Pilsen Artists Use Old Tech And Current Thoughts to Make Social Statements

Elizabeth Isakson-Dado

Elizabeth Isakson-Dado

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A musician walks into an old macaroni factory and starts a printing company.

Vintage TypeThe musician is Jamiel Dado. He and his wife Elizabeth Isakson-Dado are creating one-of-a-kind art posters at their six-month-old Tandem Felix Letterpress. The company is located at 2150 South Canalport Avenue at the Lacuna Artist Lofts in Pilsen.

Tandem Felix shares space with a number of galleries in the former Chicago Macaroni Company, including Ultra Gallery, which is currently displaying the Dado’s work. The exhibit runs through March 21.

Tandem Felix Poster-1Custom-designed posters are coveted by collectors looking for art that makes a statement. One such Tandem Felix poster offers the third-person plural message: “YOU MOVE TO A CITY. YOU HANG OUT IN BARS. YOU FORM A GANG, TURN IT INTO A SCENE, & TURN THAT INTO A MOVEMENT.”

It’s from the book “Air Guitar” written by Dave Hickey, and it captured the Dado’s imagination.

“Both of us are inspired by music and 60s ephemera and album art,” said Elizabeth Isakson-Dado. “Half of our posters are self-authored and the others come from pop culture. I loved that so I put it on a poster.”

Tandem Felix sells a limited quantity of signed and numbered posters from each printing. The largest prints, 26 inches by 40 inches, sell for $80 for black and white, and $100 for color prints.

Tandem Felix Poster-2Ultra Gallery is showing a number of the Dado’s recent works, but the real magic occurs two floors up at their printing facilities. Tandem Felix will print just about anything from wedding invitations to coasters, but they do some of their most creative work with posters. The 1920-era Chandler-Price platen press is the workhorse of the operation, which uses vintage type, set by hand in a frame. It’s decidedly low-tech. Johannes Gutenberg would feel at ease here if he could hitch a ride on a time machine and jump ahead 550 years.

The Dados bought the entire printing operation – including type that’s not made anymore, like Haas Outline Shaded. It came from the same German company that developed Helvetica.  For the large posters, the Dados use oversized six-inch type and a hand-rolled press. Elizabeth Isakson-Dado says you can immediately tell the difference between a print produced by letterpress versus an offset press.

“Letterpress is more tactile printing,” she said. “You can tell because it has an impression and the quality of ink is different. For wedding invitations, it’s been the standard for a long time. Not a not of people who do                                     what we do, using letterpress for fine craft and posters.”

Vintage Type-2

Author: Bill Motchan

Bill Motchan is a writer and photographer, and a former resident of the West Loop. He can be reached at bill@ChicagoArchitecture.org.

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