Friday June 26, 2015 was the grand opening of Deadly Prey Gallery, run by Brian and Heidi Chankin in Chicago. This opening was important for a variety of reasons, but to me personally it was especially significant due to the nature of the work Deadly Prey specializes in: hand-painted movie posters from West Africa.
It would be very easy to pigeonhole these paintings into one or more art categories. All at once they could be viewed as naive art, outsider art, any number of labels might apply–especially if you don’t know the backstory and are just looking at the images as they hang in the gallery.
But the Deadly Prey collection, which seems to amount to hundreds of these large paintings, is much more than that. Anyone with even a passing familiarity with the films represented by these posters–mainstream Hollywood films, low-budget genre movies, Hong Kong cinema and much more–knows that the posters are wildly interpretive of their subject matter.
The images you see sometimes don’t have a thing to do with the films themselves, or have only the most basic association with the film represented.
And that’s part of the allure of these posters–guessing whether or not the artist had even seen the film in question and wondering which came first, the American awareness of these works of art or the film Be Kind, Rewind, which one might consider to be a spiritual cousin to this body of work. (If that reference is lost on you, view the paintings first, then watch the film.) Some might consider the association between the two a bit of a stretch, but there’s a similar notion at work–the interpretation, re-interpretation, and even misinterpretation of an existing work by the artist.
Another thing that creates a mystique about this body of work is the medium–these hand-painted movie posters are all realized on re-purposed rice and flour bags–the jumbo variety. Some of the posters are either only lightly primed or possibly not primed at all, the flour or rice company logos bleeding through on a small number of the works on display at the opening. This only enhances the effect of these posters–it seems clear that these works are realized on a very small budget and with an incredible amount of heart.
Brian and Heidi Chankin have opened Deadly Prey at least in part, it seems, to give a permanent home to this incredible collection, portions of which are available for sale. Opening night was the first step in what is hoped (especially by me) to be a long career as a Chicago independent gallery.
Deadly Prey Gallery is located at 1433 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60642. Contact them at (312) 659-1991 to arrange a viewing of the collection.