Lauren Levato Coyne and Rory Coyne are a dynamic Evanston arts duo who own the new gallery space called Sidetracked Studio on Chicago Avenue. Recently transitioning to working in a studio above their storefront gallery, they are benefiting from the growing trend in Evanston to support all things “Evanston made.”
Why did you choose to live, work, and open a gallery in Evanston?
Lauren: From 2006 to 2010, I lived in Evanston on Michigan Avenue in a building of poets, writers, and filmmakers. What I loved about it then is what I love about it now and also what brought me back—there’s an idyllic blend of small town meets big city that only Evanston has. I know my neighbors and the grocery and hardware store clerks know us by name. Our favorite restaurant (Union Pizzeria!) puts our signature drink down in front of us when we walk in the door (the Campfire Old Fashioned)—only in Evanston! There’s also very thriving arts culture here along with an international citizenry because of Northwestern, Piven, The Block, etc. Plus, the lakefront can’t be beat.
Rory: As soon as we came to Evanston, I was really taken by it. We don’t own a car and we can do everything we need to do on foot, so that was a plus. Food is our hobby, so it was important that Evanston have good restaurants. We felt the excitement building in Evanston, and we think it’s just starting to really get rolling, a new kind of creative momentum in the city. We had been dreaming about our own storefront studio since we started dating, so about four years, and not long after we moved to Evanston–opportunities to do it started to present themselves.
Lauren: The first Open Studios Evanston event really showed us how much interest and support there is in town for what we do. And that’s continued. We get a good showing of Evanstonians at every opening event, and as more people learn where we are and that they can come by and see our work in progress, we are getting more drop-in visitors.
Do many of your collectors live in Evanston?
Lauren: Because of social media, our collectors are all over the world. A U.S. soldier stationed in Germany purchased work from gallery artist Darla Teagarden at our last show. An Italian hotelier owns some of my drawings, and Rory’s work is in collections in the Netherlands, of course, since that’s his homeland. He’s doing a great job updating the cannon of Netherlandish painting, isn’t he?
Rory: Evanston is still learning we are here. We do have a few local collectors, but we expect more as people continue to discover us and our ever changing programming. We have had a delightful and enthusiastic welcome from the community so far.
There seems to be a trend in Evanston where artisans of locally made wares are well supported by local consumers. Would you say this benefits visual artists?
Lauren: It’s a huge benefit to visual artists and support comes in all kinds of ways from purchasing work, to sharing online, to bringing friends to see a show. When people show up in whatever way they can, it helps the artist create their next work. Showing up with fiscal support is the most important, let’s be honest, but showing up with cookies or wine, sharing on social media—all of it means “keep going!” Once some-body brought me a tarantula spiderling at one of my artist talks—talk about support! “I love what you do, here’s a baby tarantula!” Support comes in all manners and styles of gifts and gestures. And yes, we still have that tarantula. Her name is Maehb.
Rory: People not only want quality but human presence, as well. This ranges from foods to fine art. I think we all enjoy knowing where the things we buy come from, and to be able to tell a story. Some of our most consistent collectors are artists and artisan, just as we collect other artists. It’s humbling to think that someone who knows the struggle and hard work of being an artist wants to spend what little money they have on something handmade—more expensive but intrinsically more valuable. Not only that, but we have been able to trade art work for the things we want and need, ranging from a vacuum cleaner to a two week stay
in a vacation home.
Lauren, you just finished a residency at Ragdale. How will that experience shape your work?
Lauren: I was so fortunate to have six weeks at Ragdale, with a partial fellowship award. My time there will completely shape my work for the next few years. Projects and ideas that have been gestating for the past year or more finally had the open space to uncurl and roam around. I was able to solve some conceptual ideas for two entirely new projects I’m about to start—a graphic fable and a novel. Before I arrived at Ragdale, I had no idea where to begin. Opening Sidetracked Studio has been tremendous, but it also meant that our own work took a slight hit, so it was imperative for me to have those six weeks at Ragdale to research, discover, play, and develop what’s coming next. It’s big. I’m excited.
Rory, what new works can we expect from you in 2016?
Rory: I was just asked to have a solo exhibition in New York City. The gallery and I are still working out the details so I can’t announce anything specific just yet. What I do know, however, is that I will continue to explore mythological storytelling. Some characters I have painted in the past might return and some new ones will be introduced. My paintings have become more complicated in their composition and narrative, so I expect that to develop even further. I’m extremely excited to start on this new exhibition, but it’s truly in its foundation stage. Expect grand stories, epic imagery, and lots of texture.