I Hope There’s Drugs In Heaven. (Rest In Peace, Dave Brockie.)

April 7, 2014 · Print This Article

Dave Brockie, better known as Oderus Urungus, frontman of the band GWAR, passed away on March 23rd. He was found dead in his Richmond home by a fellow band member.  As of this writing, murder and suicide have been ruled out as causes of Brockie’s death,while drugs are still being considered a possibility. Drugs seem likely.  Drugs featured prominently in the band’s lyrics (which may not be significant, considering that necrophilia, bestiality, and mass murder were common themes as well) and in Brockie’s autobiographical writing as well.  According to police, there was evidence of drug use at the scene.  While the official autopsy report is yet to be released, it seems probably that Brockie died of a drug overdose.

Much is often made, in the wake of a celebrity’s death, and especially a premature death to drugs or suicide, of what lesson we might learn, of the pressures of fame, the ills of society, and so on.  We are asked what lesson we might learn, and also (often as we are being asked for a contribution to a foundation) what the celebrity would have wanted.  Of course, on one level it’s irrelevant:  the celebrity is dead, and so their wishes are irrelevant.  Funerals are for the living.  I never knew Dave personally, but if you ask me what lesson he’d want us to learn from his death, I’d say, “Not a damned thing.”  He’d want us to steal his corpse from the medical examiner’s office and have sex with it.

GWAR was started in the 1980s by a group of art students at Virginia Commonwealth University.  Hunter Jackson was a VCU student working on a film called Scumdogs of the Universe (later to be used as the title of GWAR’s second album). Brockie was the singer for a punk band called Death Piggy.  Jackson (better known to GWAR fans as Techno Destructo) was using an old warehouse to film his movie; Death Piggy rehearsed in the same warehouse.  The two got to know each other, and GWAR was born.  (Sort of.  As is generally the case, the truth is a lot more complicated, but that’s the short version.

I haven’t been able to confirm whether or not Dave Brockie was himself enrolled at VCU, but many of the founding memers of GWAR were, including Jackson, and Chuck Varga (who performs in GWAR as Sexecutioner).  In a 1994 interview with Live Wire Magazine, Varga talked about leaving the fine art path to join GWAR:  “I went to college, I went the fine art route, and it really turned me off.  I was really creative, but at the same time, I wasn’t into fine or commercial art. It seemed like art was really a dead end thing to get into.  I was hanging around with Hunter (Jackson, Techno Destructo when he’s around, “a lowly slave” when he’s not) Dave (Brockie, Oderus Urungus, the vocalist), who were totally crazy, much like myself. They totally reviled in comic books and movies, and II kind of looked at myself and said, ‘I’ve always been into that! I don’t need a bunch of goddamned museum bullshit!’ So I had a rebirth in a way, forget everything I learned in college, and I started to learn about a totally different science of special effects and props.” (http://spookykids.net/gwar/gwarpage/Unmasked.html)

He could have gone for general. He went for himself instead.

More than any cautionary tale about drugs and the stereotypes of the rock and roll lifestyle, the lesson to take away from Dave Brockie’s death is to look at his life, and the lives of his bandmates, past and present, living and dead.  A nineteen year old punk singer from Canada, Brockie met some art students who were tried of trying to make it in what by 1985 they were already seeing as an overly repressive and stagnated art world. Though they would probably have simultaneously shat and vomited at the language, what they did next was a finer piece of interdisciplinary, collaborative, relational aesthetics than most projects to be so called.  They presaged the rough aesthetics of Nathalie Djurburg (http://www.lissongallery.com/artists/nathalie-djurberg-hans-berg/gallery) and the wet, sticky grotesque of Gregory Jacobsen (http://gregoryjacobsen.com/). Under the rotted surface, their work contained a subtle and no-one-is-safe political satire, like an X-rated version of Vermont’s Bread and Puppet.  And it all started when a punk singer and some art students decided that instead of banging their heads against the ceilings in their respective fields, they’d strap on some big rubber dicks and go for broke.

How We Work: An Interview With Jacob S. Knabb

April 2, 2014 · Print This Article

Guest post by A.Martinez

Jacob S. Knabb is a true storyteller on the page, on the stage, and in real life. He is also an invaluable host and curator in Chicago’s literary scene and over the four years I’ve known Jacob, I’m grateful to have attended over a dozen of his events around the city. In 2013, he made NewCity’s Lit 50 for his work as Editor-In-Chief of Curbside Splendor. He currently lives in Lake Forest with his beautiful wife, young son, and their two small dogs.

A. Martinez: How did you become a storyteller? Was storytelling a big part of your childhood?

Jacob S. Knabb: My mother read to us when we were small and while my brother and sister both liked it I was enraptured. I would sit as long as she’d read, even as a toddler. I was an advanced reader and by 3rd Grade my dad would give me some of the books he was reading once he was done with them. So reading and narrative were addictions. But I also grew up in the coal fields of Southern West Virginia and most everyone there is a storyteller in one way or another. Ask for directions and you’ll learn about the people that live on the route and what happened the last time the person you asked went that way. People there still sort of thrive on the stories people tell about themselves and there is a lot of mythmaking going on. I learned that telling funny stories endeared me to people and over time I became the person people would turn to when they wanted to know what had happened with so-and-so or how crazy we had all gotten at a party. It just comes naturally to me. I link things instinctually and make puns and wordplay without trying. I’m always surprised at how my mind does that without me being in control of it. But my grandfather, Harold Ray “Tony” Ball is the one who got me wanting to tell stories to people as a form of entertainment. He always wanted me to learn guitar so I could play songs and tell jokes and share stories with people onstage. It was his vision for me and he’d tell me that every time I’d go back home to visit.

fambly photobooth1

Martinez: What is one of the best stories you’ve heard and who told it?

Knabb: A story I’ve begun to refer to as “That’s Happiness” that was told to me by a 60-something year old creeker I met one night in a bar in my hometown called Clyde’s (which has since closed and is now a dance studio). It was after the fireworks on the last night of the annual Coal Fest and Clyde was about to close the bar. He’s an old guy who looks like an unfiltered Camel that was smoked down to the nub and then squashed into an ashtray, a Vietnam vet who was in the Navy with my father. He sort of liked me, or at least tolerated me enough to give me a free beer when I would go to his bar to drink. That night I came in as he was mopping and he let me drink there alone as long as I left him alone while he cleaned. As I was sitting there drinking a can of High Life the old creeker stuck his head in and asked Clyde if he was still open and Clyde said “fuck it why not” and set the dude up with a bottle of beer, I want to say it was Budweiser. The two of us sat there in silence and Clyde cleaned the floors and tables while we sipped our beers.

At that time I was fond of asking people, strangers mostly, deceptively complex questions when we found ourselves drinking side-by-side at a bar. I’d ask things that centered mostly on emotion, things like ‘You think people can truly regret anything?’ and usually they’d start waxing all philosophical in response. People want to tell you their thoughts, you know. Well that night I asked the old creeker “What’s happiness?” He sat there for a moment, long enough that I figured he wasn’t going to answer and then he told me a story about his son. This is more or less what he said:

“I had me a son once and his momma left us. We lived up at the head of a holler. He was best friends with this little girl that lived next door. The two of them was inseparable. The both had straight blonde hair and in the summer you could look out in the yard and see them playing there and you couldn’t tell them apart. Once they was in High School they became sweethearts. Even went to prom. On the day of his graduation I fucked her. He left and I kept on fuckin’ her. Then she left too. I ain’t heard from my son since. That’s happiness.”

I’ve told that story dozens of times and I never tell it the same way. I’ve never heard one as good before and I still am amazed by it. What I like to do is to end with that last line and make up the lead-up to it. I use it as a goal, a challenge to myself, to make up a story that is as good and that will get me into that bar so I can tell the old man’s story.

Martinez: You currently teach at Lake Forest College. What are you teaching there? And how does teaching influence your creative writing and editing?

Knabb: I was hired to help Lake Forest build a minor in Print and Digital Publishing. And to help grow their press. Teaching has no influence at all on writing or editing, I have to admit. It’s almost entirely the other way around. My students are very intelligent and motivated and they want to be excited about things. I love working with them and creating a yearning in them for literature and publishing. It’s very rewarding to be able to draw on my own experiences and to share my knowledge with them.


Martinez: I first met you at your show called “So You Think You Have Nerves of Steel”, which ran for some years at Hungry Brain and then Empty Bottle. Will you tell us about the origin and theme of this show?

Knabb: There’s this brilliant but somewhat insane writer and musician named CT Ballentine. He wrote and collaborated with the dude named Todd Dills who lives in Nashville and runs an online and print zine called THE2NDHAND. CT and Dills wanted to start up a storytelling show and CT believed strongly that the show should be about challenging writers to do something more than simply standing on stage and reading their work off of the page. CT is an obsessive and also a true believer. He has this baby face and wears bib overalls and looks like he’s right out of a Tom Waits song about beautiful and ruinous rubber tramps. Anyway, the phrase ‘nerves of steel’ kept echoing in his mind, over and over, and he kept saying it to Dills and that this was the name of the show and what they needed to focus on. CT saw me performing and wanted me to be the host. He was running sound at The Whistler and decided that would be where the show was held and that I would host it and that it would be called “So You Think You Have Nerves of Steel?” How could I say no? I think CT wanted me to get into fist fights with the writers and for people to freak out. But right before we launched the first show CT had a mental break, cut off all of his hair, and vanished. They found him a few weeks later and he got back onto his meds and was ok. And the rest is sort of history of a small kind. We kept the theme of challenging writers to do things they weren’t comfortable with. And I grew it into a platform for myself to improvise in the persona of Harold Ray. Over time I made it into a variety show and it got fairly tight, in a ‘loaded to the gills’ kind of way.

Martinez: The host of your series was a country-singer-wannabe named Harold Ray. Who is Harold Ray and where did this character come from?

Knabb: The name Harold Ray is an homage to my grandfather and what he wanted me to to with my life. But the character is nothing like him. The real Harold Ray has never been drunk, is a family man and worker who was always proud of the muscles he had from hard labor. He builds things. He built his home. He built a house boat. And he plays guitar and sings old country songs.

I went in a different direction with my Harold Ray. I decided he would be the baser aspects of me, a version of myself that had never left WV, had become a grizzled drinker, and wanted to cheat and trick on the way to success. I felt Harold Ray would long to be a famous singer but would be too lazy and unfocused to actually practice guitar and songwriting. Instead he would pretend that he had written songs that were already famous or successful. This gave me a great gag and an excuse to sing Johnny Cash and Neil Young and Waylon Jennings and Garth Brooks songs. It also gave me an outlet to tell a lot of the crazy stories I’ve gathered over the year and to sort of spin tall tales about people I’ve known. As I did the show the character grew more focused and it was very simple to be ‘in character’ and to put the persona on like an old denim jacket. The only catch was being in that character was costly to me physically. It meant I had an excuse to drink and I’m an alcoholic. There were many nights where I’d black out before the show was over. Which makes perfect sense in the world of the show and for the character but is hell on me personally. I just couldn’t keep it up.

Martinez: How did you get into hosting all these literary events?

Knabb: I was born to stand on stage and say things to a room full of people. It’s why I’m a good teacher. It’s what would also make me a good actor or salesman or game show host if I had the focus and dedication and passion required to actually pursue those things.


Martinez: What is your main role Editor-In-Chief at Curbside Splendor?

Knabb: I’m responsible for tons of things, really. I am primarily responsible for book acquisitions so our catalog is very much a manifestation of my artistic vision and sense of what makes a good book. I work with designers on the book covers and art direction. I oversee the editorial staff and publicity folks. I set up events and tours and sell on trade show floors. I do a little bit of everything. My partner in the enterprise, the publisher of Curbside Victor David Giron, is very similar. He’s also involved in everything we do. And we have some other talented people working to make Curbside live and grow, people like Naomi Huffman and Ben Tanzer, Catherine Eves and Emma Mae Brown, Alban Fisher and Leonard Vance. I work with all of them and a lot of other folks to keep Curbside going. It’s the greatest job I’ve ever had and I’m obsessed with it. All of the energy I used to expend drinking and wasting time now are spent on Curbside.

Martinez: Curbside Splendor really comes up with some interesting events including your pop-up book fairs and variety shows- how do you curate these events? And do you take inspiration from other events?

Knabb: I steal from everyone. I’m a magpie. If someone has a good idea, or a concept I like, I take it and adapt it to my own events. So I’m influenced by tons of people. My approach to curation is to keep things simple. Be organized as much as possible. Save everything so it’s accessible. And network like a motherfucker so you can work with cool people. I’m also a bit of a control freak and it’s been tough for me to let go of the reigns though I’ve learned to do that. I make the flyers, put together the talent, create the concept, talk with the venue, work the room night of, host the damned thing, and sit around with the bar staff for a drink afterward. Top to bottom. I want to be embroiled in all of it.

Martinez: What other publishers/literary collectives/lit events do you think are doing some interesting things in the city?

Knabb: There are a ton of great lit events now. Claire Zulkey’s Funny Ha-Ha is awesome. Brian Costello’s Shame That Tune is too. Guts and Glory which Sam Irby and Keith Ecker run is superb. Megan Stielstra’s 2nd Story. Too many to name, really. I love what I’m seeing from Fifth Star Press, Switchback Books is cool. Rose Metal Press is too. CCLaP does good stuff.  Haymarket Books is stellar. There are too many to list and I haven’t even gotten into collectives…

iggy & daddy1

Martinez: What are you working on now?

Knabb: Curbside and Lake Forest, though I have a great idea for a short novel and want to write the bulk of it over the summer.

Martinez: Is there a piece of advice, lit-related or not that you think of often?

Knabb: Recently my pawpaw Harold Ray has begun saying the same thing over and over and it is this: “You’re never going to be as young as you are right now.” And in times of stress when something must be gotten through or endured my father will say “Well, a man could stand on his head for that long if he had to.” I think of those two things all the time.


All photos courtesy of the artist.

A.Martinez is a freelance art and music organizer living in Chicago, IL.

Drawing Lines of Communication: A Conversation With Tony Lewis

April 2, 2014 · Print This Article

By: Kevin Blake

It is perhaps impossible to communicate the meaning of anything within the boundaries of language. Without a guide to offer intention, language simultaneously has too many variations and too many limitations, most of which are well defined. Images have the same issues, and within the context of fine art, images carry even more baggage than words. When the words are the images, and the images are the words, the scope of what is readable becomes blurred. Tony Lewis explores these impossibilities of communication by deliberately leading and misleading his audience through the authority of language and the power of images. He draws from the well of established language-oriented conceptual artists while quickly developing an aesthetic grammar that feels genuinely intuitive but earned.

Kevin Blake: Text is scantily deployed in your drawings in what seems like quadrants of equally infinite space and is often connected by a thin line that lassos the letters together. The text reads as a play on words that implicates the viewer, as if the viewer could only know certain letters together as one phrase, or only having one possibility. I think the drawing, “dope repoa” 2012 is a perfect example of this strategy. The viewer sees the words “rope-a-dope” when reading the text from left to right, top to bottom, and this phrase immediately recalls Muhammad Ali and his strategy against George Foreman. There are many implications in this particular drawing, as with most of your work. Can you talk about how you think about the way people see, or the way people read, and how that influences your images?


Tony Lewis, dope repoa, 2012 84″ x 60″ Pencil and graphite powder on paper


Tony Lewis: It’s important to say the work you’re describing is a specific project in the studio, delineated conceptually (but not spatially) from others drawings. That is to say, although I make different types of drawings, I hope they all have a strong, collective sensibility that is considerate towards how people read, look, and think- I guess this means I assume a lot about people. More importantly, I assume to know the difficulty of language (and words and letters) and understanding in conversation. This functions the same way in the work- the speed at which you absorb ideas or material, the longevity of the dialogue, and development your own ideas are all variable.  As you say in regards to implications, I would hope there is more than one possibility when faced with the work, as I am concerned with making images that are working through several things at once. But I won’t be surpised, or disappointed with such a read, as some other the drawings within this project are arguably, and justifiably one-dimensional.

KB: In terms of the implications for the viewer, I should say that I agree there are most definitely more possibilities than one, per drawing, or phrase, or collective grouping of words within any particular work. I suppose that I was trying to get at the idea that in each piece, there is one in particular that rises first and foremost as the one that feels most intentioned. It feels, for instance, that “rope-a-dope” is the phrase that is colloquially known, and that it has implications of its own. The text seems to be rooted in groupings of words that have some sort of social affect or commonplace amongst us and it is that phrase in which the work is situated and then abstracted from. Multiple possibilities arise in this way. I’m curious as to how much of knowing the implications of deploying a very definite grouping of words or letters inform your beginnings and how much of where you begin is maintained in the finished product.

Tony Lewis, ,.deroloc color dna peopled elpoeP, 2011 84″ x 60″  Pencil and graphite powder on paper


TL: The ability to begin with colloquial phrases, or familiar terms is one way to approach the selection of letters from the larger pool of letters made from the original sentence (60 characters). I also select non-words, punctuation, or single letters as viable characters to use in order to make a drawing. All of the selections of characters have historically been based upon my own sensibility and inclination- whether finding humor, sadness, nonsense, direct references to people’s names, or in the case of rope-a-dope, a historically famous fighting style, which also describes the process of seeing and reading of the drawing(s). Sometimes, linguistically they begin with something that makes sense, like “the fool eloped” then progresses to “op ed” in the process of drawing. The past few years the attitude, and motivation toward this template sentence has shifted quite a bit- from breaking it down, finding new language (and all the different ways to do that), and eventually finding new ways to simply make a line.

KB: I saw a couple of your drawings last night at the Hyde Park Art Center, and in one of the pieces there is a piece of appropriated text from a calender pasted to the drawing. It acts very differently than your more formal arrangements spatially, but seems to create the same sort of conceptual trajectory. Can you talk about the chronology of mark-making in your work or how you set up these drawings? Does the text come first? Do you begin with a phrase? Does the phrase arise from the drawing? As your motivations towards a template sentence shifts, how do those changes affect the way a drawing is executed? 

TL: The drawings at HPAC were commissions through the NJAPF program, so they’re more about conflating patron desires with studio sensibilities. I’m not very good at talking about those, as they are more a result of compromise and conversations with specific people, and more like collaborations. I hope that makes sense.

The mark-making begins with the condition of the studio where the drawings are made. For the past few years, i’ve had a healthy amount of graphite powder over most surfaces, mostly the floor and walls. Naturally, objects in the space immediately display evidence of their surroundings. Beginning on the floor, I take four sheets of loose stonehenge paper, tape, and rubber cement, and begin to bind them together, using a previous drawing (to maintain the correct scale and shape). From there I move to the wall where I usually have a 5′ by 7′ sheet of paper ready to work on- a sheet of paper with a heavy dose of loose “bruises”, scuffs, rips, and smudges. Afterwards, I usually begin outlining the framework (or guidelines) provided by the original drawing/template to find the position of the letters chosen from the larger sentence which has been put into a visual framework to visually fit the page (or sheet of paper). I proceed to draw the letters, words, or phrases that will be a part of the drawing, and will finish with drawing a line (or some variation) through each of the letters, words or phrases, I’ve just drawn. At that point I move the drawing to another location in the studio-mostly more than once, and will most likely use that same drawing to provide the correct dimensions and size to create another new drawing. There is variation at each stage of mark-making, but I’ve ultimately come to understand the project as one viable way to make a drawing.

Tony Lewis, loo, 2012 84″ x 60″ Pencil and graphite powder on paper

Considering the motivational shifts toward the template sentence, at one point it was about breaking down the perceived meaning of the template sentence people would have about the subject matter. Then I became interested in finding new words, which pointed to more interesting conversation. After a while, I was concerned with language that would give me the most interesting line. I’ve also been interested in creating subgroups of drawings within the larger project- drawings with similar language that come from the same source. Lately I’ve been understanding the project conceptually as the reality to speak with a dangerously limited vocabulary. Having focused on the same letters, phrases, and words for so long, I can’t help but look to my own creativity to say something, anything just to be heard, and to understand the limitations of what I can say. It’s like only having 10% of the dictionary to work from, and still having to find ways to express anger, confusion, happiness, The Simpsons, hatred, Che Guevara, the Irish Potato famine, race, Muhammed Ali, Richard Serra, color, Pope.L, Colorado, the letter o, and Kid Cudi (among others). All of these elements influence the way the drawings have been executed, and have shaped the future of the project.

KB: I recently read an essay by the artist Liselott Johnsson entitled, “Painting beyond Painting: From Pensiero Debole to an Expanded Practice,” in which she used Roland Barthe’s “Death of the Author” to situate her investigation into creating a relationship between her images and the viewer. Barthes writes, “…a text consists of multiple writings, issuing from several cultures and entering into dialogue with each other, into parody, into contestation; but there is one place where this multiplicity is collected, united, and this place is not the author, as we have hitherto said it was, but the reader…” Can you elaborate on how you decide to set up these parameters or boundaries that limit the scope of what is usable in terms of text in the drawings, and how those impediments reflect the viewer’s capacity to digest or grasp the conceptual framework within each work? How important is the reader’s comprehension to you? At what point does text and image become one unit–one conceptual and formal investigation?

TL: I decided to limit the boundaries of the text in the drawings when I wrote the template sentence, and whatever can come from that structure to help make a drawing- the language is undoubtedly subservient to the drawing. At the same time, the language is confounding, easily forgettable, yet explicitly, and vaguely refers to the past, present, and future of the color line in the US, and other places. It still feels like a great place to begin making drawings because of the reality its grounded in- the reality of poetic quotations, and the platitude as a way to continually describe a brief history of color, or race. From the beginning, I’ve had a distinct feeling that the statement is written as though it’s only been spoken to in platitudes, which in turn is how it learns to speak. I feel for the sake of the project, it’s important to note that I wrote the sentence, and it’s crucial that it feels like a quotation, because it essentially is. I usually need the help of a structure, diagram, or appropriated framework to combat the anxiety of making a drawing. For this project, it was my epigrammatic statement, Microsoft Word, and the very loose reference to Arial Bold.

I’m not sure I see the limitations as impediments against the viewers capacity to grasp the conceptual frame work. They are pragmatic in a sense that they allow for a more succinct way to arrive at what the viewer is faced with. I’m committed to the idea that the variety of the reader’s comprehension should rival the variety within the drawings. The project is bunk without a diversification of “responses” to the original sentence- by “responses”, I mean drawings. As I’ve pointed to earlier, each drawing that is made is a viable, physical reaction to the original platitude, and the authority it implies. With each drawing made, comes the expansion of possible positions to understand, support, disregard, disavow, worship, or forget the source. Each drawing is an individual object, as well as part of a larger conceptual collective who’s purpose at this point, may be to create a plethora of possibilities for people to be overwhelmed by. Maybe not. For viewers to fall into a single drawing, and go insofar as the paper, character, and the graphite smudge, I would hope it can find the same level of humor or seriousness (latent as it may be) as when sardonically bombarded with the drab, historical narrative of the platitude implicitly presented here. Admittedly, there’s a bit of dark humor at play, alongside the occasional slapstick, which keep this project light in a way that allows for a space for play, and a darker laughter.

I would hope that the drawings are always one unit; text and image as components along with others, to make a drawing happen all at once. Whether or not drawing can successfully contain the conceptual and formal investigations is something I’m looking forward to learning.

KB: I think when an artist is eager to learn something, he/she often finds themselves in a vulnerable position. When the solutions to the problems or questions we pose to ourselves are unknown, it seems the objects or images made in light of that inevitable anxiousness can be free of any exactitude forced upon it by solutions to known quantities or qualities. I think some level of vulnerability is an essential element to making new discoveries, and interesting work for that matter. Can you address the idea of vulnerability in your practice and how it may or may not manifest in your work?

TL: I agree, vulnerability in making can yield work that is impenetrable or “free”, if that’s what you mean. I make drawings on paper which are physically vulnerable- very easily ripped, and not fixed. They’re handled roughly in the studio. As weak as they maybe, they do carry the scars of that treatment well, I think. I’ve felt vulnerable about many things for most of my life. I can say making drawing has become a way to transcend my own shortcoming, and make something that enters into an authoritative, invulnerable realm which has only been occupied up until this point, by a grand narrative that existed before me, and the audience, yet also has the power to tell my story to both me, and the audience at the same time. I’m interested in having a drawing occupy the same space- turning the narrative onto itself in a way, so as to simulate this unreachable space using the conversation around the perceived content of the drawings. The work on one level, is a way to fight against that seemingly untouchable, historical world, or at least point it out to the viewer, without claiming myself as a victim, to say, “does this happen to you?” It’s hard to expand on that without having the right words.

I’m the type of thinker to find one hundred ways a new idea won’t work, and after I’ve proven myself wrong one hundred times, I feel there’s a chance it’s valid enough to take a risk. I hope this makes me some kind of optimist. There a strong relationship between vulnerability and being an optimist, both require a level of trust in something unknown.


Tony Lewis, clon opP, 2011 84″ x 60″ Pencil and graphite powder on paper

KB: On the subject of vulnerable materials, I’d like to know more about the Cartesian format of the pieced-together papers. The quadrants do not read as strictly a method for creating large scale works on paper. They feel more purposeful and the line that runs through the text further illustrates this format as having a graphed spatial dynamic. Is this happenstance, or does this methodology carry specific conceptual weight?

TL: It’s great for me to use it purely as a method to build a sheet of paper by binding smaller sheets together with rubber cement and tape. Although the quadrant also works well as a physical, and visual parameter to work within. The need for making the paper this way came from previous work, and that studio rhythm continued into this project- I guess that is happenstance. The quadrant helps me to understand character positions spatially, which influences the way words and marks are read in relation to each other. It’s vital that people can read left to right, top to bottom as you said earlier, and I’m interested in how far apart things have to be before they can no longer be understood together. I like the quadrant. It provides a sense of focus when approaching the paper, as if there is something already present holding it together. I’m indebted to the grid because of the way it helps me see space (or emptiness). In the drawings there is a real place for play, and fields where I can run my arms across the paper without flinching- real space to carry all of the conceptual weight of whatever language, mark, or process; and whatever authority or lack the drawings might have, hinges on this space to breathe, and see nothing with, or next to everything. I hope that’s not as romantic as it sounds.

Tony Lewis, n f pope.l, 2012 84″ x 60″ Pencil and graphite powder on paper

KB: As the Whitney Biennial comes to a close, where will you be concentrating your efforts? Do you have exhibition plans in the immediate future?

TL: Through the next month, I’ll be relaxing a bit, and in the studio focusing on new work hopefully. Right now, Nate Young and I have a two-person show at Room East in New York, which I’m very excited to be apart of- Nate is a close friend, and a great artist. I’m also reading Eleanor Roosevelt’s autobiography at the moment, which is nice. The main focus is preparing for solo exhibition in London near the end of May. It should be fun, and hopefully it’s a chance to recreate an exhibition installed in Chicago at Autumn Space in 2011.


March 31, 2014 · Print This Article

T of the Town

Once Chicago’s gets a glimpse of the sun, it’s on. What’s the T? has been all over the place in the last two weeks– openings, screenings, weddings, auctions, limos, basements, you name it. We even hit the courts yesterday with the Club Nutz basketball league. I see you Chicago, & you look gorgeous dahling.

In the words of my Bad at Sports cohort, Steve Ruiz, here’s some stuff you probably should have noticed in March.

Strangers unite to celebrate Wedding to Unknown.

The Unknown Couple with Edra Soto and pineapple upside down cake at the wedding.

The entire week leading up to Alberto Aguilar’s Wedding to Unknown at Columbia College on March 21st, when people asked me what I was doing Friday night I’d reply “going to a wedding.” The conversation would immediately turn weird when they’d inevitably discover that I had no idea who was getting married.

Ross Jordan and Morgan Walsh on the dance floor.

The maestro, Aguilar, serving dinner to wedding guests.

Arriving (late), I was relieved to run into Ross Jordan, outside waiting for his date to arrive. Ross assured me that the scene inside was a regular wedding except that everyone I’d want to party with was there. He wasn’t kidding.

Good vibes abounded and the gusts flocked to the dance floor after dinner & performances.

Sabina Ott rivals dancing queen Vincent Uribe on the dance floor. This photo is everything. Werk it girl! (Photo by David Ettinger Photography.)

Choice guests like Edra Soto, Daviel Shy and Hope Esser, Sabina Ott, Tricia Van Eck, Eric May and tons more rejoiced in honor of the couple. That night they were revealed to be Aguilar’s step-sister-in-law, Nina Young and her husband, Charenzo. The Young family stepped in to renew their vows after the original unknowns backed out weeks before the ceremony was set to take place.

Something like a phenomena.

We were lucky to catch the tail end of TRANSCEND A LIL’ BIT, billed as “An evening of video, performance, and pasta with Tony Balko & A.E. Paterra” at the Nightingale last Wednesday, March 26th.

Transcendent full house at the Nightingale.

Arriving just in time for the duos live A/V performance, SAUDADE, we were bewitched by Balko’s colorful flashing shapes combined with Paterra’s hypnotic rhythms.

Tony Paterra and Tony Balko answering questions after their screening and live performance. They discussed their live performance and past collaborations.

Love to Love You @ Roots & Culture.

Work by Sara Condo at Roots and Culture.

Sara Condo & Oli Rodriguez are like French fries and ice cream, it might not be an obvious pairing but it tastes oh-so-sweet. Or, at least that’s how Love to Love You, their exhibition that opened at Roots and Culture last Friday made me feel. Everyone else must feel the same way because R&C was totally packed. Despite the crowded gallery I was totally blown away by Condo’s image sampling and Rodriguez’s craigslist ad’s mounted on the gallery walls.


Don’t miss this unique opportunity to spend part of your summer in idyllic rural Wisconsin making art and engaging with fellow artists from all over the world.

Don’t mention it, but a little birdie told us that the application deadline is extended until April 4th, so you really have no excuse not to.

The Weatherman Report

Henry Callahan, Eleanor, Chicago, 1949, Gelatin silver print, 19.4 × 24.3 cm. Charles A. Hartman Fine Arts..

Lots of love going on in the R&C kitchen. Guests were treated to vegetarian dumplings and encouraged to recycle their beer cans by Mr. EZ Livin, Eric May.

Definitely a show that I think would benefit from a second look.

Work by Oil Rodriguez.

The exhibition is on view until April 26th.

Love Lingered at Kissy World Concert

After the brimming Roots opening we were pleased to see a healthy crowd at the basement show that took place later that night at Kissy World (formerly the Pilsen gallery Plaines Project).

“It was ephemeral, I mean, ethereal.” Vehicle Blues opening the night with some gazey shoegaze muzak.

This video isn’t blurry, that’s just how Vehicle Blues makes you feel.

Another packed house. Fog machine working overtime.

Brett Naucke with Gabe Holocombe (Vehicle Blues).

The crowd getting down during the Dim Past set. Photo by Davitt Terrell.

COIN performing through the fog.

Thanks to Kissy World, this show was exactly what last Friday night needed. Terrell also got some sweet footage, including my boy Dim Past playing my fav new song and COIN doing some heavy layering.

Charity Report: hArts for Art 5 at LVL3.

Spring Benefit is officially in full swing. First up in our ongoing benefit coverage, the 5th Annual hArts for Art at LVL3.

Paul Kenneth with his scary monster Abraham Lincoln-esque painting up for auction.

One of the many awesome raffle prizes: a siq new tote designed for LVL3 by Clay Hickson.

LVL3’s Anna Mort and Vincent Uribe working in unison with the Leslie Baum piece up for auction.

Anxious attendees mill around the raffle prizes.

On hand at the auction were Dave Kruger, Caitlin Law and Liz Longo from the night’s featured arts non-profit Arts of Life. Kruger and Longo started off the night by interpreting some of the works up for auction. The two below are so spot on! The auction and raffle ultimately raised over $800 for Arts of Life.

Kruger and Longo interpreting a piece up for auction by Evan Robarts.

K & L totally working that fold in front of a print by Clay Hickson.

Basketball. Sunday 1PM. Hamlin Park.

“We gotta use every day of this summer to the fullest”. Tyson Reeder isn’t f-ing around this summer, every above 50 degree day is precious. Meet him on the court for Basketball Bizness.

Artists emerging for daytime activities? This photos got us dreaming of more time in the park, summer residencies, Tastee Freeze, tans and long bike rides on the Lakefront Trail. Is The 606 done yet? Bring on the sunshine!

Whitney Artist Tells It Like It Is

What You Should Have Noticed in March 2014

March 28, 2014 · Print This Article

Welcome back to the second installment of What You Should Have Noticed, my monthly roundup of those salient conversations and notable events worthy of attention, even in retrospect. March has me feeling doubly unequipped to write this, given all that’s gone on in Chicago and New York with the fairs and biennial drama and everything; but I’ll do my best for you, dear reader, and for all the Bad at Sports readership, and for history itself.

1. The Whitney Biennial

It was only sixteen months since the Whitney Museum of Art announce that its curators for the 2014 Whitney Biennial would include our city’s very own Michelle Grabner and long-time Chicagoan Anthony Elms, who would, along with Tate Modern’s Stuart Comer, select the art and artists for contemporary art’s biggest stage. For many artists in Chicago and elsewhere, the curatorial gaze had suddenly and dramatically widened to include artists from outside the center, hammering away in lofts along Chicago’s Kedzie industrial corridor, or busy making and archiving in basements and office spaces around the country. When the list of artists was finally revealed, it sprawled to a staggering one hundred and three participants (one hundred and three!), seventeen of which hailing from Chicago (seventeen!) and all to be corralled into the space’s three floors, with each curator taking an entire floor as his or her separate territory. It would be the last exhibition at the Whitney’s uptown space, and it would be a bang.

The shake out comes from all sides: there have been dozens of articles reviewing the Whitney Biennial, and dozens of comments on different art writers rushing to be the first to review what was, in my experience, a dense exhibition requiring more than my bleary attention, and far more than even an expert’s two hour flyover. Holland Cotter exploited dessert metaphors for the New York Times, calling the fair “a large, three-tiered cake of a show, mostly vanilla, but laced with threads of darker, sharper flavor, and with a lot of frosting on top,” but praising its variety. In his New York Magazine review, Saltz recommended Grabner’s painting-stuffed third floor, while describing the whole Biennial as “optically starved, aesthetically buttoned-up, pedantic,” and later old, irrelevant, generic, noncommittal, bland, big, and bad. Pedro Vélez included a review of the Biennial in his work for exhibition itself: a quick and hashtagged postcard in which he barbed the Whitney’s racial elements (too white!) and praised many artists. A number of writers picked up on Jillian Steinhauer’s impression, as she wrote in her quickly-published Hyperalleric review, that the Whitney lacked political content. This in turn became fuel for a small social media comment storm lamenting lazy or eager critics glossing everything but the most explicit in the rare to publish first. In Chicago, Jason Foumberg’s review for NewCity condensed his week of repeat viewings into just a few hundred words, celebrating Steve Reinke’s video and Elijah Burgher’s drawings and paintings, along with the archival impulses within the Biennial, and admitting the depth of the works selected by writing that “the energy to observe these artworks could equal the labor of their creation.”

There are plenty more reviews to mention, but suffice to say that the Whitney Biennial dominated this month’s conversation on art. The other fairs in New York at the time (Independent, the Armory, Scope, Volta, Moving Image, Fountain) each made their own buzzes, but nothing in comparison to the heat and tweet generated by the Whitney.

 2. The Gay Mafia

Somewhat related to the above, a ripple of this month’s Biennial. In the post-card Whitney review published by Pedro Vélez, the artist-slash-critic made mention of queer art’s prevalence in the biennial, writing that “curators have kept Cultural/Racial identity in the closet (*a good thing) while Queer identity has a strong presence (*a bit too much, some call it an art world “mafia”).” Shit fire and hell, conspiring gays! To continue repeating names, this week Jason Foumberg interviewed David Getsy, chair of the art history, theory, and criticism department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, for Chicago Magazine, and asked Getsy about the crucial question: is there a gay mafia in the art world? Short answer, the queer community in Chicago is doing what the art community in general is awful at: conversing about critical topics relevant to their diverse practices, nourishing one another’s work and careers, and building a shared momentum.

 3. Comfort Station

For Logan Square residents and those that don’t mind their company, this month has seen a full block of events produced by the design collective The Post Family at the Square’s Comfort Station. Events have included a photo safari, a bike maintenance and bikerly business expo, YouTube open mic night, and music from Marcus Schmickler, a smartphone symphony, and more. An excellent use of the space and place.

4. Residency Apps are Due

Hey, don’t forget – the next weeks are the last for many residency applications, including ACRE, Ox-Bow’s MFA residency, and many others. Don’t get stuck in the city while all of your artist friends are making art in the woods and gay conspiring around campfires.


And that’s it! I apologize that this article, much like this month’s discourse, was dominated by a single topic, but such are the currents of visual culture. Check back next month as we enter spring with its myriad MFA shows, museum openings, and all the spills, thrills, and chills of art’s forward plow. Cheers!