Patrick Hull is owner and curator of Vertical Gallery in Ukrainian Village, which exhibits urban, contemporary, and street art. But take a glance at his LinkedIn profile pic, and you might assume otherwise: the former marketing executive sits in an office chair sporting a crisp white shirt and tie, an argyle sweater vest, and a can-do smile. His resumé of past high-powered positions—at Birkenstock USA, Caboodle Cartridge, Woodruff-Sawyer & Co.—is impressive, but what does this conservative-looking dude “with proven ability to grow market share for diverse companies” know about street art?
A lot, in fact. Most crucially, the Bay Area transplant understands that thoughtfully combining his marketing expertise and personal interest in growing a collector base in Chicago can be a boon to the city’s street art scene.
On a recent day at Vertical, Hull was in more casual attire—an orange polo shirt and shorts. The 44-year-old opened the gallery in the spring of last year after moving to Chicago with his life partner, Michael Varela. Situated on Western Avenue across from an Amish grocery store and a few doors down from an incarceration-themed burger joint, the space is, like Hull, modest but approachable.
“It’s small and manageable,” Hull says of the gallery, which mounts monthly exhibitions. “We offer a variety of price points. We’ve even worked out payment plans.”
Hull didn’t encounter such a flexible, unstodgy approach when he first became interested in art. “I have never been one to wander around galleries,” he says. “It just felt intimidating.” A friendlier entree came while visiting San Francisco street art fairs, open studios, and galleries such as the urban-art-focused White Walls.
“I knew for a while that I wanted to open this kind of place,” Hull says. But the west coast already felt saturated. “I love Chicago and knew it didn’t have as much of a street art scene as what I was seeing on the coasts or when I was traveling [for work] in Europe all the time.”
With Hull establishing connections with local and international artists, Vertical has quickly developed a reputation for high-quality shows. It opened with a Don’t Fret-curated exhibition featuring work by the likes of Chicago-based artists Hebru Brantley and Clam Nation, and “Deck the Halls,” last year’s holiday show showcasing custom skate decks by 50-plus artists, was very well received. On the walls through July 26 is “Building the Dream,” the debut U.S. solo show by British graffiti artist Xenz, inspired by the prefire Chicago depicted in Gus Russo’s book The Outfit.
Though he’s no longer publicizing footwear or ink cartridges, Hull still considers himself a marketing guy. “I can’t have a show,” he says, “that doesn’t sell anything.” Bonus: far fewer sweater vests.