sarah raskey
Image: Tim Manning

There are enough letters after her name to complete the alphabet, and enough beauty in her West Loop gallery to complete…well, anyone.

Sarah Raskey is part artist, part gemologist, part sculptor, and part couture queen. Also, part therapist. And part adjunct graduate professor. These titles, though, only begin to describe the Chicago-based artist.

Stepping into the Sarah Raskey Gallery, I immediately experience the kind of sensory overload I formerly associated only with florists, bakeries, and Bollywood films. The door opens to reveal a corridor lined with abstracts and collages. Something that smells of gardenia and lilac wafts through the air, music plays at just the right volume, and the whole space is illuminated in soft, warm light. Chandeliers and hardwood floors create an atmosphere of down-to-earth elegance, which is a fitting description of Raskey herself. Dressed in a simple black tunic and platform ankle boots, she is day-glam, radiant, and discusses her artwork with both modesty and accessibility. This is a question-friendly environment. A place where I can touch the art and say scholarly things like, “This one’s pretty,” and no one will mind.

The artist’s creativity manifested itself at an early age. “I just remember being really young — eight or nine, maybe — and I would get really excited to make art. After dinner was over, I’d go up to my room, light candles, and create. For me, it was such a special experience and I feel like I did a lot of maturing and growing throughout that process.”

It was her passion for visual art that eventually led to the pursuit of a university arts degree. But her decision to become an art therapist came later. “When I finally discovered in college that there was this cross-section called Art Therapy – which I’d never heard of – I couldn’t have been happier. I felt like I didn’t have to give up anything.”

Nowadays, when she’s not covered in plaster, layering found objects onto a collage, or applying finishing touches to a commissioned piece, she conducts art therapy sessions out of her Elizabeth Street gallery space. She describes it as “a happy marriage between traditional psychotherapy and contemporary art practice,” and adds, “[art therapy] is really teaching people the language of art and how we’ve used it throughout time.” Sessions are beneficial for those who have difficulty putting thoughts into words, preferring to create a visual that gives a physicality to their emotions.

Raskey offers me a one-on-one guided tour of the gallery, and we start near the front doors. There, her pieces are literally glowing. Illuminated by translucent materials that are lit from behind, the abstracts and mixed-media collages emit soft, calming light. A large canvas on the wall is thick with what appears to be pebbles, gold leaf, textured sand, and crystals. A smaller piece, entitled Amethyst and Alchemy has thin slices of amethyst rock pressed into gold paint and is finished with a high-gloss varnish.

But perhaps her most unusual, drool-worthy productions are her completely original “art couture” pieces, a series of collages that adorn walls in the same way a necklace or a handbag adorns an individual. Dripping with leather, zippers, and black lace, it’s art you’d expect to be gracing the pages of a fashion magazine. One 12 x 12 canvas is all black except for its corners which have silver studs and spikes protruding from them, as though defending the piece. Another has floral fabric layered on canvas, which extends outward until it wraps around the frame.

Bright pops of pink, magenta, and fuchsia appear in many of her pieces, and here is where her contrast lies: Raskey’s work is feminine but not exclusive. Translation: You don’t have to turn in your gentleman’s card in order to appreciate it.

In an approach she describes as process vs. product, Raskey gushes, “I love the idea that something that [one day] does not exist on the planet all the sudden does [exist].” An avid researcher, the artist admits her “art brain” often leads her in several different directions at once, but it’s her intuition that plays a large role in terms of inspiration. If an idea emerges again and again, she pays attention. “There must be something there if it’s on my radar.”

And her intuition has paid off. With installations in places like Chicago’s Hotel Allegro, the Merchandise Mart, and hybrid restaurant/gallery Fulton Market Kitchen, Raskey has succeeded in creating her own brand; art that is unique for its bold color, heavy texture, and femininity. Like a band with a signature sound, her portfolio is diverse yet thematic, carrying a continuity that is instantly recognizable.  You don’t need to ask if it’s a Sarah Raskey, you just know.

Although the artist admits that Chicago’s visual art scene is not as vibrant as those in New York or LA, she feels very attached to the city that, for generations, her family has called home. “I’m connected to Chicago very much by my family. I admire the grit about Chicago[ans]…I identify with that. Chicago has a different pulse about it that I appreciate.”

In the future, she envisions herself doing more collaborations. “It always freaks me out when I talk to, say, twelve-year-old kids and ask them, ‘Who is your favorite visual artist?’ and they list rappers. Which is cool, but then I’m like, ‘Well, what about painters?’ If I’m lucky, there’s one dead guy they’ll come up with.” She looks forward to working with other artists, organizations, and groups who promote visual art and believe in its cultural relevance.

For someone who wears many hats and holds many brushes, does she painstakingly make a schedule for herself each week? Raskey lets out a puff of laughter and says, “I hope one day, if I grow up, I will do that.”

Sarah Raskey Fine Art Gallery

17 N. Elizabeth St.

Open to the public by appointment only. For more information, call 312-788-7613 or visit