Amanda transferred jobs and became her high school’s art teacher. Around our house this past summer were art books, how-to-art books, art primers and other new art materials. I started to pick up the books, and then in my journal started to draw (again), and finally this past December I bought a nice set of graphite pencils. I’m inspired to work out many new ideas through drawing. 9 skulls and 9 ebony bars will be shown in a pop-up art gallery hosted by Paper Street Gallery in the city of Kankakee, Illinois on January 18.
I was asked to create a poster for my daughter’s school (Catholic, volunteers needed) for their upcoming annual ‘Dueling Pianos’ fundraiser.
“We always use clipart and we want something cooler like original art.” That was the gist of my instructions.
I mulled over a few ideas.
I sketched two pianos in cowboy hats standing atop a great expanse of the American southwest.
I sketched two pianos charging at one another like bulls, each sporting a fancy moustache.
I sketched two pianos standing on a stage, each waving his mono-fist at the other.
“And at a pivotal moment in the night, the pianos began to duel…” was rendered digitally (a first for me) and done in a style unlike my other work. I guess I was thinking about the event being classy then somehow envisioned an art style I’d seen in The New Yorker magazine. I like how an abrupt action has just taken place, and the art defines the moment before the next, greater action takes place.
* Early in the process I looked online for ‘dueling piano’ art so I could get an idea of what to do and found none; therefore I make this art available to anyone needing to make a dueling piano poster. Seriously. Let me fill that niche.
I got a volunteer to bring into my classroom a super cool and real human skull, borrowed from a local doctor. I am teaching my students about vertebrates. The volunteer also brought along a replica of a complete adult spine that they got to handle and manipulate.
I brought my class into the field to learn “cartography,” which is something I’m just learning about myself. We used compasses and large paper to chart trails that meander through a local prairie preserve. It’s good to get kids out of the classroom and into the field for real experiences. Along the way I stopped to talk about prairie plants and to locate and identify invertebrates.
Friday, September 27, was the opening for “The Machine” at Union Street Gallery. I was able to be there with the conceptual drafts of my machine, “Gravity’s Pull,” and I had a great time explaining it to people. I got a lot of awesome comments and several people really understood the work.
“Gravity’s Pull” is a giant mechanical machine that transfers the “pull” energy of individual museum patrons into a giant stone disc, which after weeks of raising is allowed to slowly descend and spin gears that generate electricity. I know, right? What the hell’s he talking about? Like I said though, some people really got it. I need to be there to explain it in person. I’m going to make Gravity’s Pull and it’s going to be a major attraction in museums.
Here’s what the early conceptual draft of “Gravity’s Pull” looks like in Union Street Gallery. The gears on the upper right are brass and go ahead and touch them – they really spin. That gear structure will be incorporated into the actual machine when it’s built. My idea for showing my conceptual drafts comes from the working method of the amazing artist Christo.
“The Machine” is a national juried exhibit. The seriously talented artist Jason Brammer (talking in the photo above) was one of the show’s jurors. One highlight of the night involved a minute to talk shop with Patrick Camut, who before long will be considered one of the top mechanical artists working in contemporary America – Patrick’s structurally sound and kinestheically fantastic machines defy description and constitute ‘must see’ art.
Other excellent upcoming things include more shows of visual art in other mediums and venues, including a two person show (and their first art show ever) at Kankakee’s downtown 164 North with the talented and honestly spirited local Christina Loraine. Also I had an excellent initial contact and the promise of lunch with the staff of Brave New Art World out of Chicago. And Amanda and I remain hard at work on the beer labels we’re submitting as the concept drafts for a local brewery seeking to develop a national line. The brewers are Greek; our labels tell a classic Greek tale, and they rock, and we’re going to get the job.
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.