Artist Deb Sokolow makes conspiracy theories come alive in graphic style

Artist Deb Sokolow makes conspiracy theories come alive in graphic style

At age 12, while eating lunch with her mother in a Washington, D.C. McDonalds, Deb Sokolow watched a man enter the restaurant bathroom with a suitcase. Several minutes later she watched a different man leave the bathroom with the same suitcase.

“That,” she says, “Was a significant moment.”

Now a visual artist with an eye for hidden detail and an ear for conspiracy theories, Sokolow takes the comic book form – drawings and storytelling – and explodes it. She takes the form off the page and brings it onto the wall, creating huge narrative drawings that can fill an entire gallery, sometimes stretching up to 48 ft. long.

Her drawings are precise and even architectural. Her text is blocky and self-consciously hand-written. Her stories are wild and intricate.

The conspiracy theories she explores include both popular ones debated out in the world and those that she invents herself. To wit: A current piece explores the notion that the Denver International Airport is concealing an underground network of tunnels that may house the headquarters of the New World Order or a secret Congressional bunker; whereas in her 2005 piece Someone tell Mayor Daley the pirates are coming, buccaneers plot to steal treasure the mayor has hidden beneath Meigs Field.

To some, the stories may sound laughable. In some moments they seem so farfetched and ridiculous they read like obvious works of fiction.

But at other moments, the work hits a nerve, and the way the story is executed makes you wonder whether your neighbor really could be a human butcher working for the Chicago Outfit.

As the saying goes, just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean the postal workers you see out your window aren’t smuggling drugs for a Mexican cartel.

Sokolow’s work is on display at the Betty Rymer Gallery at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago through October 15, as part of the group show CartoonInk! Emerging Comics in Context.

Art/Work features contemporary visual artists exhibiting in Chicago talking about the inspiration and perspiration behind their creative endeavors.