Dan Godsel: Cop painter

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Dark, mysterious paintings of pistols, bullets, liquor bottles and police tape line the walls of artist Dan Godsel's basement studio in Jefferson Park.

Dark, mysterious paintings of pistols, bullets, liquor bottles and police tape line the walls of artist Dan Godsel's basement studio in Jefferson Park.

The picture of his oldest boy in Pokemon pajamas in rich colors and deep shadows seems overtly gritty -- even for the artwork of a police sergeant.

After talking to Godsel about the years he spent hunting bad guys on the city's West Side, the deep hues of his work seem to suggest a street officer's view of the city.

But he won't cop to that.

"People always say my paintings are dark, and they think my experiences on the job filter through," Godsel says. "But it could be because I work in my basement and it's dark down there."

Years working midnights in the Grand Central District probably explains some of Godsel's gloomy still-lifes and eerie self-portraits.

But it doesn't account for his commissioned paintings of puppies, or the "Bean" in Millennium Park -- both huge hits at the charity auction at his kids' school, St. Tarcissus.

There isn't a lot about Godsel that matches what you'd expect of a South Side Irish kid raised by a family of firefighters and police officers.

Godsel grew up down on 85th and California. And he never wanted to grow up to be a cop like his uncle, or to fight fires as his father and grandfather did.

He was the kid who doodled in science class, listened to Lou Reed, found inspiration in Andy Warhol and studied at the Art Institute of Chicago -- at least until he ran out of cash.

It wasn't until he was a broke college drop-out that Godsel considered becoming a cop. That was his "inspiration" to take the police test.

"Look, I had to have a job . . . and the next thing I know, I'm sitting in the police academy," he says. "An instructor says, 'So, do all you guys want to start on Dec. 16?' "

At first, working overnights in the Grand Central District was so exciting that Godsel didn't want to leave after his shift ended.

Still, Godsel, 37, preferred the feeling of a filbert paintbrush in his hand over the weight of his Sig-Sauer .45 automatic.

That's why he eventually went back to finish his degree at the Art Institute. His wife, Zlata, can regularly find him holed up behind an easel in the basement.

"People ask me if I paint to relax, or if painting is an escape from police work. I tell them, I paint because I'm a painter. It's in me," Godsel says. "I guess I'm more of an artist than a policeman."

Every now-and-again his inspiration and police work collide -- like the time he had a suspect spread eagle on a building plastered with posters for the 1996 movie "I Shot Andy Warhol."

"We were about to let him go, and I asked the guy if he knew who shot Andy Warhol," Godsel says. "And the guy says, 'Man, I don't know nothing about it. I gang bang man. But I ain't no shooter. That ain't me.'"

He still laughs about that.

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Mark Konkol

Mark Konkol covers city neighborhoods for the Chicago Sun-Times. You can e-mail him or call (312) 321-2146.

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This page contains a single entry by Mark Konkol published on June 15, 2007 9:52 AM.

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