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‘Stuck In My Head’ exhibit takes a colorful approach to music and culture

Avery Heeringa
One of Tom Eslinger’s pieces displayed at the Center on Halsted on Feb. 15, 2024, reads “these are the days of miracles and wonder,” atop a contrast of bright and detailed stickers

Tom Eslinger, assistant professor of instruction in the Communication Department, is currently showing his first solo art exhibition, “Stuck In My Head,” at Chicago’s Center on Halsted, until March 30. 

The exhibition is a collection of 13 works of various sizes, each featuring a combination of wood paneling, repurposed album covers, printed vinyl and stickers. 

Eslinger grew up in North Dakota surrounded by a family constantly playing music, which formed his appreciation for the art form at an early age. As he would listen along to the music his parents and siblings would play, certain aspects would stick with him, which is part of what he revisited in creating “Stuck In My Head.”  

Eslinger moved to Chicago in 2022 to begin teaching at Columbia after a long career in creative directing for various advertising companies. In Chicago, he began renting a studio space in Pilsen to house his artistic pursuits. 

Eslinger said he felt inspired to begin working in art again after coming to Columbia. 

“Columbia College, for me, is really inspiring,” he said. “I’m around all these other young, old teachers, professors, adjuncts, and they’re all creative people.” 

Eslinger said his artistic pursuits are a way for him to utilize his college education from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, as well as honor his love of music and culture. 

“I still do project work in advertising, but to be honest, I went to art school, I trained as a graphic designer, I studied art history and then I got into advertising and I really didn’t put a lot of the education to use every day,” he said. “It’s a lot more fulfilling for me to be doing the art.”

The exhibit is displayed along one wall on the Center on Halsted’s second floor and is available for the public to visit for its duration. Images of Diana Ross and Jane Fonda are contrasted by flashy stickers of the Powerpuff Girls and Winnie the Pooh. These faces and figures are backgrounded by bold typography spelling out phrases and lyrics from songs that have stuck with Eslinger. 

“When I was a kid, lyrics would get stuck in my head,” he said. “I went back to the music and lyrics as inspiration.” 

All of the pieces draw the viewer in with thought-provoking lines such as, “these are the days of miracles and wonder.” 

“Most of the color and the messages that I have are very vibrant, loud and trying to make people feel joy or giggle a little bit when they read one of the silly lyrics and maybe think a little bit,” he said.

Joey McDonald, manager of events and volunteers at the Center on Halsted, said the opening reception for the exhibit was a “great success.” Eslinger’s exhibit is one of two being displayed at the Center on Halsted, both of which shared an opening reception. 

“They both promoted their stuff very widely, they had very large groups of people who showed up for opening night,” McDonald said. “It was a fantastic evening.” 

Of every artwork sold, 10% goes to the Center on Halsted to fund its general operations. 

This allows for the artists on display to “pay back” the center for the gallery space since artists aren’t required to pay to display their work. Bringing in large groups of people to the opening reception, further increasing the likelihood of pieces selling, is a way for the artists to give back to the local LGBTQIA+ community through the center’s work. 

“I think that our art gallery openings are pretty unique, it allows the center to bring in people who would normally not be here, as they come in to see their friends or artists that they know,” McDonald said. “It widens our sphere of influence in doing that.”

David Joseph, the center’s contracted curator, said he was compelled to showcase Eslinger’s work after learning more about the background of the show’s theme. Joseph said he hopes visitors will approach the exhibit with enough care to fully appreciate the work. 

“I just hope people take the time to really look and see what’s going on,” Joseph said. “Stand back away from it so they can see rhythm and movement aside from the quote. It is something that you need time to look at.

Eslinger said he hopes the exhibit leaves viewers with a sense of upbeat, bright energy.

“I’m hoping that they come away with going like ‘Oh that was fun, that was nice and it got me energized,’” Eslinger said. 

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About the Contributor
Avery Heeringa, Reporter
aheeringa@columbiachronicle.com   Avery Heeringa is a senior communications major, minoring in journalism. Heeringa has reported on the college's unions and events on-campus. He is also the editor-in-chief of ChicagoTalks. Heeringa joined the Chronicle in December 2023.   Hometown: St. Paul, Minnesota