Meeting Beatrice Fisher a Little Too Late: In Memoriam

November 16, 2009 · Print This Article

Guest post by Damien James

Beatrice Fisher, Going Home

Beatrice Fisher, Going Home

I walked into Woman Made Gallery on Wednesday, October 14th, to view and review the Beatrice Fisher retrospective, which surveyed fifty years of art making. Intrigued by the gallery’s website, which noted that this was Fisher’s first solo exhibition and that she had studied under such renowned Chicago artists as Karl Wirsum and Don Baum, for better or worse I had fairly high expectations.

Everything had just been hung, and the space was still a bit of a mess—the opening wasn’t for two more days and I hadn’t let anyone know that I was coming—then I realized that the mess consisted mostly of Fisher’s work, of which there was just too much to fit on the walls. (I was told that Fisher had thousands of pieces in her Evanston studio. Thousands was later corrected to hundreds.) After a moment of orientation amidst the clutter, I was able to focus on the walls, on her art, and was instantly taken, overtaken, by not only the range of her work but its consistent beauty and energy.

Beatrice Fisher, Under the Table

Beatrice Fisher, Under the Table

Fisher’s Attachment/Separation series focuses on divorce in the most physical terms; bodies in surreal Siamese union, some split apart by knives or attached by zippers rendered with a level of detail which brings the stark flatness of the paintings and their sharp lines into a kind of focused intimacy that looks cleanly through you. At least, they seemed to look through me. Some are paintings of women and men joined at the hips or shoulders, others of women joined to women, skin stretching into long bands waiting to be broken, their faces staring so pointedly, hypnotically. On another wall were military-themed works which dressed disembodied penises in camouflaged field gear, while across the room a group of small paintings of Jesus clad in ruby slippers and floating in the clouds shimmered. The slippers were glitter. Jesus had a beatific and tranquil face. Maybe it was the shoes.

Truthfully, there was so much work that this could easily have been a group show of six or seven entirely different artists, though it wasn’t difficult to see the common thread—the unique handwriting as it moved through all the pieces; the tongue-in-cheek humor, the cultural critiques, the exploration of sexuality and religion—yet each period in her career seemed to point to the absolute need to make art, out of anything and everything available. It was without a doubt the life of an artist on the walls of Woman Made, not just her art. Read more




Damien James on the Chicago Humanities Festival

November 10, 2009 · Print This Article

Matt Groening and Lynda Barry circa 1984 by Michael Sepcot.

Matt Groening and Lynda Barry circa 1984 by Michael Sepcot.

Guest post by Damien James

In the brief Chicago Humanities Festival preview posted a couple of weeks ago, I listed what I hoped would be some highlights, and I wanted to take a moment now that the festival is about halfway through its run to tell you about two events I recently attended so you get a picture—maybe fleeting—of how this years programming is meeting my admittedly high expectations.

In the near future I’ll share more about specific events as well as thoughts on the festival theme—laughter—with the intention of communicating how important the Humanities Festival has been for me, maybe how important it is to the city itself, and possibly beyond. It’s also my hope that it will become important to you, if it isn’t already. After all, each of us is a part of the greater festival of humanities as it plays out in our own lives every day, in the choices we make which not only effect ourselves, but everyone in our local and even global community.

And if this happens to be your city, the excellence of CHF earns you some bragging rights. Privatized parking meters, bogus mayoral claims of how green Chicago is, Land of the Lost-sized pot holes and shitty CTA service, our former governor’s “reality” TV career, and our failure (thank Jesus) to win the Olympic bid are not the only things we have going for us… Read more




The Yes Men in Chicago

October 27, 2009 · Print This Article

GUEST POST BY DAMIEN JAMES

The Yes Men, hoaxsters who have elevated civil disobedience to an art form by taking on the biggest, most socially irresponsible corporations and the government that allows those corporations to screw the people, will be making appearances in Chicago this week for the local premier of their new film, The Yes Men Fix the World.

On Thursday, October 29th at 7:30pm, they’ll be hosted by Lumpen Magazine at Co-Prosperity Sphere, where The Yes Men will present their recent projects and hold a workshop to plan an action for Friday, October 30th, after the premier of their new film at the Music Box Theater.

If you haven’t seen their work, you should. If you have, you probably understand how important it is. The Yes Men might just have the right amount of courage, conviction, and insanity (think Ralph Nader meets Philippe Petit) to truly enact some kind of positive social change, but they can’t continue to do it without public support. In fact, they can barely afford to pull off their stunts, much less share them with us through their films.

The Yes Men recently posted a project on kickstarter.com to raise $30,000 for prints of their new film, which is in danger of not being seen by enough people. Through kickstarter, anyone can pledge from $30 to thousands, and pledges are only collected if the project gets completely funded. If not, no one loses a cent. If you can only pledge $10, convince two of your friends to do the same. If you can pledge more, you might just win a Survivaball! The project ends December 31st at 4:39pm EST.

Watch them pose as Dow and take responsibility for Bhopal, or reverse the Chamber of Commerce position on climate change! If you like what you see, help them do more.

The Survivaball. You'll need one soon enough.

The Survivaball. You'll need one soon enough.




Chicago Humanities Festival Preview

October 21, 2009 · Print This Article

We’re pleased to welcome Chicago artist and writer Damien James as our new guest blogger! Damien will be covering the Chicago Humanities Festival for us, and today brings us a preview of what we can look forward to at this year’s Festival.

The Chicago Humanities Festival has just kick-started it’s 20th anniversary programming with the theme of Laughter. “Not Happiness, mind you,” writes the Festival’s artistic director Lawrence Weschler. “Happiness is smug and bland and self-satisfied. Laughter, on the other hand, runs the gamut: from blithe to bitter, raucous to serious, fond to angry,” and so on.

Spread out in venues across the city, the Chicago Humanities Festival will giddily dance through Laughter in all its permutations with the same expansive worldview and near-reckless abandon it has brought to the table since 1989, when Richard Franke got the bright idea to bring intellectually stimulating, entertaining, and entirely accessible lectures, performances, and all-around amazingness to our Midwestern metropolis.

On hand will be such distinguished guests as Harold Ramis (sharing some of his favorite funny moments in cinema), Matt Groening in conversation with Lynda Barry, Pulitzer Prize-winner Alison Lurie, Pulitzer Prize-coveter John Hodgman, Chris Ware and his beautifully sad art, Bob Sabiston (of Waking Life fame), the Neo Futurists, Chicago Reader’s Michael Miner, the Guerrilla Girls, and 151 other presenters that you’ll probably want to see.

CHF has literally changed peoples lives, my own included, and I’ll be attending from now through mid-November and sharing some of my experiences with you. Maybe this year I’ll explode.

The Festival runs through November 14th. For more info and tickets, visit http://www.chicagohumanities.org/.

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Damien James is a self-taught artist and writer living (barely) and working (constantly) in Chicago. He has contributed to Chicago Reader, New City, Saatchi Gallery Online, Art Voices, and the general goodwill of mankind, among other things. His art has been seen in Chicago’s Around the Coyote Gallery, Brooklyn’s 3rd Ward Gallery with Art House Co-op’s Sketchbook Project, various apartments in Berlin, London, and a tiny village in Romania.

Without the good sense and inspiration of his paramour, Cassandra, he would most likely be a small blot of dirt about to be washed away by an only slightly larger puddle of inky water in some back alley.




Rant of the Week: Damien James at Newcity

June 17, 2009 · Print This Article

Dear Art Thief.

This is actually more of a stealth-rant, deploying reverse-psychology tactics and appeals to the culprit’s sense of fair play. Some creep stole an artwork by Chicago artist Damien James right off the walls of the Flatiron building, and what’s worse, the piece had already been sold.

“My initial reaction, not surprisingly, was anger. Intense, red piping-hot anger. “What the fuck!?” were my words, to be exact, extra emphasis on the “f.” Who steals art at a small neighborhood show? From an “emerging” artist? (”Emerging” = “starving”) Even more, who steals a piece of art that’s already been sold? Now I know it was small, and as you passed by, maybe you thought it would fit perfectly in your bag or pocket or whatever, but did you not see the sticker above the drawing that said “sold?” Could you not have chosen a piece that hadn’t already been paid for? Because you see, some artists who do shows in the Flat Iron, especially in the halls of the Flat Iron, are struggling; they’re artists who are desperately trying to carve out some tiny, peaceful existence. We’re trying to do something good, to make and share something outside the ever-present web of invasive consumerist insanity. I get (but don’t condone) stealing an iPhone, an X-Box, cash; but a drawing? Not only did you steal something I made, but you took money out of my pocket. So: what the fuck!?

Really, what were you thinking? Was it, “this’ll look awesome on my bathroom wall?” Was it the thrill of stealing something? Are you some kind of Vincenzo Peruggia? What’s next, a Steven Soderbergh art-heist caper?”

Hats off to James for channeling his justifiable rage into a piece that actually transcends the circumstances behind this unfortunate incident to say something larger about the need to show some basic human decency, even if you’re drunk off your ass, and even (especially) when it comes to small art shows at neighborhood galleries.

Damien James, from the 'small person' series

Damien James, from the 'small person' series