Chicago natives may be familiar with the work of artist Sam Kirk. Her paintings – often gracing public spaces and always offering a passionate social message – draw their inspiration from Chicagoland’s urban life and in particular the experience of her upbringing on the city’s South Side. Kirk is an outspoken advocate for the local communities that give Chicago its vibrancy, and she sees her mission as one of expressing their stories and their identities.
Visually, Kirk’s paintings draw much of their energy from the technicolor imagery of her Mexican heritage. With heroes like Mexico’s Frida Kahlo and Spain’s Antoni Gaudi, Kirk mixes bright surrealism with pointed social commentary. The city itself becomes her canvas, as she takes to public walls and the facades of local eateries to weave complex and fluid visual narratives. The city, too, is a recurrent subject, with its skyscrapers, street life, and apartment buildings playing integral and often symbolic roles in her artworks.
It is clear from her subject matter that Kirk’s passion and the driving force of her art lies in her devotion to her community and her determination to make Chicago a better place. Throughout her work, she addresses pressing issues ranging from youth homelessness to the plight of women and LGBT communities. As an activist artist, she has done work for organizations like Project Fierce, a “grassroots collective of radical social workers,” and Lost Childhoods, which brings attention to the number of young people lost to violence. Other projects include a series on sex trafficking that will raise money for local advocacy groups.
Beyond this deep relationship with Chicago, Kirk maintains a studio in Brooklyn, and her work has appeared in New York, Miami, Washington DC, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis. She is also the founder of Provoke Culture, an online collective of artists united by the idea of using their art to advance social causes.