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We enlist punk quilter Ken Ellis in the fight for more hops

Mon, 02/17/2014 - 11:51am

We love mixing our peanut butter with the chocolate of artists who share our off-centered outlook. We've worked with painters, illustrators, designers, musicians, metalworkers and woodcarvers, but our latest project is a first. We asked Chicago native Ken Ellis to help us celebrate our diverse lineup of IPAs with one of his signature quilts.

That's right, quilts.

Ken, a decades-long fixture at the iconic Wicker Park punk bar The Rainbo Club, is known for tackling everything from politically pointed historical figures to children's stories in his unique medium. For us, he stitched that decidedly off-centered quilt above featuring hop-throwing bunnies on the front lines of the lupulin war. He also did the Bonnie & Clyde quilt on the cover of the 2008 Dr. Dog album "Fate," and his work appeared in the 2000 comedy "High Fidelity."

Why quilts?
I've been sewing since I was a teen. My Pop taught me. I was a hippy kid and was always sewing patches and stuff on my clothes. I've always painted, and this medium lends more to it. I like the fact that the dye is saturated into the canvas as opposed to being on a layer of gesso, which cracks. Also, the sewing creates a relief effect. In the early years, I wasn't that good with the needle and would accidentally stab myself. I signed a lot of those early pieces in blood so it wouldn't go to waste.

Do you have formal art training?
I went to art schools here – The Chicago Academy for the Arts, School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Columbia College – in the early and mid-'70s. I studied cartooning, animation, film and television production, but my art training really had nothing to do with my current work. … I've been working in my medium since 1980. My ex-wife Marilyn introduced me to the fabric dyes I use. We used to use them to make hand-painted T-shirts and pillows to sell at art fairs.

You often take on political subjects. What inspires your work?
History is a big influence. Most of my early pieces are of obscure historical figures and political issues. My first series of quilted paintings was of '20s and '30s gangsters like Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky, John Dillinger and Bonnie & Clyde. The thought of gangsters on the soft quilts amused me. In the early '90s, I started a series including African-Americans, Native Americans, Haitian voodoo and circus freaks. My last series was enemies of the state like Chief Black Hawk, Nat Turner, Cochise, Crazy Horse, Pancho Villa, Augusto Sandino and Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos. But I also do pieces with nursery rhymes and fairy tales for kids.