This is documentation of a single day performance piece undertaken to promote a larger conceptual art project: “Project Job Creation.” The idea to wear my art into art museums was born years ago – “If getting my working into a national museum is so important to me,” I once thought, “why not just strap my art onto my back and wear it into the museum?”
The world is filled with artists trying to get recognized. I am one of those artists. On November 20th I wore my art into Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art and Chicago’s Art Institute during a single day. I got recognized.
I had only a single aluminum piece in my studio, so it’s what I wore. It’s called study of frank’s eaves #1 – a 35mm photographic tessellation born of the great southern prow on Frank Lloyd Wright’s Bradley House in Kankakee, Illinois – unintentionally art-deco.
We drove to Chicago and parked in the garage attached to the Museum of Contemporary Art.
I rounded the corner and got to Martin Creed’s piece, “Work No. 1357, MOTHERS.” At this moment, I was thinking, “Are they going to let me into the museum wearing my art?” I had done my research – I’m quite sure I’m the first person to attempt such a feat – to wear my art into not one – but two – major museums in a single day and document the process. Would I succeed?
I got into the Museum of Contemporary Art!
Our plan was to have a second interaction with Chicago’s Art Institute. But since we were so close to Michigan Avenue, we decided to pay the Magnificent Mile a visit.
Did I feel ridiculous? No. Before getting back to the parking garage and heading to Grant Park, I wrote a letter to the Museum of Contemporary Art, letting them know that it was me, Christopher Shoup, who wore my art into their museum on this day. Apparently, they didn’t like my performance – they’ve never acknowledged my performance!
We drove to Grant Park and found street parking. We decided to explore and interact with the park grounds prior to heading into the Art Institute. I was famous for minute! Girls swarmed the strange artist wearing an aluminum panel on his back, wanting his autograph!
Outside the Art Institute, something even more absurd than me happened!
Two people thought I was a performance artist hired by the museum – they came up to my art and started to talk – in fact, they carried on a detailed conversation about my piece without even once talking to me, the artist attached to his work!
I got into the modern wing at the Art Institute!
As Amanda was photographing me, a crowd of people surrounded me, wanting to know about my art and my project. It was a very interactive moment!
Ultimately I was unable to get past the Art Institute entrance keepers, so I checked my art into the art museum for $1.00.
Amanda and I each have a few favorites in the modern wing. As I walked around, I created a few pieces with the flyers I held in my cargo pocket (Replacing Klee, Replacing Mondrian).
Finally I exited the third floor galleries. I found myself alone with a Henry Moore bronze. I sat on a bench nearby. I had one final idea – I would create and leave an installation with my flyers, using 49, to symbolize the 49 tessellations I was promoting for “Project Job Creation.”
It was a fantastic day! We owed our success to this Sol LeWitt quote, which guided us throughout our interactions:
“In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art.”
The day ended with me retrieving my art and entering the world again…
This story is bound for the national and international stage. I know – I know. It’s a brazen lead. But before you’re put off, just consider what the Italian artist Piero Manzoni did: he sold his own breath. And after that he sold Merda d’Artista! He’s one to read about.
My wife and I are artists. We recently partnered on a conceptual art project. The project involves a portfolio of my tessellations coupled with the creation of real jobs and it is called “Project Job Creation.” You can be a part of this if you’d like. It will work.
I completed a portfolio of 49 masterpiece tessellations built of 35mm photographs. The pieces are perfect squares and we are selling them through independent art sellers.
A conceptual art project that creates jobs?
For sure. The unemployed, the underemployed, the motivated and the unmotivated alike—we have a job for them. Put this in lights: art seller.
An art seller can be the jobless woman in Iowa. The talented high school senior with the audacity to approach a celebrity. Or the ingenious individual who needs some cash and knows an art collector or financially secure friend. We also welcome the college dropout, the North Carolinian, the family of four living on the West Coast, the bored manager, Lance Armstrong, the dog walker and bartender and veteran and occupier and coffee drinker—anyone can join our project as art seller.
In return for selling a perfect square from the portfolio of 49 pieces, the seller earns 40 percent.
Any first 7 pieces sell for 8,000 U.S.D. and the seller’s 40 percent is 3,200 U.S.D.
Every next set of 7 pieces doubles in price.
And each sale from the final 7 includes one perfect square along with any one piece of stored art from my intriguing body of early work.
Manzoni’s work was ground-breaking due to the ideas he executed. All of my work here is the result of an 8 year period (2004 to 2012) when big ideas appeared like the streetlights along Fullerton Avenue. During this period I was blessed with consistent insights and skilled hands. I still have big ideas – I keep journals of new insights and I practice with my hands as much as possible - but right now I’m on pause while I breath life into “Project Job Creation.”
This is a conceptual art project. This is an introduction to a previously unknown artist. This is a chance for early collectors to gain a handsome return on their investment and for all collectors to add a strong conversational piece to their collection. This is also a story that people will appreciate—we are ordinary folk from Illinois with a conceptual art project designed to help people by putting them to work while capitalizing on the principle of trickle down economics.
Access the galleries at www.christophershoup.zenfolio.com. Please view the work, consider the concept, and strongly consider joining our project.
Everyone should feel comfortable contacting us with additional questions and thanks,
Christopher and Amanda Shoup
Kankakee County, Illinois
projectjobcreation at gmail dot com
ONGOING UPDATES (Scroll down…)
I sketched out a logo and recreated it on the computer. Below is the result.
Amanda wrote and directed a short commercial for the project and she asked me to create and post it on a YouTube account. The resultant commercial can be seen at Project Job Creation commercial 1.1 and it’s ridiculous and might stll hold water after the elections.
This morning I created a single-take film for the YouTube channel, The feet of a guitar player. One, because I wrote a song with a borrowed VOX pedal and I wanted to hear it without at the same time playing it, and two, because I wanted to see if my right foot could act in a film.
Amanda created an introduction packet for art collectors and art investors and important “art world people” as a means of getting our project noticed. It contains a card, a 5 page letter, and a collectable logo piece. We have high hopes for responses because we’re contacting really great people.
This morning we sent 10 mailers. I am hand-drawing each return address. Consequently, United States Postal Service facilities become short-term galleries for this momentary work. I posted a video, Addressing the mailers, on YouTube that shows me creating the mailer for Eileen Kinsella of ARTnews in New York.
Over the past week, I’ve hand-drawn more than 50 return address labels. In the process, I envisioned a wall piece: the logo strung between two complete brick buildings with fantastic, colorful elements appearing all throughout the landscape of the larger composition.
What do Amanda and I hope for? To connect with people who also conceptualize great possibilities in our fantastical dreams.
Amanda and I will use our profit from “Project Job Creation” as an important grant. We will revitalize a stagnant sector of our local economy and create even more jobs. “Project Job Creation” is a tightly wound coil.
I drafted the second progression of my logo / wall design. It’s terribly rudimentary but I’ll claim it. I did so on the back of the mailer going to Sir Nicholas Serota at the Tate Modern in London. Barry McGee’s wall installation at UCLA/Armand Hammer Museum in Los Angeles (2000) is an inspiration for what I want to do.
The square tessellations accompanying the following confessional statements are included in a recent series created from photographs taken during a walk on Amanda’s birthday.
ABOVE: two studies of rock creek. 48 x 48 inches on aluminum. From ‘a walk on Amanda’s birthday.’
Amanda and I have a good relationship – we both like walks, the same music, neither of us likes housework, we’re good parents, we each have a deep appreciate for science and the wonderous ecosystems stitched atop the earth, we’ve had adventurous travels and we always have fun together whenever we get a “date night.”
ABOVE: the artist as shadow in own picture. 48 x 48 inches on aluminum. From ‘a walk on Amanda’s birthday.’
Don’t judge us solely by our day jobs (public school teachers) – we are both artists by nature. We sat in the same room a lot working on our respective art projects (her oil painting, me working with photographs, drawing or writing). We listened to music and talked and worked but it wasn’t until a few winters ago that we decided to partner on a project. We created three drawings, the final (The Movement of Celebrity Commodity) reaching a height that hinted at our greater potential. Aside from learning that we could create good work together, we also learned that our egos were competitive. Because we were interested in creating three rich compositions, we did a lot of talking prior to working. Sometimes, we were driven to argue because we each wanted our own ideas to win. On better occassions we acted like real mature folks and worked and collaborated in peace.
ABOVE: tank. 48 x 48 inches on aluminum. From ‘a walk on Amanda’s birthday.’
Q. How did “Project Job Creation” begin, and when did Amanda get involved in it?
A. Project Job Creation began as a single spark. This past June I was framing work for an upcoming show at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Bradley House in Kankakee. Sunlight poured through the southern windows in our bedroom. I was down there in it, working. I had great hopes for the Frank Lloyd Wright show – my work looked awesome. In an instant my train of thought switched tracks and went from self-satisfaction to longing. I often longed for more. I can’t for sure say why, but being a contemporary artist keenly aware of the art world, I am driven to be ‘in it.’ I didn’t know how to get attention, though. I lacked the devotion to sell myself to the national and international art world, where I felt I could hold a place. Get other people to do the work for me, sparked in my mind. Create an art project where I give people jobs selling my art. It first appeared as a flashing thought.
I learned in college that early artists considered themselves conduits for the gods. These early artists didn’t have original inspirations. They were merely conduits through which their gods’ inspirations were made manifest. I can accept that. What happened next was Freud invented the ego. And suddenly “the artist” was in control.
I’ve given up on thoughts that I’m the sole pilot. I’m just a steering assistant. Oftentimes I’m a receiver of ideas that appear in a flash from elsewhere. I’m sure there are others who will identify with this.
ABOVE: dry wood. 48 x 48 inches on aluminum. From ‘a walk on Amanda’s birthday.’
Amanda and Alice came home and I told them I would create a conceptual art project where I employed anyone and everyone to sell my art. “It will be a project about creating jobs!” Amanda thought it was a good idea, “but don’t just daydream it and pursue it for a week and then put it away like you always do. Follow through with it,” she said.
ABOVE: four dimensions / clear water. 48 x 48 inches on aluminum. From ‘a walk on Amanda’s birthday.’
June and July and August and September passed. I’m always working on something. I had gotten a tube amp for father’s day and the guitar was taking a lot of my attention. I started work on another large writing project (A Good Night’s Hard to Find, which is going to be a great novel). I was back for my eleventh school year in my increasingly dysfunctional school district. We had a new baby (Leona). Something though was missing in my life. I was 39. There was no reason to hesitate. I needed to go long. “Project Job Creation” started to drumbeat in my mind near the end of September.
ABOVE: leaf study one. 48 x 48 inches on aluminum. From ‘a walk on Amanda’s birthday.’
Four weeks ago, after several failed launches, one of which involved me spending 400 dollars on a help-wanted ad in the Sunday New York times that got me only 9 responses, Amanda stepped in. “I was thinking why should I watch you put other people to work selling your art – I want that job. I want to sell your art so I can stop teaching and spend full time with Leona (then eleven weeks old).”
ABOVE: leaf study two. 48 x 48 inches on aluminum. From ‘a walk on Amanda’s birthday.’
Amanda drafted letters and brainstorm ideas and daydreamed with me. We clashed at times on certain things – when our visions went off on their own tangents. Some art is born in arguments. I learned the really hard way not to change a single word in something she’s written (she’s a fine writer). But within the past two weeks, we hit our stride. She approaches this project differently than me. She wants to use the money like a grant to re-invest in our local community and economy. I want to create this art and continue to create art as my occupation. But in the end, we’ve learned to capitalize on our individual strengths in order to strengthen the project. We know where it will go.
ABOVE: leaf study three. 48 x 48 inches on aluminum. From ‘a walk on Amanda’s birthday.’
We’ve sent mailers to Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, London, Switzerland, Germany, the Middle East and Beijing. Contacted individuals have been hand-selected through Amanda’s research. We have this blog; we have 2 videos posted to YouTube; I have my zenfolio site; today we started a facebook page (search “Project Job Creation” on facebook). While I’m the first to admit that I naturally loathe ‘the waiting process’ and that putting myself out there like this gives me an stomach ache, “Project Job Creation” remains a tightly wound coil, and I envision how excellent it looks when expanded.
I’ve got to get my game on.
Next week is Amanda’s final week of maternity leave. When she returns to teaching, our lives will get even more busy. We have sent out over 70 mailers (please, please contact us!). We decided to go to the Chicago museums, pulling out the stops and photographing a performance piece I’ve planned for years.
On Tuesday, November 20, I am going to wear a 2 x 2 foot aluminum piece into Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art and Chicago’s Art Institute. I’m I going to get my art photographed within the throngs of a downtown humanity. I have no idea what will happen. I think I’m the first person to ever wear his own art into an art museum. The following photographs document the preparation steps I undertook today.
GOOD THINGS: I could be applauded, invited to lunch by the museum director, photographed for a major newspaper, “liked” on facebook, this could lead to the first piece sold, I could be asked to kiss newborn babies on the head, I could be smiled at by security guards, I could be offered popcorn.
BAD THINGS: I could be laughed at, dismissed, spit on, pepper sprayed, shouted at, shot with a rubber bullet, hog-tied and thrown into a police car, blown up by a predator drone, have popcorn thrown at me, bit by an angry child.
Late last night I had the idea to make a story out of my initial process steps for the art museum performance piece. This morning, after I finished my Sunday morning routine of sorting and paying the next bills, I got onto the laptop and created the work below.
I am the one who has always wanted to express himself. It’s like an obsession. That “Chris” above? I wrote it. On my mom’s kitchen wall. When I was little. And when she busted me, what did I say? “It wasn’t me.” Perfect.
Tomorrow is Tuesday. Museum Day. Amanda and I are going to Chicago. I’m missing a day of work for the event. In the end, what lesson does this teach my fifth grade students? “Teaches them to dream.” From time to time I’m asked to do that, between times when I’m instructed to consider them as standardized test scores culled from unscientifically collected data. When the teacher no longer dreams, what happens?
Visit www.christophershoup.zenfolio.com for the complete online galleries of my work.
I just finished a small study for “Brassieres and Torches.” It is copper paint on a 12 x 18 inch canvas (above). This small study is for sale at a mere $100. The commission for the large scale piece, which will likely be 4 x 5 foot, has yet to come. The “actual piece” will make a magnificent attraction on the wall of any modernist’ house (please note that my art is proving to be a high-return investment). Contact me at chrisshoup2011 at gmail dot com if you are a party (or, might I say, modernist) interested in asking more about commissioning the actual piece.
And why, you may reasonably ask, am I selling a large painting of brassieres and torches? Let me give you the short story.
Alice (my 6 year old daughter) loves to draw. Amanda and I bought her some really sturdy drawing templates for Christmas.
One night about a month ago, Alice invited me into her room to draw. I joined her on the floor with some Prismacolor pens and my writing journal. She was using her templates and offered to share them. The .03 fine tip pen in the Prismacolor set fit perfectly into the templates. Alice drew a girl and some other objects on a page. I found that one template had a brassiere and torches set. It was strange enough to be artistically appealing.
Pictured is my initial idea for the actual piece, dated 1.27.2012. The person who commissions the full scale art will also receive the entire notebook (above) as a freebee. And that particular notebook is ripe with journal entries, technical sketches, song lyrics with accompanying chord progressions and other miscellany.
- Christopher Shoup, 3.4.2012
I finished The Devil the White City by Erik Larson over my holiday break (that book is so well researched, and Larson is a terrific writer, and he manages to explore and describe multiple fascinating topics with amazing literary skill; all of the book’s praise is rightfully earned). I read the book’s last page during an overwise slow afternoon and you know – I needed to know, right then – what was next. From my shelf of “books in holding” I made a random grab for a loner from a friend. It was Odyssey to Ushuaia by Andres Carlstein (I watched the crazy motorcycle video diaries of Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman in Long Way Round and I was told Odyssey to Ushuaia was a natural follow-up).
Odyssey to Ushuaia is a really great book. Right away after finishing it I wondered if Carlstein is still the same as his 25 year old self who actually took this motorcycle journey from New York to the southern tip of South America. There’s a great deal of carefree attitude in here coupled with some bits of loathing and a line or two of scorn when Carlstein doesn’t get his way. There’s a wealth of interesting detail – enough so that the wealth runs right to the end of the book, which is an accomplishment for Carlstein the travel writer. I don’t know if any avid cross continental motorcycle adventurer could identify with exactly all of Carlstein’s experience, or if any budding motorcycle adventurer would grow tremendously after having read Carlstein’s narrative, but that doesn’t really seem to be the point. The structure and story content is strong; if like me you suddenly find yourself between books and need something to reach for, I’d recommend this. Afterwards you can always return to whatever high-falutin’ adventure you happen to be on yourself.
A major part of my personal self-study right now involves reading about energy, energy sources, energy policy, and energy sustainability. It is 2012. Energy is a big topic. My goal, as human, is to learn about energy so I can personally be a better energy consumer, and so that I can guide my family to be better, and so that I can inspire others to be better. My goal, as a teacher, is to learn about and understand energy well enough so that I can teach today’s youth about energy; if they just grow up knowing this stuff, they should grow up to make better informed and more conscientious energy decisions. When I was on Amazon looking up a Jared Diamond book, I came across this title, which involves real scientists and science-based thinkers handling the gamet of energy issues and topics in short essays published within a single collection. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Rosetta Stone, but just know that the Rosetta Stone’s come to symbolize any single source that offers a wealth of information and guidance from one single document point. The Post Carbon Reader is published by the Post Carbon Institute. Every literate person with good-to-strong reading skills should own this book. It’s a Rosetta Stone. Not only do you owe it to yourself to become more energy-educated so you can make better, more informed energy decisions – you also owe it to the rest of us, because we’re all sharing the same space with you.
Today is Saturday 1.7.2012. In Illinois, it got up almost to 50 degrees. Normally I’m huddled down inside against freezing winds at this time – but today I was in the sunshine. Without a jacket. Alice played on her swing set.
I’ve been wanted to better define my intention for this blog. Yesterday, when returning from the library, I had the idea flash into my head to photograph a scroll. I would use the scroll to define my goal of using this blog as one long, unbroken scroll documenting my artistic behaviors and intentions since I started writing it in November, 2010. That makes the reading easier (?). No clicking page to page.
Seriously. Scroll down. It’s one long piece and already a long way to the bottom (start at ‘home’ up top) and the geological layers continue to compound with each new post.
This piece comes printed as a photograph; title is printed on the photograph; black background is printed as part of the piece. It looks amazing framed! You need this! Available for purchase in a few choice sizes at my zenfolio site here: A Walk on my Birthday. Or you can go to my zenfolio homepage here: www.christophershoup.zenfolio.com to see all of my available prints and even my original paintings.
Please click on the links above for more information about this photographic print.
It’s quite possible that I know your mom.
She’s a lady, right?
I’m one for one.
I don’t know why she had you.
More often than not, because of nature,
you know? Life reproduces. Life gets together
under a myriad of conditions
and it’s ridiculous to think even half of us
I do know, however, that a sperm
cell (which is essentially a nucleus
and a tail carrying 23 chromosomes)
entered your mom’s womb
touched an egg
Two for two.
I know that in your mom’s womb
you grew a tail
and lost a tail
and grew a neural tube
which made your brain
and spinal cord
and you grew
your heart and digestive tract
and eyes and ears
and arms and legs
and sex organs.
Three for three.
I know that at some point
you left your mom’s womb.
Four for four.
And now you’re grown up,
doing what? Reading my
blog? Reading an online
magazine? Reading a
printed poetry anthology?
It’s quite possible that I know your mom.
I’m selling work at a holiday market today at Kankakee’s beautiful downtown public library. The theme for the artists showing and selling work is “green art.” I created 15 new pieces atop a book of maps I salvaged from my school’s dumpster. The maps were printed by National Geographic in the early 1970′s. Caretta caretta is the scientific name for “loggerhead turtle.”
Where am I at? Persevering. Oh there’s some greatness in my life, that’s for sure. But you know, artistically, it can be a strange path. Sometimes the best thing to do is simply perserve through the strangest of times. And for reference, do you literally want to know where I’m at? I’m fixed atop this small plot of land on the curvilinear chest of the North American continent. Find North America. Find its five Great Lakes. That lowest one is Lake Michigan. Scroll down some fifty or sixty miles south of its southern tip, careful not to leave the Illinois border for Indiana, and you’ll just about find me. Here I am! I’m at my table, typing this blog entry. I’ll stop to wave out the window. Can you see me on Google Earth?!
I don’t assume I’m widely read. As a matter of fact, you might be the only person reading right now. You might have drifted here on your own, astronautically all by yourself through the worm holes of the Internet to “here.” Welcome. Let’s say this is a moment of conversational intimacy. We hear one another, right? Let me tell you that I don’t want to kill you. I also don’t want to see you killed in a war. I’ll tolerate your way of life if it isn’t harming me. I don’t want to invade the place where you live. I’m sorry about the fact that my lifestyle demands resources from foreign lands. I know the resources that fuel my lifestyle are oftentimes obtains in unjust manners. I want you to know I research to make better choices and I speak up and out about the harm my Western lifestyle causes others. I just want to live in peace, and I wish the same for you.
This conversation is decidedly one-sided, you see, because I’m typing, and you’re reading, and there’s no exchange because this is a static document. I’ll pretend that you’re interested in what I have to say, and that you’re going to keep reading.
The following report is about two books, a foreign movie and an American band. This is where I’m at.
My mom gets catalogues in the mail which sell clearing house books, warehouse overstock and university press titles. She’s a huge reader too. She’s got a wide reading taste. She’s bought, read and passed along several great books, including one called The Wheatgrass Mechanism by Canadian poet and educator Don Gayton; a book of essays that recount the wilderness of upper North America; most recently she finished and loaned me a book of posthumously published Vonnegut stories. His voice is perfectly let-me-assert-myself American; his paragraph structures are short and he often weaves pages and pages of two and three sentence paragraphs; I’m almost through with the stories in Look at the Birdie and let me tell you, I got transfixed in a few of them, enough so that I could sit on the couch and read while about me went on cooking, questions and handstands.
- THE PIRATES OF SOMALIA
The story about the Somalian pirates, let me tell you, is unbelievably interesting. Some weeks ago, after I finished reading his latest manuscript, the contemporary American writer David Jarecki and I met for lunch. Somewhere in our drifting dialogues David brought up the Somalian pirates. I thought I knew the basic story because I had read about them in the BBC from time to time and in some American dailies, but it turned out I didn’t know anything, and what David knew completely enthralled my intellectual curiosity. After reading much about them online, I ordered Jay Bahadur’s book from the Kankakee Public Library, The Pirates of Somalia. Today I got through the prologue and some of the first chapter and I plan on devouring the text.
It’s my rule, because I am a public school teacher and under the scrutinous eye of Ole’ Man Public, to not cuss in my blog entries, but after getting the new release foreign film Incendies from the Kankakee Public Library and watching it, all I can say is: “Wholly Fuck.”
I’m serious. I can’t remember when any movie gripped me and insisted on my emotional engagement as hard. The mother’s perseverance throughout the life she lived in this film made me question everything I know about our species. The characters may have been portraying people foreign to me, but this is really an “every person” story. The scene where the mother wakes up on the bus to encounter one faction of her country’s warring parties and what happens next? Our species is ridiculous. The entire last hour of the film? The ending which I didn’t possibly expect but happened none the less? You’ll seriously need to put aside 2 uninterrupted hours some night before bed to watch this one.
- WILCO. THE WHOLE LOVE.
I’ve been a Wilco listener since the release of Being There (1996) which is essentially when I first encountered them. Then yes, I searched backwards and found A.M. (1995) and I went backwards to Uncle Tupelo and along the way I bought a Son Volt album, but before long it was just Wilco and what they put out next. I view Jeff Tweedy, as do many others, as an “artist’s artist.” He puts his talent out front, which obviously comes with its own hitches and requires a lot from him, but he puts it out front like many artists want to do. I liked everything up until Wilco (The Album) (2009). I’ll take the blame. Maybe I just wasn’t in the mood for it.
But then came Wilco’s newest album, The Whole Love (2011).
After a 22 mile mountain bike ride at the Kankakee River State Park, Steven Kramer and I stopped at Starbucks of all places, because I promised Amanda I wouldn’t stop for a beer, as we had been doing after our rides. It seems those “one beer” stops had started to lead to two and three and four… Sunday afternoon beers. So we were at Starbucks. I was waiting for my coffee and there was the new Wilco album so I bought it. I can honestly say I’ve listened to The Whole Love some 1 or 200 hundred times in the last 50 days or so; sometimes it’s just one or two or three songs on the way to work and back from work, but my listening’s been steady, and each continued play of the songs continues to satisfy me. The album offers so much diversity; it’s ecologically balanced and the varied styles and speeds connect to many different parts of my own artistic temperament and musical preferences.
It’s important to note right away that I have a full time job (I’m a public school teacher, working in the very urban Kankakee school district). I also have health insurance for my entire family (the premium of which consumes $400 of our month income, and still leaves us with an additional $30 co-pay anytime we visit a doctor). All bills in our household are current; my wife and I are both current on our student loans (which collectively drain $450 dollars from our monthly incomes). We have no cable bill. We maintain few material desires. If we use a credit card, it’s done so responsibly, and we maintain no or low balances. We eat healthy (we’re vegetarians) and we’re happy to spend our fiscal resources on organic and small batch foods. We don’t have much to show after our monthly expenses are met, but we float, and sustaining ourselves is currently more important that hording money. Therefore I’m not involved in the occupation because I need a job. I don’t need health insurance. I’m not asking for the government to pay back my student loans. Instead, I’m involved because I’ve learned and had enough. An emergent class of pirates has taken over the American nation. Pirates have been voted into Congress. Pirates have gained control of the regulatory agencies. Armies of pirate lobbyist flood the federal and state capitals. Pirates are stationed outside our collective taxpayer’s bank account. Pirates readily loot our fiscal treasure. Pirates pillage their way across America state by state, and at our expense, pirates rape and pollute our common resources to build their own personal fortunes. There have always pirates—greedy, self-serving people—for as long as there have been people. The American system was designed to keep the pirates at bay. But the system failed. The pirates have gained control. And now I’m done with them.
I learned about Occupy Wall Street on September 17, 2011. That’s the day people first officially gathered in New York’s Zuccotti Park. The movement was actually the inspiration of a group of Canadian activists from Adbusters, which describes itself as “a global network of artists, activists, writers, pranksters, students, educators and entrepreneurs who want to advance the new social activist movement of the information age.” I’ve read about and followed the occupation since day one. Interesting, I thought. First there was the Arab spring. Now there’s the American late-summer. And they started the movement outside the very gates of the problem. Where will it go?
The occupation went forward. Tens of thousands of independent, previously disconnected people suddenly found that they shared feelings similar to the New York occupiers. Occupations appeared in Oakland, Seattle, Raleigh, Chicago and scores of smaller cities. And I found myself to be one of those people who shared those feelings of collective frustration.
The occupations are about a nation of people awakening. Awakening to what? I read the alternative press. I’ve read first-hand accounts from the occupiers currently flooding the social media. I talk to others. I continuously find that everyone has their own reasons for being frustrated, and that everyone is awake at different levels. The comments and articles and photographs and videos online clearly show leaderless gatherings of people who have come together for their own reasons, but collectively, they all demand greater justice and greater equality; justice and equality are righteous and reasonable causes; calls for both are important, and especially right now, given the national circumstances. Individual participation and taking control of one’s destiny, it turns out, feels good.
I’m not content to simply follow the national occupation narrative. I’ve decided to become an active participant, even if my actions have only (so far) been hour long participations at two occupation events. In October, Amanda and our five year old daughter Alice went to Occupy Chicago. And on my own, on Saturday, November 19, I participated in Occupy Kankakee.
The leadership amongst the occupiers on the corner of Court Street and Schuyler was refreshingly anonymous. The sign-in sheet was pleasantly missing. It was simply a place where you could go if you believed things needed to change, and that change would only come through active participation.
The consensus amongst the people gathered on the Kankakee street corner was that things are totally screwed up and out of balance, and the pirates running the system will only be evicted if we engage them, and ultimately kick them out.
My biggest problem with the nation’s police force in regards to the occupation movement (think New York and Oakland) is that they seem clueless about the “balance” they are striving to maintain. The current balance is clearly designed to benefit the pirates—which means the police are striving to maintain an “imbalance.” The occupation seeks to disrupt the current imbalance in order to restore a truer balance. I know. It’s flipped around. I believe the pirates want to keep the nation’s police force confused; I believe the pirates drill the mantra into the nation’s police force that the current balance must remain the current balance, and that any teetering of the totter is to be met with resistance. Kankakee’s police officer who approached Saturday night’s occupiers, however, was cool. He seemed interested in questioning the occupiers so he knew where they intended to be stationed, not so he could call his peers and crush our heads; and he dismissed himself by saying that if there was any trouble, dial 911 and he’d be right there.
Kankakee is not New York or Oakland but like every occupation across the American nation, it’s important. Local occupation is important because the occupation has literally become a living organism, and every individual participant represents one small—yet important—cell in the body of the larger thing. I predict that the occupations will go indoors during the winter months, and the ability to monitor and diminish the feelings of a million individuals is beyond the pirate’s capabilities. I predict that the living organism will gain mass over this American winter, which gives me all the more reason to anticipate the coming American spring.
Narrative art tells a story. Not all artists set out to create such “story-telling” work, but I admire those who do. Diego Rivera painted large murals that overwhelm the senses with details and with the presentation of a story as told from many angles. It’s almost guaranteed that no two viewers will walk away from a Rivera mural having the same interpretation. Mayan, Egyptian, Middle Eastern, Northwestern and Native American cultures kept narrative art amongst them. Their art, ranging from simple images set into specific arrangements that told just the perception of a story, and all the way to detailed images arranged with care to tell a complex story, inspires me. The challenge, though, as an artist, is: “What’s the story of my people?” “How to create narrations of consumers, of environmental polluters, of wage slaves, of perpetual war-mongers through narrative art?” I’d like to be given a viaduct so I can set about creating a large narrative mural that tells the story of local people.
My first attempt at narrative art – at creating art that told a story – involved a drawing I completed with my wife, Amanda. We spent the better part of a winter passing the coldest nights on the living room floor, each working on different aspects of a large piece that not only told the story of the rise and fall of the celebrity in American culture, but also how that story was relished by an audience of insatiable viewers of the event. It turned out great, I built a frame for it and protected it behind glass, and the piece now hangs in our home.
Since that first collaboration, I’ve remained interested in attempted to include simply narratives into my art – and by simple, I mean creating paintings that use a few active elements to create the first beginnings of a story. In one piece I added sunspots above a tree, because I can recall how when, as a kid, I would tromp in the local wetlands on the hottest August days, and sweat would drip into my eyes, so that when I looked up, there would appear, through the beads of sweat, refracted light that always became a bunch of spots. Actually, I was fascinated by the effect of the spots, which is why I remember them.
My current interest in narrative art involves the use of objects represented either as they are for real – or reinterpreted as symbols – and then arranging these elements about a composition so that the “setting” of the piece helps establish a narrative, or simple story. One unseen event in this whole process is that I’m not taking active steps to show, place or sell the work, and it’s starting to build up, which is something I imagine the majority of artists face – that is, an excessive output of work equals the fact that all of the wall space in your home is eventually covered with your own work, and the closets get filled, as does the attic and garage. I think I would like it if one of the contemporarily coined “1 percent” discovers me, likes my work, likes the idea of owning an entire collection of art created by “a commoner” (me) and then sweeps all of my pieces away into his or her collection. Hey, I can dream aloud, right?
And if you haven’t checked out my super-awesome site at www.christophershoup.zenfolio.com please check it out. The resolution of the images there are outstanding.
This is work completed within the past few months. Both were inspired by a trip taken to Bimini with scientists from Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium (during the summer of 2010). It was my first experience in the ocean. The coral reefs were fantastic and we visited no fewer than three a day; I got to hover over a swarming, swirling school of silver bar jacks; we went deep into the mangroves right at the tide’s peak, so we got pulled out towards the ocean during the tidal drain; during a night snorkel, a small squid paused before me to change colors in the rays of my underwater flashlight.
I’ve not had many “blog inspirations” lately; my art focus has shifted heavily to my Stratocaster; I’m writing a few essays, most of which will probably never leave my journal; and I’m daydreaming and drafting out a few paintings.
There’s an oak tree that grows alone at the southeast corner of the Perry Farm preserve; my guess is that it’s a few decades over 100 years old. It’s a giant, and probably owes its age and success to the fact that it grew right in the corner of a pasture (the broad canopy suggests it never competed for light or space). During youth, this particular tree watched people pass by on horseback; today it watches cars, motorcycles and semi-trucks zip by. I’ve been close enough to hug the tree. It shows no signs of dying.
The painting is oil on oak panel. I completed it a few years ago but just recently photographed the piece.
Memoir of a day spent rambling and exploring is the title of this triptych. It’s an honest title. There was one year of my life, 2004, when I was back on stable ground following a few years wrestling with divorce, and I was living in place that was basically a garage with two small bedrooms, a small bathroom, a small living space, and a narrow kitchen. Some things during that year just clicked with me. I was a madman learning to play the guitar; I had an acoustic that plugged into a Marshall practice amp, a few pedals that had been given to me by the Chicago musician and artist Eric Brown. I lived in the environment of a single guy. Imagine loud times, complete with bottle caps, a key to the door that opens into the blissful creative moment, and an overwhelming and hungry drive to get on with my life. I was working out my problems through music. I was hanging out with like-minded peers, participating with them in regular sweatlodges. And also I was learning to shoot film through a hand-me-down Canon AE1 that my stepdad had purchased long ago during a stint in Korea (I came in at the end of the film movement).
Living a few blocks away was the contemporary facebook artist Matt Thiesen. He and I pursued the leaderless and carefree art movement often referred to as: “Wevegotnothingbettertodowithourfreetimebuthangoutdriftaboutandcreateart.” During this time we made a lot of really great art films that I still watch and say: “How cool was that?” It was a terrific time. We would load up my truck with our gear, leave Bradley, cross the Kankakee River and travel west to Salina and Essex townships. These were places where we could wander about the stony gravel roads, looking for things that were cool and places we could explore. One autumn day in 2004, Matt and I went out to an abandoned bridge that crossed Horse Creek. It was a seasonally great day. Sunshine. Wool sweater and jeans weather. [Look at the signs in the artwork; I have to admit I'm fascinated with rural man's desire to shoot his rifle at rural signs. It's as if the lack of game and huntable moments drives him to utter frustration.]
Matt and I had been to that bridge numerous times. It was an interesting remnant of a recent people, leftover like their remaining corn cribs and barns. Horse Creek, which ran beneath it, was my favorite rural outpost during my youth. I spent a great deal of time pedaling my bike five or six miles with the Snedecor brothers and my own brother to daytrip in the water; we’d seine for carp and bass and whatever else we could capture in our broad net. It took two of us on either end each holding wood poles, whose tips were continually poked tight against the bottom so the dragging net scraped the bottom; upstream would be the other two, splashing in the water, laughing and such, driving all creek organisms directly into the net. Then the four of us knew to work together to lift the net so it would retain the greatest amount of our catch, and we would just stand around looking at what we found, which always included carp big and small, bluegill, largemouth and rock bass, minnows, the occassional turtle, numerous crawdads, and handfuls of other single species that we couldn’t identify. Then we would let them go. And we’d do it again. And in this way four kids would spend an entire Saturday out of trouble.
When you’re on an art field trip, you need nothing more than a vague plan of what you want to do. Bring some art medium along so you have something to work on. You could bring a journal, a camera; paints from a spray can, tube or gallon container; a guitar or drum; whatever. And be happy that you learned somewhere in your life (or you’re learning) how to occupy yourself in productive peace for an afternoon or an evening. You’re not bothering the world when you make art.
After Matt and I left the bridge we drifted about the gravelly haze of the backroads some more, stopping I’m sure here and there, and eventually our last stop us to a burnt out stone house that stood along Warner Bridge Road. It was a good subject. I had the film developed as 4×6 duplicate photos. Back then I was beginning to explore compose with photography, thinking of images not as individual things but more so as notes in a song. It was during the summer of that year that I got captivated by patterns; started my tessellations; and in general found myself being completely serious about my art. Memoir of a day spent rambling and exploring is arranged inside three identical frames. The frames were drilled into the appropriate edges, and I sewed the frames together with heavy leather cord. It’s taken me this long (it’s Saturday, October 22, 2011) to properly photograph a piece I made in 2004. This piece is available.
America currently has 65 operating, and aging, nuclear power plants. Recently, it’s been documented that some of the buried pipes around the plants are leaking. Leaking? Nuclear waste is leaking into the subsurface of our local environments?
A few years ago I collected a dozen maps from the school building where I work, to save them from the dumpster, and this is the first large map I painted on (the latex paint bends and this map can still be rolled up for transport!). Probable Poisoning is painted atop a 60 x 60 inch map of the United States. It’s my reaction to the leaking pipes (and decaying infrastructure) found about America’s nuclear power plants. I’ve got plans to paint the other 11 maps. I think this will make a cool series of work.
I’m old enough to remember the release of Beat Street (1984) and Breakin’ (1984) and the how those films brought pop locking and breakdancing to every square inch of America. Even the small town kids could join “the counter culture revolution,” which I willingly joined. I’m also old enough to remember the release of Rad (1986), which caused every 13 year old I knew (including myself) to scavenge plywood and jump our bikes over sidewalk ramps. I also remember Thrashin’ (1986) which caused us to suppliment our pedaling with skateboarding (I broke my wrist within a month). Trends have a way of traveling around the great cultural roulette wheel; some things are fated to return. Hence the contemporary crop of youth that has revived and respun their own ”counter cultural revolution” via BMX bikes and skateboards.
It’s awesome that the Kankakee Park District built such a great place for the area youth. It’s a place for kids who have their own sets of talents, but their talents are not often given a chance to appear during the normal school day. I mean, during a regular school day, how many chances does a student have to shine if ”shining” to them means launching themselves off a ramp to become vertically airborn? Or if “shining” means completing a complex set of manuevers to get you and your skateboard onto, across and over a big obstacle? The same kid who might not care at all about learning to solve a difficult algebra problem will go to the skate park and spend an hour practicing and problem-solving the moves of a single trick until the trick can be performed. And then the trick will be repeated and repeated until perfected. It’s not that the skate-culture youth are poor learners – it’s that they’re different learners, motivated by physical, not paper, problems.
My last observation of the day involved my seeing such a mixed crowd of kids come together in peace. That rocks. And my guess is that since there are so many operating skate parks around the country that persist and are respected by their users, Kankakee’s skate park will persist and be respected by its users. In a world where the headlines speak of constant doom, this is an example of something that kicks ass.
What’s going on in America? Occupation. Amanda and I knew of the Wall Street occupation on its first day; we’ve followed alternative press reports as the occupation spread to other cities; on Sunday, October 9, we decided to head to Chicago’s financial district (Jackson and LaSalle) to see the local occupation for ourselves.
The problem can be simply stated. Policies are written by corporations. The policies are then sent to Washington for approval. Each policy first and foremost benefits the corporate writer. Why? Because corporations run the system. But the system wasn’t established so corporations could get behind the wheel and drive. We must push them out of the car and regain the driver’s seat. “Why,” you ask, “won’t our elected politicians just push the corporations out?” Politicians are now corporate servants. We have to regain control of our politicians and make them push. Hence we are forced to occupy our own public domains to put the required pressure on our politicians; our interests must again be our elected politicians’ interests.
There were musicians. There were bicycles. There were signs. People were calling the problem out by its name. The weather was perfect. I highly suggest you visit your nearest occupation, even if just for a half an hour. Your presence is a weight on some politician’s shoulders; become a stone.
These two oil paintings remember two native species I grew up with. By the time I was tromping through them as young boy (in the late 70′s and early 80′s) the rural ditches and creeks were rapidly becoming polluted by a rise in industrial farming chemicals. The dinosaur-like snapping turtle, though, didn’t seem affected. I ran into snapping turtles on a daily basis. And above me, always, were native red tailed hawks. Both are for sale through my purchase link.
…and a left-handed acoustic guitar I painted (the color tiles around it are recycled countertop samples salvaged from an out of business carpet store).
Anxious to see a print of my own work, I ordered one through www.christophershoup.zenfolio.com, where I just recently created a site to sell my work. It’s a very professional deal. You select the size, pay with credit card or paypal and choose any shipping method. The photo above is a print from my square tessellations; the quality of photography paper is excellent – the resolution and shine of the print is excellent – this particular 12 x 12 inch size could fit perfectly into an “album cover frame.” I’m going to frame the above print myself in walnut. Here’s me begging you to click the link and at least see what I’ve accomplished.
Past experience tells me that the holiday season is good for art sales; this year, I drafted out a plan, I am ahead of schedule, and look forward to my interactions with the locavores. I created art cards to sell in packs of four, which I will sell through local businesses. Local art, about local subjects, for the local population.
But I also want to make my work available to Brazilians, Canadians, Sudanese, Germans, Russians and the Japanese. So for the last two weeks I woke up at 5am daily to construct www.christophershoup.zenfolio.com, which is my online print (and originals) sales locale. The site turned out beautiful. Below is a screen capture. Visit if you can.
The contemporary writer David Jarecki, whom I’ve had the good fortune to befriend, recently stated in an email, “…enough with the photography for a while, for damn sakes! Get back to the painting, where the real action’s at!” Or something like this.
Anyhow, late Sunday night I went to the garage/studio and dug out a painting I’ve been meaning to finish for almost 2 years, and in a single sitting I finished it. I never had to original proportions of the hawk correct; I was minutes from taking a sander to the piece and starting over with a clean slate when I picked up a brush and decided I would extend the left-side wing to correct the proportion and see how that looked. And the heavens opened up, I got it correct, and thought, “How am I going to match the original oil paint colors? I don’t remember what I used.” I was terrified; then I realized that any decent viewer would be able to paint the rest him or herself; so I present a piece that is ”challenging as it stands but ultimately finished.” Consider the title when viewing.
All of these photographs originate from a place that is a mile from my kitchen table, at the Perry Farm Prairie in Bradley, Illinois. The prairie is beautiful when its many shades of summer green begin to drain from the grasses, revealing their true brown, tan and golden colors. I really like the prairie on cool days, when the Illinois sky becomes pure blue and gentle air currents pull fully pronounced clouds across the troposphere.
For over a year, I’ve been on a major self-study course. I’ve read native plant books and taught myself the names of the local native flowers. Above are white asters, a flowering milkweed, Jerusalem artichoke, rough blazing star; I can also identify and name by sight the various prairie grasses and also a growing body of native invertebrates.
I’m going print each series of four images on cards (there will be four cards to each pack). I’m going to sell the cards in the local Bradley and Bourbonnais markets; they will be ready for the holiday season so local folks can purchase local art about local subject matter as holiday gifts for family and friends.
Also, I’m going to sell unframed photographs of each image online, through Zenfolio. On the back of each card will be the series title, my name, and a note that says, “To purchase card images as unframed photographs, visit: http://www.chrisshoup.com/purchase.”
The series above, of the denuded tree silhouette tessellations, is titled “Sundown over emergent prairie.” I took these photographs right at the beginning of March. I am extremely happy with the colors.
I consider this plan fairly ambitious because I have to pull if off at a time when I’m particularly busy with teaching sixth graders, with being a father (which seems to only get harder as the daughters get older), and with being a husband. Yet I’m continually driven to be an artist who sells work.
The guy above is Nick LeRoy. I’m not for sure, so don’t quote me on this, but I heard that sometime during a tumultuous snowstorm in February of 2009, LeRoy awoke from the whirls and howls to envision a stage surrounded by cornfields and wind turbines, set somewhere outside Kinsman, Illinois (population 99). On this stage, his favorite regional bands played to a crowd of the same chill festival followers that he was so often a part of, and in this vision the organizer and promoter of the fest was none other than Nick himself. Sometime later, after coffee, he made some calls, found a friend willing to share his family’s farm for a weekend, and the first FarmFest 450 was born. Nick’s third FarmFest 450 was held at that same farm over the weekend of August 19 and 20, 2011, and I was fortunate enough to attend the latter half of the event. I had no idea what to expect. I knew that people would be camped out there for the weekend. I knew I would get to see some important musicians and bands. I knew there would be vegetarian options amongst the vendors. I brought Amanda, a blanket, my camera, a few other peaceful items and my desire to explore.
First, let me say something about the land around the festive. It is open countryside, with ground that rolls like a vacationer’s sea set to mild undulation. From this rising and falling cornscape sprout might gray wind turbines like those that are becoming so visible throughout middle Illinois. To drive on the single lane blacktop to FarmFest 450 is to travel amongst the turbines, and at one point, where one stood near the road, I had to stop and get out so I could see the mammoth object that cannot be reproduced by a photograph. The turbines are awesome to witness and hear in action, and when time fads away their utility, but not their structure, future generations that crossed the burning bridges will marvel at them and wonder what purpose they could have served. Or so I like to believe. Anyhow, they added to my sense of anticipation and excitement for what was to come.
FarmFest 450 had excellent logistics. To the north of the farm estate on which it was located was a large and level grass parking area, and parking was well-managed from entrance to our final designated parking spot—the good service was inviting. There were two camping settlements, each composed of a hodgepodge of tents and gear and relaxed sippers and fire pit cookers and yard game players. Past camping was the stage. It was set at the bottom of a long and wide yard that sloped east, so the western eye of the sun stared into the eyes of the musicians, rather than the audience (musicians accept this professional hazard). The goods that typically followed such festivals were there (you know jewelry, pottery, handcrafted apparel) along with a local bar selling cans of standardized American beer (most folks seemed to have brought their own) and there were many food options. The crowd we encountered upon our 4 o’clock arrival? It was set to a speed somewhere between koala bear and willow sloth. Which was perfect. Which was exactly what I hoped for. Amanda and I fit right in amongst the competitionless seating scheme, finding a great spot to pitch our blanket and offload our bags. As the sun descended behind us, past the farm’s flank of trees, we sat and shared Indian fry bread, drank a bit, listened a lot, intermingled with others between sets and were perfectly happy.
One of our intermingling moments involved meeting and talking with Ezra of Ezra’s Chameleon Kitchen. I would responsibly liken him to a contemporary gypsy, only his mule cart is way more fantastic than a vurdon made from wood and iron nails. Ezra is a studied chef who cooks on the road. His travel trailer is state of the art and partly run by solar panels and a small wind turbine that spins to power a battery bank during highway miles; his energy awareness is great, and his future plan involves him running his complete outfit on renewable resources; he also creates food that tastes local and lovingly prepared and he is health-conscious about his work. Vegan food that tastes like it’s from a small Chicago diner, only you procured it from a grassy oasis between farm fields? Right on. He had along with him the painter Andrew Nelson, who ingeniously designs paintings meant to be viewed and re-interpreted within different spectrums of light.
The first musician I heard was Chicago Farmer. I have a live John Prine album, simply called John Prine Live. It’s is a collection of songs Prine recorded during performances all throughout the seventies. It’s not just his artful, folk story-songs on the album that so engage me; it’s also the simple, short stories he tells on stage prior to starting each song that I love. The recordings make me feel “like I’m there” when I listen, yet rarely do I get out to see a folkish troubadour doing this kind of singing and story telling on stage (the last time was seeing Jeff Tweedy at the Vic). Therefore I was pleasantly thrilled when Chicago Farmer took the stage at 4:45 and like Prine, and in the vein of Tweedy as a solo artist, I found another Illinoisan with his acoustic guitar singing stories and telling stories live on stage. Chicago Farmer’s songs are about things you’d see through a pickup truck window; or through the window of Carl’s Diner in Nowhere Particular, Illinois as you drink your fourth cup of coffee; or through the window of several beers as you sit on a stool amongst a bar crowd. He told me he’d journeyed from a small town to Chicago and back to more small towns. He’s a working musician; his months are tied together with performances and festivals which put him in position to be continuously discovered. I purchased a t-shirt from his merchandise table because I identify with the artwork. I’m also from a small town. I too journeyed to Chicago for some years. I also later returned to my roots.
Chicago Farmer has an effective online presence. Listen to what he does, invest in a some songs because local folk will add depth to your collection and every man deserves a few coins for a song, and then get out of the house and go see him at a festival where he’s playing. You need the fresh air and you’ll like being a part of an engaged crowd.
I assumed there would be people milling about The Steepwater Band after their set, people who were meeting them or waiting to talk to them, so minutes after they finished playing I went down the sloped lawn and around the plastic fencing to the back of the stage, to the area where the bands mingled. I found myself in a spot boxed in by the back of the stage, a van, a porta potty, and a trailer that had been provided for the musicians. It turns out there were not throngs of people crowding Steepwater; on the contrary it was just the three band mates, each engaged in the humble act of breaking down gear before loading it back in the van. Their set was awesome. They are rockers, and the great leap from Chicago Farmer with his solo acoustic on goings and to an amplified three-piece was totally cool. The sudden jumps between genres and volumes is what I most like about local festivals.
I had only listened to a few Steepwater songs online prior to seeing them, when I was previewing who I would see at FarmFest. What I heard in the song “Revelation Sunday” inspired me to find them on YouTube, where I watched a few videos that only confirmed how good they are. Jeff Massey sounds like a cool guy yelling across the tool shed at 7 am because he thinks you misplaced his 5/8” box end wrench; at times his Gibson sounds like the idling engine of a 1978 Camaro; at other times it sounds like the same car peeling out; many songs inspire loud volume listening. A scan through the band’s archived tour schedule from the past decade is crazy; they seemingly play nonstop, with the breaks between shows probably reserved for travel time and limb recuperation.
Backstage I introduced myself to drummer Joe Winters as he broke down drum components. I told him I was an online writer, that I liked their work and I liked that they ended with an excellent version of “Boom Boom” by John Lee Hooker. I told him I read they played with Gov’t Mule and Buddy Guy and Wilco and a crowd of other national acts and how I thought that must be cool; Winters told me they recently opened for Tesla at the House of Blues and the New York Dolls at Double Door. He told me they toured Europe and were going again soon. I told him I was reviewing the fest and would mention them. Then I talked to Massey and told him how excellent I thought his guitar playing was during the whole show and how much I liked the John Lee Hooker ending. I got all three of them and the porta potty to poise for a very fine photograph and right as I was about to go catch the guys from Backyard Tire Fire, Winters appeared with a CD of a live performance Steepwater recorded at Double Door and also a copy of their just released album Clava. They were fantastic gifts.
I want to mention their latest album Clava because I listened to it like twenty times in six days. The first three songs compliment one another to make an excellent opening triptych (as a matter of fact I would encourage them to open some shows with these three back to back). Other songs on the album continue Massey’s punctuated riffs played under the influence of the previously described tones; and there is a divergent and reverberating song called “Bury the Burden Deep” that you must listen to loud and through headphones; it works. And it also shows how as a hard-working band they write with a spirit of diversity, because hard-working bands know diversity keeps multiple listener types engaged.
It was exactly the divergent and less guitar-centered songs on Clava that kept sending me back to my past. “What,” I kept thinking, “am I hearing?”
It took me a few days to get to the closing song “Meet Me in the Aftermath,” and when I listened to it, it triggered the synoptic connection. I was hearing Paul Westerberg on Pleased to Meet Me (1987), an album I once totally liked and listened to on cassette tape. So the leap from Chicago Farmer to Steepwater continued to The Replacements. Excellent. I don’t know where you live, but if it’s somewhere, probably Steepwater’s coming within range. See them live, that’s how they best like playing. Add a few tunes or all of Clava to your digital music rotation, because the album will make you pedal your mountain bike harder.
Miles Nielsen and the Rusted Hearts, I did not get to meet you due to the storm that blew up and threatened the entire festival right after your set, which was when I planned to say hello. Most of what I found of you online involved your quest to find backers to pledge for the vinyl album you want to record. Even as great as it will be, I believe your album will be an arrow pointing towards the requirement that you are seen and heard live. On stage there’s movement, microphone switching, instrument switching, songs that climb upwards to stop at little cabins so everyone can catch up, and then when everyone’s accounted for you take them back outside and climb higher. I didn’t catch the name of the song, but you have one with lyrics: “…if I go, crawling back to you, would you take me as I am, or would you take me for a fool…” That song is like looking at a small, sturdy oak tree. You see it’s a good tree, and you imagine how given the right conditions, it could be huge.
Your lineup was right on, giving you the advantage of five talented musicians offering five points of view on the same thing. And then you said goodnight. And left the stage. And then a minute later you all came back on. “Sorry,” you said, noting that you actually had more time. So you just picked up your instruments and at the same exact time burst into the next song like there had been no interruption. And finally at the end, Miles put down his guitar and picked up the microphone, stand and all. He said since it was a festival, he’d end with a true festival closer. I swear when he began to sway about the stage like a man on rough seas I guessed it. They closed their set with Joe Cocker’s festival megastar version of The Beatle’s “With a Little Help from My Friends.” It was so cool, and Miles was a notch more coherent than Cocker (no disrespect, Joe) while his band was note for note alive and raw with the song, even immaculately singing the high parts. Those who weren’t present will have no way to appreciate the whole-band genius that I am describing.
Backyard Tire Fire was scheduled to perform next (sorry if, when I met you, I offended you with the comment about your tiny piano; please know I like the Kink.FM performance of “Good to Be.” The tiny piano apparently stuck out. It was something I felt comfortable referencing when I introduced myself. You told me it was played by Steve Berlin from Los Lobos. Sometimes I’m ridiculous).
But Backyard Tire Fire didn’t play because of the stereostrobic forboding of an approaching storm. A dark mountain, from which came thunder and light, appeared in the west and moved towards Kinsman; people got glued to the satellite images on their hand-held internet interfaces, Amanda didn’t want to stay any longer, and Nick LeRoy came on stage and told us not to panic but that they were covering the stage equipment because of the coming storm so a little bit after 10:00 pm Amanda and I headed out to the truck (with an order of gravy fires from Ezra’s Chameleon Kitchen to eat) and then begin the drive home, staying just ahead of the storm (I did hear that Herbert Wiser Band, the festival closers, got to play a bit after the storm in the garage and that it was a good time).
If you’re up for a great time, if you want to drop in for a day, or lounge through the weekend in a tent pitched at a beautiful grain farm environment while great bands play, then periodically google “FarmFest 450 2012″ to see if Nick LeRoy has the energy and inspiration to put on the festival for the fourth year. I hope he does. The location is a prime spot for a festival and the bands that he’s connected with are hard-working regionals worthy of catching live.
Today president Obama proved himself to be as much a disappointment as I feared, apparently giving his approval to the backwards Keystone XL pipeline, which will secure our future in the past for the next twenty years. Thanks man! And I had a chance to check out Peter Pagast’s progress on his downtown mural. In fact, I was invited to the official unveiling of the mural next Wednesday, which I’ll attend and document, so check back. I mean, all of those “limestone blocks” you see above are painted. That pretty much rocks. And his figure painting is as outstanding as all of the work he created for Philadelphia.
And my own art? Am I doing anything else but blogging? Well, I started back as a teacher again, for my 10th year this year, thank you very much. And the story below this one, about single use plastic bottles, is going to appear on Life Without Plastic and in the online publication Green Chicago Parent. Thanks to both of those outlets for appreciating and further promoting my work! And please know that all of the graphics in the article were made by me, alone, on Microsoft Publisher with the shape tools.
My commission with Riverside Hospital is ridiculous. It’s been a crazy ordeal. I literally first approached the organization in November of 2009, and 22 months later, after numerous submission rejections based on “outrageous content for a hospital setting” or something like that, my approved pieces have been cut down and reconfigured until now, I just hope to get something from almost two years of pursuit. My original goal was to get local art placed in a local, multi-million dollar construction project. Because I was willing to abandon great art, and by that I mean pieces that would draw people to the hospital, I have now given them pieces sure to put runaway elderlys to sleep. It seems like I’ll get a few coins from the work, unless they read this first, before they send me the check. They might decipher my tone of voice and decide to replace my originals with lazy stock designs assured to turn not a single head and incite not one honest dialogue between art and viewer. Oh, I’m sorry. Do I sound bittersweet?
The great news is you should keep checking back because my review of FarmFest 2011 is almost done, and it will include so many fantastic photographs along with a festival review and reviews of Chicago Farmer and The Steepwater Band and Miles Nielsen and the Rusted Hearts and also Ezra’s Chameleon Kitchen. And I’m also working with The City of Kankakee to create a graphics campaign for one of their near-future corporation projects, which will entail the city starting an off-shore drilling corporation to help create jobs and earn much-needed tax revenue for a city currently being besieged by a 100 million dollar lawsuit from Chicago’s new mayor Rahm Emanuel in regards to some sale tax issues. Go figure. It’s undoubtedly a conspiracy supported by The Chicago Tribune.
I dream I’m the guy who’ll cause a massive reduction in consumer purchase and use of single use plastic bottles (all because of this post, so please share). I am a visual artist, and whether you’re a grade school student, high school student, college student, casual reader, ardent reader, working professional, budding or entrenched activist — no matter who you are, I’d like you to look at the following visual documentary.
Single use plastic bottles represent an unsustainable and ecologically unpardonable practice. What are “single use plastic bottles?” And why are they so hideous?
Single use plastic bottles originate from crude oil (petroleum). It’s typical to envision crude oil coming from Middle Eastern kingdoms. But crude oil is also drilled and spilled in Africa, in places such as the Nigerian delta region; it’s drilled and spilled from ocean floors; now there’s the archaic scramble to surface mine all the Canadian oil sands. Anyway, single use plastic bottles (and all other plastics) come from oil.
After extraction of the crude oil, carbon burning trucks or direct pipelines transport the crude oil to shipping ports. It’s a fact that now half of the world’s oil takes transoceanic journeys to reach oil hungry nations. More carbon is burned so the ports can have electricity. More carbon is burned to get the port workers to their jobs. More carbon is burned as oil tankers make their two week trips across oceans.
Once the oil tankers reach port, more carbon is burned to unload their oil and then transport the crude to the oil refineries. Energy intensive processes such has high temperature heating refines the crude oil. The crude is converted into hundreds of new petrochemical compositions (such as auto fuel). Chemical additives are mixed with certain new compositions to make polymers, which are turned into dried pellets.
More carbon is burned to ship the polymer pellets (which originated from crude oil) to water bottling plants, or soda bottling plants, or juice bottling plants, which operate on carbon-based and nuclear energy resources. The polymer pellets are turned into polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles. Bottles are filled with consumable liquid. And more carbon is burned to ship the filled bottles to retail stores.
The retail stores operate on carbon-based and nuclear energy resources. Employees drive to work in carbon-burning vehicles. Consumers mainly drive to retail stores in carbon-burning vehicle to purchase consumable liquids packaged in single use plastic bottles, either individually or by the case. They then drive away in their carbon-burning vehicles.
And then, after 12-16 ounces of consumable liquid is poured into the body, the plastic bottle is mainly thrown in the trash, where it will ultimately be buried in a landfill, or it is despicably tossed away as ground litter, where it can eventually enter the watershed and add to the growing collection of oceanic plastic pollution.
This is a mindless cultural activity. It wasn’t in place when I was a kid; it is a recent phenomena.
I do not participate in the single use plastic bottle culture. I haven’t purchased or drank from a single use plastic bottle in two years. You’ve just seen how much energy is burned and how much pollution is created so one can drink liquid from a single use plastic bottle. It’s ridiculous. Recycling single use plastic bottles only continues the energy intensive cycle. The solution is to completely quit all participation in this practice. Quitting is easier than you think. Here’s how I did it…
My wife and I each own two stainless steel water bottles, and so does our five year old daughter. They are washed after each use. We maintain 10 one gallon plastic water jugs. We keep them out of sunlight to avoid chemical leaching. We determined that they stay bacteria free since there is no direct plastic-to-mouth contact. We refill them at the grocery store water refill station approximately 8—10 times each before recycling them. We have a water pitcher with a replaceable filter (we have a taste issue with our tap water, but I drink tap water elsewhere). The pitcher fills our coffee maker and supplements our daily water consumption. We do cook with tap water.
We purchase Santa Cruz Organic Lemonade in 1 quart glass bottles, which we drink conservatively. I drink no soda, ever. If my wife and daughter do drink it, they purchase a six-pack of aluminum cans from the health food store and I recycle the cans with the cans I collect from my workplace. Everyday I fill my steel bottle with water and bring it to work. I drink water with the sandwich and snacks I pack in washable plastic containers; my lunch generates no trash. I also bring a full water bottle to fairs, music festivals, on bike rides, hikes and city wanderings.
I wrote this because I am completely disheartened by single use plastic bottles. I’m educated about the unsustainable lifestyles lived by Western peoples and the unsustainable practices of Western corporations — but I also did research when writing this, and as often happens, I learned something new. Actually, I learned a lot.
I learned that my transition from single use plastic bottles to “multiple use plastics” is just a step for me, because I found a blog written by Beth Terry from Oakland, California, called My Plastic-free Life that further changed me. Among other things, Beth critiques plastic consumption, inspires plastics reduction and reviews non-plastic food container alternatives. I learned about LunchBots, a company that sells stainless steel lunch containers, and Life Without Plastic, a company that sells multiple stainless steel container options, including water bottles with stainless steel caps. I cannot afford a sudden transition to these pricier steel products, but I will begin to request them as future Christmas and birthday gifts, and I’ll spend my recycling money on them until I’m fully transitioned. I also learned about “a beacon in the smog” called Grist, which reports (in a refreshing, Onionesque way) on environmental and sustainability issues.
DATA COLLECTION (1): On Monday, August 15, 2011, I rode my bike from my house in Bradley to my bank in neighboring Kankakee. I am always aware of and saddened by public litter. Taking only major routes through the towns, I made it a point to stop and photograph the single use plastic bottles I found discarded in the grass and against the curbs. I stopped to take a total of 61 photos; 54 of them are shown in the array above. That’s crude oil, extracted from foreign lands, shipped, refined, redefined, filled, reshipped, purchased, consumed, and then discarded on the ground. Each of those single use plastic bottles is (potentially) fated to enter the watershed and the world’s oceans. Start to look around your local roadways and green spaces and take notice of your environment. Are the members of your community this unconscionable?
DATA COLLECTION (2): Later on Monday, August 15, 2011, I rode to what I considered a typical American park. It has nearby parking, a football field, a concessions stand, beverage machines, and a children’s playground. I looked into each trash can to check for single use plastic bottles. Each trash can held multiple examples of single use plastic bottles, and my visual assessments determined that the majority of the trash was single use plastic bottles. That’s crude oil, extracted from the earth in foreign lands, shipped, refined, redefined, filled, reshipped, purchased, consumed, discarded, and fated to be buried back in the earth, all so consumers could temporarily house some liquid content in their bodies.
Question this entire system. Stop accepting it.
And quit right now. Don’t participate in the single use plastic bottle culture. Don’t spend another penny on single use bottled water. Don’t purchase soda or juice in single use plastic bottles. Don’t accept a single use plastic bottle from your mom, neighbor or best friend. At times learn to live without. At other times problem-solve your way to more sustainable choices. The luxury of the habit is yet more pavement on the road of our environmental ruin. We can all do better.
It was raining when I took each of these photographs. This piece is from the portfolio “I’m considering the square” and it highlights a place where I spent countless days of my youth. The person who owns this piece will love it, as it will be printed at a size of 4 by 4 foot on aluminum panel, and it will have a glossy finish (ah…glossy finish!). But unfortunately, he or she will not see it often, as I will suggest they hang it outside the dining room in their Aspen home, which I’m told they visit “only occassionally.”
It comes down to the fact that I survived: not just through youth and then high school, but I actually survived 20 years after high school.
Dumb founding, no doubt, I think as I sit at the kitchen table looking through the mail and find an invitation to my 20 year high school reunion.
Over the next few days I go into something like a temporary tailspin. I’ve had 20 years to do something with my life. Now those people from back then are asking to see me.
What was it, exactly, that I did with my life? What are my accomplishments? What am I going to say? The years come rushing back. The marathon that is life overwhelms me.
Thankfully, and maybe it’s a sign of my own maturity, I pull out of the tailspin. A few days later I send back the invitation. I’ll be accompanied by the lovely Amanda Shoup, I write…
It gets to be July 30th, 2011. It is a Saturday night. The night of the reunion. We’re to meet at the Quality Inn in Bradley. Amanda looks fantastic in a black dress and heels. I almost get away with wearing old blue jeans (hey, they’re like a security blanket). But Amanda stops me in the driveway with questions about “my other jeans that I was going to wear.”
You know, the new ones that actually look nice. You know, the ones that actually don’t have any small holes and frays.
I’m the guy who is sent back inside to change.
There are, of course, a few “not knowing what to expect” jitters. There is, of course, “the entry.” There are quick glances, there is darting eye contact and dim lights that disable me from making out faces or name tags.
But I say to myself, get it together man. These are people I spent a formidable part of my life with. These are people who were forced, along with me, to listen to songs by Salt and Pepper, Tone Loc and Vanilla Ice in tortuously repetitive radio rotations. These are people with whom I went through multiple and sometimes difficult teenage rites of passage. After my first beer and my first few conversations with friends, everything is all good.
The subsequent night is great. I reunite with people I haven’t seen for 20 years, I tell stories and I hear stories and I talk about children and consume alcohol.
I’ve got to relate two very funny things that happened that night. First, the guy in the photo above showed up, took a seat by himself, and then just sat there alone through the meal, and then alone after the meal. Every so often he would reach into his satchel, remove a worn paperback, read a page or two, look up and around, and then put the book away and just sit alone again.
Nobody seemed to recognize him though many attempts at recognition were made. Finally, he was approached with a name tag and Sharpie so he could write his own name and we’d all learn his identity by reading it, and it was then we learned that he thought he was at an “organic gardening and gray water recycling conference.”
Rather than break the poor guy’s spirit, the Herscher Tigers Class of 1991 graciously welcomed him with a big tiger roar! and he spent the rest of the night drinking at our open bar and socializing amongst our crowd.
The second funny thing that happened involved a laugh had at my expense!
Dick Cheney, who actually graduated in our high school class, showed up and acted like it was some fraternity event, not our reunion.
As he liked to do, he butted into the conversations underway amongst a group of us and he started to remember some outdoor drinking party from our past, when the cops came, and we all ran to my house, and then the cops showed up there, and we had to be lined up under the yard light as a group of sheriffs officers decided what they were going to do with us. I left to get a snack. The food table was covered with a big hot dog platter and a condiment bar. Since I’m a vegetarian, I was only able to get bread. Then when I returned to where I had left the conversations, Dick reached out, touched the bread, put his fingers into his mouth, and grossly said: “Ha! I just licked your buns.”
I know. It was both disgusting and embarrassing. He picked on me like that through all four years of high school.
Envision this piece printed 8 foot by 8 foot on an aluminum panel. It has a polished, glossy finish. Some parts shine. You were previously just browsing and talking to your friend. But you enter a room, and this piece causes sensory arrest. It is large. Very unusual. You walk close. There you see the ”what is the what.” Take one, two, three, four, five…twelve steps back and it becomes the image above.
The photographs were taken while I balanced atop a stepladder. I shot straight down at the objects. It was May. I was in my backyard. It had rained that morning. The objects were placed on freshly tilled and damp soil (soil that would later grow eggplants). I left a bit of green grass apparent in the center photograph. Probably you’re in a museum. Probably the year is 2081. Probably I’m dead. And finally I’m famous.
The title is an ode to a fantastic one rolled out by the great Belgian surrealist Magritte. I saw a traveling show of his work at Chicago’s Art Institute somewhere around ’92 or ’93, while I attended Columbia College. Our class met there. I remember the visit. It was the first time I realized, as I studied Magritte’s work up close, that the actual pieces in an art museum show all of their construction marks. In person Magritte’s art wasn’t perfect like the glossy reproductions in a book. I saw where he had done his work. Now my favorite activity in museums is to look for errant brush strokes, pencil lines and painted over drafts. I’m always finding them. Seeing the “what is the what” in other artists’ work has made me more comfortable with my own work.
My title, a nod to Magritte’s famous pipe painting, translates to: “This is not an urban poet’s table”
The museums that have thus far rejected it: Museum of Really Great Contemporary Photography, New York; The Museum of Expensive Art Donated by Real Rich People, Baltimore; and The Museum of Difficult Work by Difficult Artists, Los Angeles. Check back often, as I’ve sent proposals to 19 other museums.
Of course this is how it goes: we hook up with friends at their house for pre-fest cocktails, it’s a great time, then we roll over to the Merchant Street Music Fest and it’s awesome, though I don’t have my camera because I planned to just participate, not document, but when we get there I suddenly want to document, but I realize I’ll have to take mental notes and beg for some contributor photos later on…
Made note of how in a few short years the festival has grown from a baby, kid, teenager and this year emerged as an adult. The layout finally utilizes downtown Kankakee effectively. Main stage was huge. It consumed the street space between a towering brick building and a budding urban park. When looking at the stage rather than seeing wall or background obstructions, you could just look past the bands and see a further perspective into Kankakee; genius. Noted that the audience about the water fountain and its encompassing circle represented the multicultural diversity of the city and I felt good being there in a sampling of “all the people,” rather than “just one monotype of people.”
Bought a print from Chicago illustrator and painter John Anthony Giemzik III (of the piece “Mutant Pollution,” which speaks to my concerns about the industrial destruction of the atmosphere). The piece has great upward compositional flow. Talked a bit with Giemzik. He seems to be a busy, motivated and well-spoken artist, and I’ve now got another artist represented in my budding art collection.
We walked along a trail of more artists and got to the smaller stage on the hill that faces Court Street. The hill stage is where the local (and Chicago-based) and more “youth minded” bands play. Diversity helps make a festival great and Kankakee’s festival planners seemed to have an earnest desire to embrace the city’s multihued people, their multihued tastes and encourage a broad spectrum of music.
Saw local band E3PO. I caught them on the hill stage the previous year and was super-impressed, but this year they were out of control good. Eric Swanson leads the band, which is now a four-piece line-up of seasoned musicians who play well together.
I have a hard time describing E3PO’s music, because to say they play rude and engaging reggae with the spirit of punk rockers puts them into “that category” of bands you might dismiss as background music in a friend’s car. Swanson doesn’t stand on the stage to impress people with his vocal stylings or skanky riffs or his quality takes on infectious music; he is the ardent artist who uproots his heart and shares its contents with an audience. The casual beer drinker or general music consumer might not be attuned to E3PO’s sincerity, but the band is blessed to have developed a following of people who came to see them outside the confines of the bar stage; outdoor festival venues tend to encourage maturity in a band, and E3PO picked up on the vibes and rose to the height of those musicians who make sharing music and having a shared experience their highest aim. I’m serious.
And seriously try to imagine a terrific night ending by hearing Talking Heads play in Kankakee, Illinois on a local festival stage!
Honestly, I was confused. Either David Byrne went into his basement, finally finished his combination teleportation/time machine and he beamed his younger self to Kankakee, or lead singer and guitarist Charlie Otto of Chicago’s This Must be the Band traded a fancy new bicycle helmet for Byrne’s soul, so he could still be Charlie Otto but also be David Byrne whenever he wanted (I know, it’s confusing).
I am not kidding when I say This Must be the Band doesn’t play “cover” or “tribute” versions of Talking Heads music but that they literally channel Talking Heads songs in a way that’s impossible to describe. I frickin’ love the Talking Heads. After E3PO’s set finished I had no idea what to expect from This Must be the Band.
Sometimes when I drive to Chicago I make the trip completely fun by listening to The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads turned up so loud it’s like I’m inside every one of those live songs while Interstate traffic does me no harm. And then Otto’s six piece band, which has a constantly rotating line-up of bandmates because Otto “wants to play more shows than anyone else can keep up with,” appears on the Kankakee stage and produces magic for a throng of keyed-in Head’s fans. I implore you to find their schedule online and go see This Must be the Band–even if you’ve only ever heard and enjoyed Talking Heads’ more popular radio songs. And if you have a wider appreciate of Talking Heads’ amazing catalogue, you would truly improve your sense of well-being by seeing Otto’s incarnation. Again, I’m serious.
Ended the night by scoring a delicious vegetarian burrito from the kind folks at Martinez Tacos on the way out. Amanda ate half of it before we reached the truck. Somehow or another a small group of us reconvened at our house, hung out in the backyard, talked too much and probably too loudly (sorry neighbors), and eventually I remember passing out to the alarm clock’s display of 2:47 am…
First, I’ve had several questions about my own art. Yes. I’m working. As a matter of fact I’m working on a very premium commission right now for Riverside Hospital’s new 50 million dollar addition. I’ve been given 4 pieces and all of them are large. Two are 12 feet long. Two are about 4×4 foot square. It’s keeping me busy. And also I’ve got art show applications underway (I’d rather wealthy collectors just find me, visit me, purchase directly from me at home…but you know Bradley, Illinois is a hard place to find on the map).
Second, Peter Pagast continues to paint in downtown Kankakee. As my previous posts have said, he’s awesome and unlike the quick to visit and quick to leave graffiti artist, Pagast has permission to paint and take his time. His compositional talent, coupled with his old-world ability to combine colors to create shading and depth on a flat surface are pretty much unmatched. If you haven’t visited the wall to see his progression, my only question is, “Why?”
I’ll continue to update as Pagast moves towards completion, so continue to check in.
In one month I start my 10th year as a public education teacher. That means I’m starting to think about teaching again. Somehow that translates into foreboding thoughts about the late August temperatures.
If it’s hot at the beginning, as it’s been the majority of years past, we’ll melt. The design of my building encourages poor air circulation. The students will complain about the standing heat. The electronics in the room will generate more heat. Our eyes will sweat. Our backs will sweat. I’m an active teacher. I’m alway moving. My head will get really hot, because the head is a place where heat leaves the body.
The fans will be roaring. The opened windows will let in every release of air from passing semi-truck brakes. We will hear every blaring crescendo of every passing ambulance, fire truck and police car as they speed by on Court Street. My voice will be undermined by urban bass lines. Enough. I have to stop foreboding.
The point is that I’m getting into “teaching mode” again. And I’m riding my bike to the library to return The Murder of Nikolai Vavilov. And I see two street recyclers leaving two street carts to walk into an alley off Entrance Avenue. And I get the idea that I’ll talk to them. I’d like a photo of them at work for my blog.
I turn around. I ride into the alley. They are stopped at some garbage cans, scavenging for aluminum. The place of the street recycler in the urban ecosystem is important and necessary. They are the ecological equivalent of the rollie pollies that recycle debris about a flower bed.
I startle them when I roll up on my mountain bike. I’m wearing sunglasses. A skateboard-style black helmet. My messenger bag is slung over my shoulder. I rant through my introduction, because I’m in a talkative mood. I tell them how I admire what they are doing. I share how I also collect cans from the streets. I tell how aluminum is a resource that can be made over and over into new cans. I say isn’t it terrible people throw cans on the ground. It’s littering. I say it makes no sense to just trash a container that takes so much energy to produce. Aluminum should not be a single-use commodity.
“So I’m wondering if you’d let me take a photograph of you,” I finally say.
They share a cigarette during my long introduction. They pass it cautiously under my vision like it’s pot. But it’s not. I look and smell. It’s definitely just a cigarette.
No, she doesn’t want a picture taken.
He doesn’t seem to mind.
He tells me they collect cans for extra money. They’re trying to pay the Comcast bill. Then he tries to hustle me for a few dollars. He wants money to buy them some cheeseburgers from McDonald’s.
“You need to spend your can money on food,” I say. “Don’t spend it on cable.”
Oh no, she retorts. I need my cable.
“You can live without cable,” I say. “I live without cable. Try three months without cable. You’ll stay busy without it and eventually you’ll forget about TV.”
Oh no, she repeats.
He hustles me again for cheeseburger money.
Remember I’m a teacher and this seems like a teachable moment. I say, “You need to give up the cable. You need to spend the can money on food.”
Then I ask for a photo again. For my blog. I repeat how I’m interested in my local environment. How I’m interested in recycling. Then I have an idea.
“I’ll pay you a dollar for the time it takes to do the photo,” I say. “Consider it money for working.” He mumbles something to her. She mumbles back. It seems to be a language they share.
“A dollar for each of us,” he says.
“Fine,” I say.
I go with them to where their carts are parked, where the alley spills into Entrance Avenue. I snap two quick digital images as they debate about how to stand. Before they finish I tell them I already have the photo. He asks to see. I show. I pay them each a dollar for their time. I write this website address on a scrap of paper and hand it to them. Then I pedal off and continue on my way to the library.
It appears one of my “moniker photographs” was posted inside one of Milwaukee’s fine bus stop shelters after I visited the city a few weeks ago! I mean—this is clearly a crime and I would never commit such an act! The Department of Milwaukee Police said my photograph was “probably meant to be sarcastic” as it depicted a police car I once photographed, and they said I posted the photograph with pink stick-it notes right where it says no graffiti!
In my studio hangs a commandment that proclaims: “Lord, let the corporations force me to see their graffiti all day long, but protect me from the graffiti of the un-incorporated.” Doesn’t that exemplify my law-abidingness!
And there are times when you are on the road, on your very own road, and a rabbit appears, fresh from having been romping in the yellow flowers. The rabbit is sitting on a bench with cigarette in hand. Of course you ask if you can take a picture. Without hesitation permission is granted. And with your little digital camera you capture your encounter with the absurd.
Although not much by way of painting has changed on the mural, I did bike to downtown Kankakee this morning to see what progress has been made on the Peter Pagast mural and I got to meet Pastor Garcia of the New Life Pentecostal Church (he runs the New Life Pentecostal Medical Clinic on which the mural is being painted) and I had a long talk with Pastor Garcia about his community activism; I also got to talk art and future artistic goals with Pagast.
A few years ago I read Blessed Unrest by Paul Hawkin. In the book, Hawkin likens community activists and non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) to white blood cells. He says that the earth is in crisis; that one of its species (humans) is acting outside of the natural order of things, and that the people who devote all of their lives, or even parts of their lives, to helping heal the planet, their neighbors, communities and the world at large are essentially like white blood cells.
Pastor Garcia’s earnest approach to help others by creating a community health clinic, a community spiritual center and outreach program and a community garden (3 acres large!) made me feel I was in the presence of what Hawkin referred to as a white blood cell. I was truly impressed by his comfortable and inviting approach.
Pagast described himself as a working artist with a bigger vision; the New Life Pentecostal Medical Clinic mural came at a good time, and through his work on it, he hopes to earn the attention of the community and see if he can gain local mural projects in the future. I encourage you to read the post below and check out the links to Pagast’s work.
So, because I have a studied understanding of the subject, I can say that I really like graffiti, but only when it’s art, not just scratch marks saying “I was here.” There’s a movie called Next – A Primer on Urban Painting that tells an almost scholarly history of graffiti. It also includes a survey of contemporary graffiti in numerous world cities. If you want to expand your art knowledge, I recommend watching it. Also I periodically visit Zaragoza grafica because it showcases ridiculously awesome street art. I especially like the work of ROA. Anyway, it’s with this mindset that I am looking at a small local paper some months ago and I saw an article about Peter Pagast, an accomplished painter and muralist who currently lives in Kankakee (Pagast is a studied artist who once painted murals in Philadelphia, and the work is well-documented on his website).
Pagast’s work is incredible not only in execution but also in composition. I’ve seen Killing the Bear in person. It’s a mindblowing composition with the bear so consuming, and the apparent artist character so content. Amanda looked at it with me. She’ll attest to what I am saying. We were both in awe. All of his Philadelphia murals are cool; his mural Peace Wall is really cool. Now he is painting a piece of art in Kankakee, on the wall of the New Life Pentecostal Church’s downtown health clinic.
The newspaper article said Pagast was looking for 5 interns to help with the work; they would help 4-5 weeks until the piece was complete. I mean, how cool is that? An artist getting a big wall space that he has permission to paint? In the open. For a long time. And the piece is so extensive that unlike big graffiti art that gets done in a hurry, it gets to unfold with weeks of consideration. The public artist at work for 4-5 weeks, right there in the public’s eye, to complete art. How cool is that? Before printed billboards and the takeover of public visual space by corporations, there were people out painting signs and making art in the public’s eye all the time. I want a job like that.
I’ll be following the progression of the Pagast piece in Kankakee on this site, so check back. I anticipate something great.
It’s been an arduous process but finally I’m done with the construction.
The portfolio “I’m considering the square” includes 49 pieces. Each piece is composed of tiled 35mm photographs. Each piece measures 48×48 inches. Every starting photograph was taken within a 12 mile radius from my home. I don’t ever expect the work to be produced and hung like the above image (that image is an overview and a comparison of the total amount of work set against a standard 6 foot tall man).
I am currently completing an online gallery that I will post. In the gallery, viewers will be able to click each piece and view close-up. I know there are buyers out there for this work, and I’m determined to sell these pieces.
Amanda and I are just back from Milwaukee. Explored the downtown lakefront. Explored the neighborhoods to the north. Found things clean and comfortable. Went to Summerfest. They claim 70 bands play a day and it’s true. Good setup in that most stages are permanent types that manage to contain their sounds, so never really experienced “sound crossover” at all. Heard several dozen bands play the obviously popular, short song, “Check, check, check.” Saw a cool local band named Mike Droho and the Compass Rose on the local stage. Got lawn seats for The Black Keys. Oh, the lawn. We got there early, with a blanket (all 30-somethings grow up to bring blankets because they remember how, when they were young lawn seat members, they watched 30-somethings stake claim to lawn property with blankets), and we claimed a spot while the sun set in front of us and Lake Michigan lapped the shoreline behind us. The weather was beautiful. Cage the Elephant opened. I’d never heard them, they played loud songs that rose and fell and the singer was passionate, all over the stage and in the crowd, and while they probably draw teens and such, I found myself really liking them. It was the exact opposite of seeing sedate musicians on stage parked behind their microphones. Florence and The Machine came second. She’s from overseas. Probably loved by many, but too goth for me. Then the Black Keys played. I don’t own any of their music but listen to them online. I turn them up loud because I thought that’s how they were meant to be heard, so I was really surprised how quiet they sounded live. The guitar tone remained the deep south growling but it seemed, honestly, to lack inspiration, as if they had tour-burnout. Although I enjoyed being a part of 23,000 people all tuned into one thing, I wasn’t super-impressed by what I was tuned in to. On the way out caught a couple of songs by O.A.R. Amanda likes them and they are pretty groovy.
The next morning went to the Milwaukee Art Museum. Expected to pay $28 for the both of us to enter, but it turned out to be the 1 day a month that the museum is free. The building’s architecturally awesome. Their permanent collection was completely beyond what either of us expected. It is, probably like most American museums, heavy on work completed by Euro-American males. But within the contemporary rooms and going back all the way to early religious commissions are a dozen gems. They have a permanent piece called Walk-in Infinity Chamber (1968) that is apparently based on a forgotten hippy means of reaching “transcendence” by tripping out in a sealed room of mirrors and tiny lights. It alone was worth the visit. And on their 3rd floor is the biggest permanent collection of American, Haitian and African folk art I’ve encountered, and ending there brought me some balance to what I was immersed in on the main floor. Ate Indian food on Farwell Avenue at a place called Mayura. It was (as all Indian food is) excellent. Mingled about a healthy population of tatooed bicycle-culture youth as they hung out in front of their local beer digs. I want to openly compliment them on keeping their sidewalks, streets and greenways clean of public litter!
Went back to the festival that night with the sole intention of seeing Michael Franti for the cheap admission cost of $8. And did the universe ever open up its gates and present us with a gift! We walked over by the stage where Franti and Spearhead were to play and learned he would be coming out a few hours early for signing and photos! So we waited and we got to meet Michael and I got to meet his excellent guitar player Jason Bowman. Michael Franti’s music is much more diverse in range than say Bob Marley, with acoustic, ska and reggae, dance and even some rude punk elements. The thing about him though that attracts Amanda and I is his earnest compassion, activism, rebellion and inclusion. We sat through a nine piece fiasco called Here Come the Mummies (and literally, all nine horn and percussion and bass and guitar players were dressed head to toe as mummies while they sang funk songs about libidos in overdrive) so we could be up front when Franti played. And when he did play he was on stage, in the crowd, behind the crowd. He is always barefoot, and he seemed to have stepped on something that cut his foot and had it repaired on stage while the band kept up a song. We loved the communal haze that hung in the air, the participation in something bigger than ourselves, and the fact that our festival experience ended on such a high note.
Well, the night’s high did get a little higher. We got back to our hotel after midnight, climbed the stairs to the rooftop (there was a large patio and chairs up there) and we chilled under the stars, with Milwaukee’s downtown lit around us. Amanda and I talked until 2 or 3 am before returning to our room for the great pass-out.
I started my cumulative portfolio, “I’m considering the square,” in November of 2010. And now, 9 months later, I have completed the portfolio. Just this morning, Amanda and I sat at the kitchen table and debated 6o some pieces to the final 49, which are the strongest representations of an idea born in the summer of 2004. The 49 pieces are each perfect squares. Each piece will be perfectly printed on aluminum at a perfect size of 48 x 48 inches. I’m going to Milwaukee Summerfest for the next couple of days to lounge, see bands (especially Michael Franti) and get my mind away from my art. When I return, I will jump into the foreign art market. I will find galleries and art world personas that understand me, my art, and my vision. You see, my work, which is built of the local, is completely foreign and exotic to art patrons living 7,000 miles away. The three pieces associated with this post come from the portfolio. The marketing of the portfolio will unfold before our eyes.
Met many new and interesting people; gave away plenty of photographs on which I printed this website address; had conversations about art in general, my work, the work of Kandinski, Klee and Miro; drew a piece on sidewalk about triangles defecting from their ranks and had a few loose children show up to grab chalk and draw with me; felt the temperature rise as the sun rose; sold a few smaller pieces; wrote a poem about markets; found myself reflecting on how setting up at the local market is a labor of love and rewarding in that I get to talk about my goals and ambitions with passerbys and the curious admirers.
This series is made possible by completely kick-ass photographs I took with my Canon AE1 at the Perry Farm in Bradley, Illinois, when the trail was becoming quieted of its walkers and riders, and I was in good position with my tripod, standing atop last autumn’s controlled burn, looking over the emerging prairie as the sun set below the tree line–that stand of elder timber that grows in the west, along the bank of what is on the other side: the mild-tempered Kankakee River. It was cool enough out that I had to wear a sweatshirt for my bike ride to the location. I was there with on mission. I had the plan that I would take kick-ass photographs and then compose a series with them – a series I intended to not only pay homage to but also present itself as a modern day version of Monet’s Haystacks series, 6 of which I’ve studied up close and in person countless times at Chicago’s Art Institute.
I am back on track with my portfolio, “I’m considering the square.” Earlier posts indicate when I first had this idea. As time progresses, the posts evolve. I solidify my vision and jump into the work. All is going well and I get 41 pieces or so completed (you read all this below), and I’m at the finish line…but…I run out of photographs. So get back in the field. And that’s where I’ve been, on and off, for the past few months. Taking photographs at odd hours, taking photographs in particular lighting, and sometimes taking photographs in restricted areas. Yesterday I received back 134 developed 35mm prints to work with. It’s a delirious amount of source material to narrow down to just 9 or 10 great shots, and it’s going to consume my attention. I’ve compromised with Amanda; in the past, whenever I’ve become lost in creative flight, I become lost to the world. This time, I’m going to practice greater vigilance as I continue to attend to the needs of my household, the relationships I have with others, while I’m also “out there and lost in it.” I think I can do this. Good thing I’m on summer break.
1. Amanda went to yoga; I was left in charge of Alice and her other 5 year old friend. How to keep them occupied?
2. “Let’s do an art project,” I said. “Yes!!!” they replied. “We can make a graffiti piece for our house!” I said. “What’s graffiti,” they naturally questioned.
3. I had leftover cardboard that came sandwiched in a handful of small frames I had bought. I got them out and arranged them on the kitchen table, drew a Chinese-style dragon that snaked through all of them (inspired to do so by a scene from Kung Fu Panda 2) then I sat with the five year olds at the table and shared markers and we colored the individual panels.
4. After we finished, we taped the dragon to the exterior house wall. “That’s graffiti,” I said. “Cool…” the replied, both still giddy and jumpy.
I went out alone on June 22 with my camera and gear. The sky was an excellent contrast to the summertime green of the area. The photos above are from a digital camera I brought along; I expect the 2 rolls I shot with my 35mm will yield some great compositions. I am going to have 9 total rolls developed this coming week, and I plan to finish my final tilings for the portfolio “I’m considering the square.”