Sam Kirk Exhibit : Audio Description Text

The Pursuit of Happiness
an exhibition by Sam Kirk
October – December, 2016
Audio Description Text*

To the left of the door, the first piece you encounter is “& All That Drag.” It’s 27”x22”, in a repurposed wooden frame that has been painted magenta on the top and left side, and black on the bottom and right side. The artwork is mixed media on a blonde wood. The piece is dominated by a single figure with their back turned toward us, hands on hips, head turned to the right. The figure is wearing a purplish camisole with the straps loosely hanging off the shoulders. Greenish black gloves almost reach their elbows, while garters are visible at the top of their thighs. The figure’s eyes are closed, wearing purple lipstick, and rollers in their blue-green hair. Their skin includes brown, tan, orange and yellow. The camisole is many shades of purple. In the background, black ink line drawings show the outline of a midsection, and two sets of crossed legs with fishnet stockings, platform heels, and garters. Kirk uses loops and swirls of color to give a sense of movement and depth.

“Sweet Home Ahead” is an 18”x18” yellow-orange, diamond shape street sign bolted to the wall at its top corner. The sign has large black capital letters that read “SWEET HOME AHEAD.” Only on close inspection is it clear that the original sign read SPEED HUMP AHEAD, and that the P and D from SPEED have been painted over with a W and a T. The U and P from HUMP are now an O and an E. At the bottom in small capital letters are the words “CITY OF CHICAGO” from the original sign. Above that someone has written in black pen, “DON’T GIVE UP.” It is unknown, if the artist or someone else wrote this.

Next is “Don’t Blend In.” “Don’t Blend In” is 22”x20”. It’s in a large black wood portrait frame. The artwork is mixed media on paper and glass. To create this, Kirk drew a figure of a young person on the glass, which was then overlaid on top of the paper background. This creates a three-dimensional effect and also a sense that you can see through the figure.

The young person is illustrated by a black line drawing of a head and torso, on the lower two thirds of the glass. The figure’s facial features are drawn using one continuous line, with the exception of the right eyebrow. The face is expressionless. They are wearing a green hoodie with the hood down; their face and neck are yellowish and their hair, styled in pig tails, has hints of black. All of these colors are painted with light brushstrokes to create a translucent effect. Behind the figure, on the paper, is a painting of a gray industrial garage door alongside a red brick wall, which is in the left three inches of the piece. Toward the top right corner, the numbers 312 are painted in white. Beneath this is “NO PARKING” with the first 5 letters in yellow. Continuing down is graffiti consisting of blue writing that appears to be spray-painted and black marker writing below that. You can decipher the words “LOVE” in blue and “CULTURE” in black. In the top left corner of the door, in red writing, is a small graffiti reading “QUEEN” in red letters. There’s a simple crown drawn over the Q.

On the adjacent wall are six more paintings.

First is “Hoping and Praying You See Me.” Like the previous piece “Don’t Blend in,” “Hoping and Praying You See Me” is acrylic on glass laid over acrylic on paper. It is 16” x 20”. The figure is drawing in black ink, facing left, wearing a pinkish hoodie. The figure has short cropped hair, and a sad expression. Behind them, on the paper, are four buildings, two and three stories tall. Three are residential while the second to the right building has a sign that reads The Holy Trinity Church of God. The pavement is cracked, and those cracks lead as if roots from a street sign that tells us we are on Hope Street. Above the buildings is a bright blue sky with clouds that are both puffy and sinewy.

“We Love Life”, is 12 by 12 inches acrylic on wood. “We Love Life” depicts two young men of color, intimately sharing genuine laughter. They both have their eyes closed, laughing and leaning on each other. One figure is wearing bright green with a high top fade, and the other is wearing bright red and has wavy brown hair. They are standing in front of two stores, one of which is a dollar store and the other of which has writing in Spanish. The painting emits a sense of true joy and genuine friendship.

Next is “A Love Like This.” It is 12” x 16,” made with acrylic on paper. It features two nude women of color stand before a black background. They are facing each other, holding onto one another as their bodies are almost intertwined. The woman on the right wears a head-wrap that is blue, red, and yellow, and has blue earrings. hHer arms are wrapped around the other woman who seems to be in the late stages of pregnancy. The pregnant woman has an afro and wears red earrings. They stare into each other’s eyes and tender smiles brighten their faces.

In between “A Love Like This” and the next piece is a stylized parking meter. We’ll discuss it at the end of this audio guide.

Next is “I Could Be Queen All By myself But I’d Rather Be Yours.” This piece is a companion to the previous piece, A Love Like This. It is also 12” by 16” and is acrylic on paper. Drawn against a solid black background, two nude women of color embrace each other while holding hands. The woman on the right is turned to her side. She has beautiful big curls, and stares lovingly at the woman in the center of the frame. The centered woman has her back to us, with short hair and a tall crown. She is leaning in towards her lover while bashfully looking away. It seems, in fact, that her eye is trained on us. The image is intimate, and shows vulnerability and deep affection.

Next is “We Joke”, a companion piece to We Love Life. It is also 12” x 12” and acrylic on wood. Like “We Love Life,” “We Joke” features two young men of color sharing a joyous time. Both are wearing blue jeans; one has a bright yellow shirt and the other a bright red shirt. They are standing in the street under a blue sky with dispersed clouds, with buildings in the background. Their eyes are closed as they laugh and point, sharing an impossibly funny joke.

The final piece on this wall is “Beautiful Struggle,” and it reflects the difficulty of public display of same-gender affection. In Beautiful Struggle, two women in colorful clothes are sharing a kiss. One is white and blonde, the other with darker skin and hair. Around them are many speech bubbles, in large colorful letters. In contrast to the delicate kiss, the speech bubbles display harsh comments such as “Disgusting!”, “Barf!”, and “Gross!”, and also “Yeah, Baby!” and “Ouu La La,” reflecting the harassment the women are receiving for their kiss.

Sam Kirk used a Giclée* digital art printing process to create this piece. Giclée Printing is known for its high quality and stability. The piece is 18 by 24 inches high.
*Pronounced zhee-KLAY.

On the third wall are the last 3 images of the exhibit.

First is “Out of Reach” – This is the smallest piece in the show, but there’s a lot going on. Just 10” x 8”, Out of Reach sits in a thick black decorative frame. It’s made up of three layers – mixed media on paper, overlaid with two panes of glass. On the paper is the head and shoulders of a figure wearing a grey tanktop with a blue bra strap showing. The person has brown eyes, thick black glasses, and a short hairdo in the colors of the rainbow. In the background is a blue sky with white fluffy clouds. The figure is obscured by all the writing and drawing in black ink on the panes of glass. Phrases written on the glass include “Is money a drug,” and “I keep getting all these fucking interruptions.” These phrases are scrawled alongside depictions of buildings, which are at angles throughout the piece.

The next piece is “Looking for Love in the Midst of Homelessness.” It’s the largest work in the collection, 30” by 30”, and perhaps the most striking. A single figure dominates the piece, wearing a grey hoodie over a red-billed baseball cap and facing right with a placid stare. Behind this figure is a collage of advertising, corporate and non-profit logos, and newspaper and magazine clippings, all with rainbow themes or celebratory messages of LGBT love, pride, and marriage equality. The contrast between the joyousness of the collage and the figure’s blank stare is quite stark.

The final piece in the exhibit is unique. “Dreaming of Home” is 22.5” wide by 5.5” tall and made of pieces of extremely this wood glued onto acrylic. The piece has been cut in the shape of – and drawn to look like – a subway car, painted over with a light gray finish. In small writing on the windows of the car are three phrases: One reads “Need Shelter,” another reads “LGBT Youth fall prey to the sex trade more” and the third reads “40% of homeless youth are LGBT.” Drawn on top of that with black ink is a thin figure, lying on their back. The figure takes up the entire 22.5 inches of the artwork; they’re using a house as a pillow and their eyes are closed. They are dreaming of home.

Back to the meter in the center of the room. This is an artpiece that transforms a coin-operated parking meter into a human figure. It stands about 4.5” tall and features black line drawings and writing on the silver pole. The top part is painted to represent a human torso, while bolted on top is the bust of a young person of color wearing a red hat made of painted steel hex nuts. The meter is part of a project for Ava’s Change4Youth. This is a program of Pride Action Tank, and visually raises awareness of youth experiencing homelessness in Chicago while collecting small change in donation stations to make big difference in the lives of youth. This program also promotes community building through art and advocacy efforts. The meter was designed and painted by Sam Kirk, with welding and fabrication assistance by Marvin Herrera.

The Gender and Sexuality Center would like to thank Sam Kirk and Karla Olvera for their work on this remarkable exhibit. Additional thanks to liz thomson and Noora Al Balushi for their work on the audio descriptions.

*Audio description is a method for relaying the visual to those who are blind and/or low vision. In addition to being able to access the Sound Cloud track online at, visitors can borrow an audio device from GSC. GSC also has large print, accessible text available as a handout and as a download. GSC’s Graduate Assistant Jonathan Kelley, a Master’s student in the Museum and Exhibition Studies (MUSE) program, collaborated with liz thomson, a PhD student in disability studies and Noora Al Balushi (MUSE), to write the descriptive text.