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.