It takes a special state of mind to find beauty in the decay. For artist Julius Dorsey, it’s not a state of mind, but a state of being. From his start in Detroit (currently recovering from financial ruins) to building his business Chicago Fire from nothing, Julius has seen again and again that when there is decay, there is growth. On Krrb, he sells vintage furniture and pieces he’s handcrafted that have been torched to bring out the beauty. Read on and get inspired by Julius’s journey.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. What’s your background?
My background is in fine art; painting, drawing, and photography. I get a lot of enjoyment in creating life from things most other people consider junk. I’m the type of person to make puppets out of old cereal boxes and bottles of juice with my kids instead of throwing them in the trash.
You say Detroit is the inspiration behind your work. What were your favorite aspects of Detroit and also what are your favorite aspects of your current day home of Chicago?
Detroit was basically like second home for me. My dad went to Cooley High. My mom went to Cass Tech. I spent every Christmas and Thanksgiving there and all of my cousins lived there. My favorite aspect of Detroit has always been the people. You can feel it, the culture is heavy. It’s the D. They “rep” their city…they have pride. Chicago is like a visual candy shop to me; multiple cities smashed into one under the same name. The character in one block of Pilsen alone (where my woodshop is located) is a photographer’s playground. If you’ve been there you know what I’m talking about. I can see the hands and influence of the people there. Its real to me…and that just one out of how many neighborhoods in Chicago? Thats what I love about Chi Town.
Do you ever get attached to a certain piece and don’t end up selling it?
All the time. And every time my wife makes me sell them. She’s the boss! :)
What’s your favorite piece that you’re currently selling?
I love them all but the Pilsen Industrial Series was special because we took a totally different approach. We went super rustic and the public embraced it.
What is the process behind torching the pieces of wood?
No two pieces are exactly alike. I start with a vision about what I want the piece to become. Then I go to work with that in mind.
The complete story is on your website but can you give our readers a Cliff Notes version of how your began your company?
If my inspiration came from Detroit, my sense of urgency came from my household. I started this business after being fired from a sales job in my late 20’s. In a month I went from being on pace to earn 6 figures in my “dream” job to having no income, with bills on the way and a wife 8-months pregnant with our 4th child. Oh, and I was flat broke and we had no health insurance.
There was no “how to” manual…I had to figure it all out. This isn’t about furniture or fire—it’s about proving to myself that all things are possible.
Rather than taking another job I took the leap of faith and decided to start something on my own. For the next year I transformed my condo into a woodshop. I was literally refinishing furniture in my kitchen nook and photographing in my dining room. I couldn’t stand insecurities of being seen as a crazy ex-employee so I closed all my social media accounts, cancelled my cell phone plan and went dark on the world. Customers would show up to see my “showroom” and encounter my kids running all over the place. I carried a few hundred pieces of furniture up 2 flights of stairs for over a year before getting my own woodshop.
There was no “how to” manual on wood burning and I had never run a business successfully. I had to figure it all out. I still have a lot to learn but in the last 3 years I’ve learned more about myself than I have in the last 30 years. This isn’t about furniture or fire. It’s about proving to myself that all things are possible, like my pastor says. As long as I can wake up and continue to pursue my passion and support my family then I’m on the right path. Thanks for all of your support.
What types of wood do you use for these projects? Are their certain types of wood that take to the torching better? How do you source the wood?
I love all types of wood. People place a lot of emphasis on wood quality and so forth. theres a place for that but the fire can make even plywood look amazing.
You make both original pieces and also update vintage pieces. Do you prefer one type of project over the other?
That’s right, we do custom fire finishing and original pieces available on my Krrb corner. I like the creative control of making something from scratch…the idea of imagining something and then having people connect with it and want it is amazing to me. And the adrenaline of refinishing an existing piece is amazing too. Its a totally different pace. And the thing about fire finishing is its very unforgiving so you only get one shot to do it right. I love that about it.
Where do you physically do this torching process? Where and how are the pieces of furniture stored?
The pieces are physically torched outdoors and usually done at night. They’re stored in the building where our woodshop is in Pilsen.
As someone who’s afraid to even light a candle, I’m curious to hear how you learned to use fire to make art.
There was a lot of trial and error. I destroyed a lot of furniture learning how to do this, lol. It wasn’t a cheap way to learn how to do something. But there was nobody to teach me and I was curious about how far I could push things. Once I got the hang of it, I was hooked.
What blogs or websites do you visit for inspiration?
I draw my inspiration from my surroundings and from the streets. I’ve always been drawn to the unmanicured, corners of the city where the raw truth is out in the open. I like to view life before and after the cameras start rolling with all the imperfections in plain view.
Anything else you’d like readers to know about?
Never let fear tell you what you can or can’t do. Don’t be afraid to back yourself into a corner where failure isn’t an option and fight your way out. You’ll make and become something amazing in the process.