Go ahead and chuckle at David Lee Csicsko’s work. He will take it as a compliment — and a sign that his whimsical creativity has found its mark.
“I’ve always been an artist who loves to do research,” he said, speaking by phone from his Chicago studio. “And I’ve always loved looking for symbols that are understandable.”
Symbol seekers will find a veritable treasure trove of material in the creator’s latest exhibit, “David Lee Csicsko: Columbus Connection — Architects, Designers and Artists Portraits” at the Columbus Area Visitors Center gallery.
The display, custom-made for Columbus, features 25 portraits of top designers or artists, including such locally celebrated luminaries as:
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Eliel and Eero Saarinen, architects for First Christian Church and North Christian Church.
I.M. Pei, architect for Bartholomew County Public Library.
Paul Rand, designer of Columbus’ classic dancing Cs that have long been used as a promotional logo.
The profile image of Rand features him wearing eyeglass frames that look considerably like those singular Cs. Eliel Saarinen’s image shows him wearing a jacket with the same square pattern featured on the front of First Christian and its corresponding clock tower.
“That all just made perfect sense to me,” he said.
He walks a fine line between innocent humor and serious admiration for his subjects.
The display has become popular enough that organizers now are seeking a way to work it into the Exhibit Columbus two-day symposium Sept. 29 to Oct. 1 with nationally known design leaders. Including it would seem fitting, not only given the local content, but considering the fact that Csicsko’s work has gone worldwide, from public transportation facilities to children’s hospitals.
“I’m into artwork that has a good amount of accessibility while crossing that bridge to understanding,” he said.
His caricatures, done with initial pencil sketches followed by Adobe Illustrator software on his computer, present sometimes legendary architects “in a witty and endearing way,” said Jan Banister, curator of the Visitors Center’s gallery that opened earlier this year.
Banister first discovered Csicsko’s work a few years ago at Belmont Station in Chicago, where she saw some of his detailed, ornate and often-lighthearted tile mosaics and was mesmerized.
“I just stopped in my tracks,” Banister said.
Csicsko’s playful profiles become a study unto themselves.
“With David’s work, you’re almost always learning something, just not in the typical, normal way. Looking at his pieces is like a scavenger hunt,” Banister said.
For example, she noted that the shoulders of Pei in his portrait reveal a pyramid shape, hearkening to his classic expansion on the Louvre in Paris.
“I’m very much a mid-century kid,” said the 59-year-old Csicsko. “The period I was born in had a definite sensibility of looking forward. There was the idea of ‘Let’s get a man on the moon.’ And it was the era in which Disneyland was created.”
He has referred to Columbus as the locale of “mid-century architecture heaven.” Keep in mind that Csicsko understands great glory in his field.
He did the White House’s 2012 Christmas decorations that included his four-foot high stained-glass window designs along some of the main corridors. And he remembers a staffer giving him a tour of the facility when he was being considered for the work. He hit it off quickly with the woman, but recalled stopping suddenly when they arrived at the state dining room and she excitedly asked for his ideas.
“I thought, ‘Wait — I’m just a kid from Hammond, Indiana, and you want my decorating ideas for the state dining room?” he said with a laugh.
Humility runs through Csicsko’s conversation, as if he is the guy down the street who happens to be rubbing shoulders with artistic and cultural giants worldwide. He remains unimpressed with himself, and presents himself simply.
For his opening reception remarks locally, he arrived in a pullover sweater, thin suit jacket and his trademark scrunched Fedora with a turned-up brim, appearing appropriately whimsical. His relaxed style made him look almost more like a tourist at the Visitors Center than the tourists themselves.
Away from his work, he navigates through downtime mostly on his kayak on Lake Michigan, where he is at the mercy of the wind and waves’ whimsy. So, whether on the water or in the studio, Csicsko must balance his efforts to make sure he avoids tipping too far one way or another.
“I come from a blue-collar community,” he said of Hammond. “It’s important for me to make something that the average person can get something out of while hitting all the right notes.”
What: The exhibit, “David Lee Csicsko: The Columbus Connection — Architects, Designers and Artists Portraits,” including works depicting such luminaries as J. Irwin and Xenia Miller, Eiiel and Eero Saarninen and other notables linked with the local architectural scene.
When: Through Aug. 31.
Where: Gallery at the Columbus Area Visitors Center, 506 Fifth St. Building hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. People can see the exhibit when the Columbus promotional film is not being shown to groups in the exhibit area.
To buy: His works are for sale. The cost for unframed works is $300, and $400 for framed. His greeting cards are available for $5 in the gift shop.
Information: 812-378-2622 or columbus.in.us.