Guest Post by Jeriah Hildwine
Stephanie and I took the Metra to Hammond, Indiana, where Linda Dorman and Tom Torluemke picked us up at the station, and brought us back to their place. We ate pizza around their dining room table and then drank beer around a campfire in their backyard. (Linda drank Coke, Tom O’Doul’s.) Tom had built a perfect teepee fire, abashedly using compressed firestarters (which he called “cheating”) to light the fire.
They took us to Sidecar Gallery to see “Water,” a show of work by Tom Burtonwood, Holly Holmes, and James Jankowiak. Tom Burtonwood created a wallpaper of a computer-generated alphabet consisting of isomorphic perspective renderings of three-dimensional blocks (like Tetris pieces), each rendered in a different, simple pattern of marks. It looked like a 1980s visualization of some kind of data set, but in fact represented an alphabet or code. Apparently it incorporated QR codes which stored a Uniform Resource Locator (URL) for a website that would decode the alphabet for you…but, lacking a smartphone, we didn’t try it. Burtonwood also created some small wooden sculptures that mimicked the form of the wallpaper.
James Jankowiak also created a wallpaper of sorts, covering several walls of the gallery with parallel strips of brightly colored plastic tape. But his major works are small, square, incredibly precise paintings of minutely varying shades of color. The works in this exhibition consisted of concentric circles. In one, each circle was a slightly different shade of blue. In another, a green torus vibrates electrically against a red field. In a third, blues, browns, and whites alternate on a beige field. One’s first thought is of course of sectioned Jawbreaker candies but a moment’s thought links them more closely with Josef Albers’ color studies.
Both Jankowiak’s and Burtonwood’s wallpapers served as backdrops for their own, and each other’s, small paintings and sculptures, turning the exhibition into more of a collaboration than a group show. In the front room was one of Holly Holmes’ recent wooden sculptures, in which thin strips of wooden lathe are bent into a complex, looping form, like a diagram of the flight of a bumblebee, or a crazy zero-gravity roller-coaster. I’ve seen a previous work of this type by Holmes, at Chicago Urban Arts Society, as part of Wood Worked, in which the material of the piece was left raw and unfinished. In Water, it was painted in blue and white. In each case the color and surface seemed an homage to the theme of the exhibition.
We had tickets for the 11:10pm South Shore Line Metra train home, but Sidecar was shutting down at 10pm, so instead of waiting around the train station in the cold for an hour after the show, Linda hooked us up with her friend Erik, who agreed to bring us back to Chicago. But, he said, we had to make what he assured us would be a brief stop at a friend’s birthday party. That’s how we ended up at Cisa Studio.
The birthday boy is this kid Flex, one of the guys who runs Cisa Studio in Hammond Indiana. I call him a kid because he’s full of youthful energy, but in fact this is the eve of his 40th Birthday. The vibe is like a house party or maybe like the office Christmas party for a tattoo parlor. Erik introduces us as we walk in the door, and everybody is so nice, welcoming us with warm handshakes and cold beer. The bathroom is immaculately clean, and the main space is stylishly decorated, with mood lighting and music befitting the occasion. We meet Flex, see some of his work (a portrait, in spraypaint on canvas, very realistically executed), and then he shows us the backyard.
This involves three layers: first, downstairs to an indoor, basement-like space where people gather to smoke around a big plywood table covered in drawings and graffiti writing. A massive digital printer sits against one wall. Signs advertise various services: fine art paintings, signs, and airbrushed images for your motorcycle helmet, gas tank, leather jackets, and cars. There’s a motorcycle helmet with an absolutely flawless airbrushed rendering of the comic book character Venom on it: more of Flex’s work.
From there we moved into the garage, where a classic car sat, grind marks showing bare metal through the primer: a work in progress, speaking of infinite potential. In the back corner, a motorcycle sported a Minigun-type cluster of barrels emerging from its exhaust pipes. I don’t know, but I imagine that they spin and belch fire when the motorcycle is running. I sat there, spinning the barrels by hand, entranced.
The backyard itself hosted a bench that had been airbrushed by some of Flex’s friends as part of a public art commission. I looked around, and admired the facilities: an absolutely gorgeous, spacious workspace. What’s more, Flex told me, their rent is less than what Steph and I pay for our bedroom-and-a-half apartment in Ravenswood! “This is why Indiana is the shit,” Flex explained. It’s hard to argue with that.
We smoked cigarettes, talked to the Cisa crew, and drank more beer. Then we were gathered, slowly and chaotically, into a rough herd, with the purpose of ambling down the alley to the studio’s exhibition space, a separate building a block down, to see Arte Muerte 2011, the 4th annual occurrence of this “Day Of The Dead” themed exhibition. On the way I met the crew’s photographer, the most heavily-tattooed guy there, long-haired, with a rock-and-roll aesthetic that goes some way towards explaining his nickname, “Tommy Lee.” To look at him you’d expect him to be biting the head off a bat or something, and turns out to be an incredibly sweet and super righteous dude.
Arte Muerte consisted of Day of the Dead altars and two-dimensional wall art, all encompassing themes of death, family, ancestry, tradition, ritual, and a Latino or Mexican cultural heritage. The aesthetic of the work ranged from psychedelic and graffiti to Aztec and Maya glyphic writing, Catholic saints, and plenty of skulls. What struck me most immediately about the show was that not a single thing in it felt ironic, exploitative, or appropriated: there weren’t sculptures of altars, they weren’t about altars, they were genuine and sincere embodiments of this tradition.
After checking out the exhibition we made our way back to the studios where some of the guys were breakdancing, and we all did tequila shots in celebration of Flex’s birthday. The Cisa studio crew talked to be about growing up together, and about how they hung out with Keith Haring when he was in Chicago. They showed me a picture of them all, years ago, hanging out with Haring. Erik mentioned working at Genesis Art Supply back in the day, and I asked him if he’d known Wesley Willis. They guys all started telling stories about hanging out with him back in the day, of setting him up in the store to sit there and draw. One of the guys proudly told me that Wesley had given him a drawing, which he still had. Another had Willis’ old Casio keyboard from when he was growing up.
Many hours, many stories, and many beers later, we were all feeling pretty ready to head out. Another couple was catching a ride with us as well. Erik DeBat, our ride, had made sure to moderate his consumption and was quite sober and fit to drive. The rest of us were all pretty sauced, but I was still pretty lucid, and due to my long-leggedness our fellow passengers had afforded me the front seat, so I had much opportunity for conversation with Erik. We talked about his work, and he gave me a copy of the catalog from a recent exhibition he’d had: Risk & Reward, at The Renaissance Blackstone Hotel, in August of 2011. I open it up, and I see this painting of The Hulk, and something looks familiar about it. The catalog essay is by Tony Fitzpatrick and it all falls into place: I’ve seen Erik’s work, and probably Erik himself, at Tony Fitzpatrick’s place. He gave me a card for an upcoming exhibition (Recursion, at 2612 Space) featuring Erik’s work as well as James Jankowiak, Mario Gonzalez Jr., Victor Lopez, and William Weyna. I wasn’t able to make it to that one, but he also told me that he’s got a show coming up at Firecat Projects, in May 2012. I generally make it to all of the openings at Firecat, but I’m looking forward to this one in particular.
With Thanksgiving behind us, it is now undeniably the “holiday” season. As the B@S Book Advocate, I at first planned to write about literary gifts for your artist friends. But then I realized there was no way I could read through enough books this month to give any kind of reasoned recommendation. After all, with the change in time and change in season, what I really wanted to do was curl up on the couch and watch a decent holiday movie. As I started making a list of these films, it became clear that all my favorite holiday films are about creative workers, with the notable exception Elf–unless, of course, you consider snowball fabrication and toy construction creative work. So here they are, three holiday films that will help you kill a chilly winter afternoon.
Christmas in Connecticut (1945)—We’ve all read those homekeeping magazines. You know, the ones that tell us how to make the perfect turkey, or decorate our homes so that they look like the inside of snow globe, and most likely we all fall short by comparison. Good thing for Jefferson Jones (Dennis Morgan), handsome military man, hospitalized after his boat has been sunk by the Germans, that lifestyle writer Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck) has a husband, a new baby, and lovely farm in Connecticut. When Lane’s publisher asks her to host Jones for Christmas, everyone’s a winner, right. Unfortunately for Elizabeth Lane, she isn’t any of things she’s been pretending. She’s a scrappy, single, struggling freelancer who lives in a tiny New York apartment. You can probably see where this is going…Lane must procure a husband, baby, and farm in Connecticut all by Christmas and still have time to fall for the hot guy. (Steer clear of the 1992 remake with Dyan Cannon, Kris Kristofferson, directed by Arnold Schwarzenegger.)
The Holiday (2006)–Life sucks when you’re a successful producer of film trailers and your boyfriend is a philandering jerk. This is the circumstance Amanda Woods (Cameron Diaz) finds herself in. Despite seeming to have it all, what she really wants is to get the heck out of Los Angeles. To rectify this situation, Amanda goes to a house swap site. And who is desperately waiting on the other side of the interwebs? Iris Simpkins (Kate Winslet), an editor at The Daily Telegraph with poor taste in men and a charming little cottage outside London. The great thing about Amanda and Iris’s houses is that they both come with sweet guys, Miles DuMont (Jack Black) and Graham Simpkins (Jude Law), who help make these women’s holiday a little more merry and bright. As an added bonus, you’ll learn all about how a classic romantic comedy is constructed from Amanda’s neighbor, old time Hollywood romance writer Arthur Abbott (Eli Wallach). The Holiday is by Nancy Meyers who also made It’s Complicated and Something’s Got to Give, which should immediately tell you if this is your kind of movie or not.
Home for the Holidays (1995)–Claudia Larson (Holly Hunter) has had a really bad day. After getting fired from her job as an art restorer at an unnamed, venerable Chicago art museum, she makes out with her boss. Kitt, Claudia’s teenage daughter (Claire Danes), drives her mom to the airport and as they arrive, announces to her mother that she plans on having sex for the first time while Claudia is back home visiting her own parents. On the plane Claudia, calls her brother Tommy (Robert Downey Jr.) and confesses all of her troubles to his answering machine. And this is all within the first ten minutes. Most of the story takes place on Thanksgiving day, when the family comes together and pretty much misunderstands each other for the next hour and a half. Claudia’s parents are aging and their adult children deal with it in their own ways. If there is a theme to this movie, that would be it–we all get older. There’s a romantic subplot in which Tommy brings a handsome young man (Dylan McDermott) to Thanksgiving and Claudia thinks he’s Tommy’s new boyfriend, when really he is a gift for her. Home for the Holidays delivers the kind of family arguments expected in this kind of holiday film, but does it in a way that somehow feels authentic. My favorite line in the whole film is shouted by Claudia’s sister, “I’m the only normal person in this family!” I mean, haven’t we all felt that way at one point. I hated Home for the Holidays the first time I saw it, but over the years it has become my favorite holiday movie. This ensemble cast also features Geraldine Chaplin, Anne Bancroft, Cynthia Stevenson, and Steve Guttenberg, and is directed by Jodie Foster, all favorites of mine.
So, here it is Black Friday. Take an afternoon and watch one or maybe all of these films. Beyond enviable jobs held by all four of the protagonists, what really binds these films together is the feeling they leave you with. Not just a happy ending, but that all in all, everything will be all right.
November 23, 2011 · Print This Article
During the last week of my time in Providence, I came across another arts organization called The Steel Yard. It is what it sounds like — an old industrial complex that has been taken over by an arts organization. In keeping with the land’s original tradition, The Steel Yard offers ceramics and metalworking classes that among others include welding, blacksmithing and jewelry making. As part of their annual fundraising, they host a yearly Iron Chef competition and an Iron Pour which (as you can imagine/see from above) involves a lot of flying sparks in the dark. (At such times — even looking at the video — I catch for a moment the wild Romance of light, its seeming mysticism, glowering in the dark. Imagine what it must have been like before the age of electricity!) The Steel Yard converted this all but abandoned property into a vibrant teaching ground for metalurgy — what stands out in my mind as another instance of Providence’s intriguing utilitarian edge. While it’s participants and administrators are focused on building a community in the present, they utilize the resources of an industrial, American past. I had a chance to ask Executive Director, Drake Patten, about the organization.
November 22, 2011 · Print This Article
Ah yes, it’s that time again! Time for another panel discussion on art criticism in Chicago. Luckily for y’all, this one is filled with great folks who really know their stuff. AND: it’s been organized in celebration of The Essential New Art Examiner, a compendium edited by our friends Kathryn Born and Terri Griffith of the best writings from the venerable Chicago-based art journal. Born and Griffith will appear on tonight’s panel, along with BAS’ fabulous pal and dapper man-about-town Abraham Ritchie (Chicago editor of ArtSlant), Lori Waxman (Tribune), Jason Foumberg (New City), Steve Ruiz (The Visualist) and Ann Wiens, former New Art Examiner editor, all of whom represent different yet equally vibrant aspects of the Chicago critical scene. The whole shebang is moderated by critic and SAIC faculty member James Yood. So there you have it! Go go go! The panel takes place tonight, Tuesday, November 22nd at 6-8 pm in the Second Floor Ballroom of the MacLean Center (112 S. Michigan Avenue). The full, official-like press release info follows below.
The panel discussion “Art Criticism in Chicago: Past, Present, Future” will occur 6-8 pm on Tuesday, November 22 in the Second Floor Ballroom of the MacLean Center (112 S. Michigan Avenue). Organized in memory of distinguished art critics Kathryn Hixson and Polly Ullrich (both SAIC faculty and alumna), this wide-ranging investigation into the challenges and triumphs in art writing in Chicago also honors the recent publication of The Essential New Art Examiner, a compendium of essays originally printed in the most significant Chicago-based art publication of its era (1973-2002). The panel will move forward from that to assess the current state of art criticism in Chicago, both print- and web-based, and analyze the rapidly changing milieu for arts conversation in Chicago.
The panelists are Kathryn Born and Terri Griffith, editors of the “The Essential New Art Examiner”, Jason Foumberg of Newcity, Abraham Ritchie from ArtSlant: Chicago, Steve Ruiz from visualist, Lori Waxman from the Chicago Tribune, Ann Wiens, former editor of the NAE, and James Yood, moderator of the panel and former editor of the NAE. (Griffith, Waxman, and Yood are members of the SAIC faculty, and Foumberg, Griffith, Ritchie, Waxman and Wiens are SAIC graduates.) The event is free and open to the public, and is supported with the assistance of Lisa Wainwright, Dean of Faculty, Paul Coffey, SAIC Vice Provost, and Candida Alvarez, Dean of Graduate Studies.
I used to be a painter. I was never a really good painter, so the discontinuation of that part of practice some seven years ago was not a big loss. That being said, I am often reminded of how much I owe to my humble/clumsy painting beginnings. While still in my post-painting undergraduate studies, I would often frequent the Art Institute’s Abstract Expressionist rooms for comfort and solitude between classes or after an emotionally draining critique. I distinctly remember visiting a long, narrow room that existed upstairs in the pre-modern-wing building that housed only five or six paintings at a time. This room would often rotate works by Ad Reinhardt, Joan Mitchell, Mark Rothko, or Paul Kline. However, a permanent fixture in this space were always two massive, wall-sized paintings by Clyfford Still.
Both works – which are currently not on display – employed Still’s signature nocturnal black, but one was interspersed with scars and crevices of cream, red, and yellow; colors that now seem “out-of-the-tube” but were hand mixed by Still in the early 1950s. These two pieces were fantastic evidence of Still’s meticulous pallet knife work, and the dense murky black of 1951-1952 (almost none of Still’s work had titles) the heavy layering created a remarkable sombre darkness that would engulf a viewer, creating a void primed for personal exploration and meditation. I would sit on the bench that bisected the room longways feeling as if a white noise reverberated between these two pieces; a stoic frequency bounced between them that only a metaphysical shortwave radio could dial into. During ideal viewing sessions – times when the museum was near closing hours, or during particularly cold winter weekdays that deterred visitors – the power of sitting between these facing works would create the perfect mental vacuum to delve into deep contemplation. In those moments, I felt as if the subtlety of texture and composition that existed in these works acted as mirrors for the complexity and nuance of my own burgeoning artistic voice. That sense of belonging amidst those two works would bring me back countless times, and made me a life-long appreciator of Still’s oeuvre.
So, perhaps needless to say, it is with some bias that I came to the press preview of the Clyfford Still Museum in downtown Denver. The dense concrete cube, designed by Brad Cloepfil of Allied Works Architecture, is located just behind the iconic Hamilton Wing of the Denver Art Museum almost serving as an architectural antithesis to Daniel Liebeskind’s hyperactive bravado. The subdued practicality of the museum does a great service to the new home for 94% of Still’s life work, allowing for the fabled 300 days-a-year Front Range sun to filter through the perforated ceiling with the help of motorized shades and diffusing glass. During the press conference, Cloepfil discussed how he imagined the materials of the building being “compacted” into the earth to ground the museum in an act of homage to the organic palette found within the 2400+ pieces of the collection. The density of the concrete delicately avoids being cumbersome due to the airy quality of the nine galleries found on the second floor. Almost all elements of the building – from the low ceiling lobby, to the publicly available storage facilities – faithfully serve the ambition and sincerity of Still’s six decade career that started in the prairies of Alberta and ended at his isolated farm in central Maryland.
The galleries are delicately filled with key selections from the estate for the inaugural exhibition, and many works on view have had extremely limited public appearances until now. Although the initial galleries that you approach are a bit cluttered with early semi-figurative work from Southern Canada and Washington State, the care taken by adjunct curator David Anfam and museum director Dean Sobel with Still’s more iconic work truly accentuates their undeniable arresting prescience. I was fortunate enough to be led on a guided tour by Anfam of the various facilities that are housed in the museum complex, including a preservation center, a research library, and an interactive timeline. While on the tour, Anfam frequently emphasized how Still, unlike his contemporaries, always prioritized personal cerebral exploration over exhibition and public notoriety. Anfam also took many opportunities to dispel the misreading of Still’s work as masculine grandiosity, and instead argued that the colossal paintings that comprise a majority of his later output came instead from a sincere inward-looking sensitivity to the ways in which post-war America politics and culture were in a state of radical change.
In this way, the inaugural exhibition is incredibly successful – to rewrite the dominant narrative of American AbEx is no easy task, and the lasting impression of the museum that has followed me since my visit is that Still’s conscientiousness is evident in an unexpected and rare display. This is not to say that the museum leadership should reward themselves with single handedly changing the contemporary perspective of High Modernism, but the reward of the nearly seven year process it took between the gifting of the collection from Patricia Still to the completion of the museum is unfathomable. The immediate benefit of the museum’s opening is to finally allow for a more wide recognition for an artist – when compared to other giants in the American AbEx pantheon – whose work contains transcendent empathy for the world around him. This quality shines through in Still’s opus, providing a much needed counter to the otherwise stale or remote machismo that typically dominates Abstract Expressionism.
The current showing at the museum provides a very faithful testament to a man incredibly in touch with his cultural surroundings; a figure of his era often overlooked but always lingering. Still was not only a contemporary of those more lauded, but was considered amongst that community to be one of the the most generous of teachers and mentors to those around him. Pollock is famously quoted for saying his work made “the rest of us look academic.” However, Still’s tremendous control over how his work could be shown prevented him from becoming a household name. In 1951 he severed ties from Betty Parsons Gallery and for the rest of his career was notorious known for respectfully declining invitations to participate in exhibitions. One famous account documented in the catalog of the museum is a short reply to Peggy Guggenheim to thank her for his representation at The Art of This Century Gallery and her efforts in championing American AbEx painters, but deciding to cease his relationship with the gallery.
This prolonged self-excommunication that spanned Still imposed upon his career is undeniably reflected in the commitment he put into his paintings. As a result the serene – at times overwhelming – spaces that are created within the paintings on display are so enveloping that the very act of removing one’s gaze from their aura is a reeling task. In short, the work chosen by the museum for its first outing is undoubtably mesmerizing and entrancing in their profound melancholia and enlightened earnestness. Where writers and critics of the past have judged these paintings as aloof, remote, and antagonistically abstract, I’d instead argue the opposite and claim that the empathy and humanity found within these paintings remains remarkably poignant, particularly in an artistic age so bereft with pastiche and indifference.