that you feel really represents your style/means something personal to you?

“Country Bunny,” which was made in the future home of Creative Coworking in Edgewater, feels like a representative piece. It is an homage to a particular children’s book I loved as a girl, Country Bunny by DuBose Heyward, in both the sense of story and color palette. We were able to make this image in a beautiful, albeit decaying, space rich with story that is soon to be given new life. In the making of this piece I was able to be deeply alive as an artist, making the dress that the small girl is wearing, dying the eggs, and gathering the various props, arranging them all, waiting for the light to be perfect, directing everybody involved. It was a perfect storm of story and light and color.

Do you have any upcoming exhibitions/plans/projects?

I will be participating in Evanston Made during the month of June and showing work around town at places like the Evanston Art Center, Dragonfly, Artruck, Mill Creek Miniatures and opening my studio during the Evanston Art Walk on June 4th. I have a show at Morpho Gallery in Andersonville in November.

I have several ongoing projects and a large tomb of plans I hope to actualize someday. For the time being, I am focusing on continuing to make photography in the vein of the images in my Elements of Mystery Series.


How did you discover Creative Coworking as a venue for displaying your work?

A friend of mine was facilitating one of Creative Coworking’s monthly CRAVE meetings, where we discussed our goals and intentions for 2016. I mentioned my goal of showing and sharing more work and voila.

Are there particular motifs/themes/symbols that you are fond of using in your work?  

I love things with a story or a past. I like to convey a sense of timelessness in my work: a dream, a fairy tale.

When my older daughter was born, a dear friend gifted her a collection of tales from the Brother’s Grimm. I remember sitting down in a rocker with my newborn daughter and reading about needle pricks, abandonment, vindictive parents and silent young girls being scooped up by so-called princely men. Each story more disturbing than the next. There is something about both the darkness and the light of fairytale—the extremes and the possibilities—that appeal to me.

We each have a story, and celebrating this is invaluable. So, too, is living inside a story that is not your own, trying on a different reality for size. I am thematically influenced by both literature and current events; there are so many stories I want to try on for size, moments I want to create.

How do you see your art evolving in the next few years?

This is not a path I can predict. I follow the muse wherever it takes me. I suspect a common thread from the work I have created in the past will continue, but I don’t know which thread that will be. For the immediate future, I plan to continue my focus on photography and hope to hone my skills on a technical level to help me better portray the emotional and aesthetic content of the work.

Vanessa Filley is one of two featured artists at the May Art & Wine Night at Creative Coworking.