Creative Mornings: Billy Craven

On a recent Friday, Creative Mornings attendees made their way to Savage Smyth through the venue’s back freight entrance — where they were invited to add a mark to the pavement with sprayable chalk. This was an exceptionally fitting entrance, considering that day’s speaker, Billy Craven.

Craven is an artist, screen printer, street art documenter and the founder and owner of Logan’s Square’s Galerie F. Over the course of his Q&A, he shared his story. Craven first began documenting graffiti and street art when living in New York City and credits his shyness for triggering this habit.

It was “sort of a social crutch in order to deal with being amongst vast numbers of bustling human beings!” Craven says.

It became more than that though.

“I became intrigued by the vast variety of art and artists, the ephemeral nature, the layers on layers,” Craven explains, “and the realization that all the little pieces of the puzzle that I was documenting were far more important than the average person believed.”

Craven saw street art and graffiti as a kind of folk art, not vandalism. Eventually, he settled with his wife in Chicago, where his relationship with street art only grew. In 2012, Craven opened Galerie F to fill a void he saw in the marketplace.

“As an artist, I became aware that there was a great under-abundance of galleries that featured screen prints, affordable art and that supported local street artists,” he says.

Plus, many galleries were hardly ever open to the public, opting to be appointment-only spaces. So Craven set out to break the mold.

“I just wanted to get away from the elitist gallery environment,” he says.

Galerie F specializes in art prints, street art and gig posters, and it’s open seven days a week. Today, the space is not only known across Chicago, but also attracts customers from around the world.

“On any given day, about half the people are visiting from outside the U.S.,” Craven says.

Over time, he began facilitating huge murals across the city. Craven noticed that boarded-up buildings in Chicago were either covered with graffiti or illegally plastered with ads. Why not replace these eye sores — that often fed into gang violence — with a beautiful work of street art?

So that’s exactly what Craven did. And what he continues to do today, working with property owners and artists like JC Rivera, Victor Ving, Andrew Ghrist, Greve and Merlot. Artists whose work is often sought after by brands and to embellish the sides of restaurants and buildings.

 “I work very hard to do things that are community friendly,” Craven explains. “And it’s very important to incorporate color.”

He also ensures that the artists he works with aren’t painting anything political, but instead are producing murals that positively add to the neighborhood. For example, Craven was recently in talks with a man who’d bought a building with a large gun painted on it. Craven offered to cover the symbol of violence with a beautiful — and free — mural.

Of course, it’s not always that simple.

“I’ll knock on 100 doors and get 99 no’s,” he says.

But when the answer is yes, the results can be spectacular. After years of collaborating with artists and building owners, Craven now describes himself as a middleman or facilitator — brands will come to him looking to work with certain street artists.

Plus, he’s continuing to grow Galerie F, recently opening a second gallery in the basement, called FU for ‘Galerie F Underground.’

“It’s more of a chill little crib,” he says of the space.

Galerie F also hosts a drawing night once a month — they’ll set up tables with supplies and people can come and draw. During these events, artists can also sell their work and take home 100% of the proceeds.

“I want to continue to do what we do,” Craven says, describing success as helping local artists make their mark. “Our goal from the beginning was to show as much support for the local community as possible.”