PechaKucha Volume 46

I was pleased to create the poster for the next PechaKucha night here in Chicago. When I participated in this event back in March, I had a fairly enjoyable time, and I wanted to express my appreciation by making something for the good people at PK. If you’re in Chicago on June 5th, stop by Martyrs’ for an evening of visual storytelling, beer drinking, and hopefully some good belly laughs.

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Same as it ever was.

Emmett Till

In 1955, 14-year-old Chicagoan Emmett Till was severely and repeatedly beaten, then shot in the head, and thrown in the Tallahatchie River by two Mississippi men. Three days passed before Emmett’s body was found. This atrocity was committed because a woman claimed that Till had either whistled or spoken rudely to her, claims that years later she admitted were false. The two men who murdered the child were acquitted of the crime by a jury of their peers (white males) in an hour and five minutes.

In reading the Studs Terkel book Race, something that struck me most about the aftermath of Till’s murder was how forgiving Mamie Till, Emmett’s mother, was toward the murderers. Ultimately feeling that there was nothing greater she could do to the men than the judgement god would pass on them, Mamie refused to be broken by grief; she became a school teacher and dedicated her life to Chicago’s educational system. Her decision to have an open casket funeral for her son was a turning point in the Civil Rights movement.

I have never been religious, but the strength Mamie Till found in her faith allowed her to contribute to real and lasting positive social change in the world, which I deeply admire.

This portrait was based on a photograph that Mamie took of her son on Christmas day of 1954, about eight months before Emmett was murdered. Above his head flies a tattered American flag built of the Talking Heads lyric “same as it ever was.”

And why “same as it ever was?” Trayvon Martin, Laquan McDonald, and Stephon Clark, to name a few reasons, though the nature of these murders are different; they were committed by police officers. This is the beginning of a new body of work entitled Facing the Music. Cyntoia Brown is next.

The Telephone Game.

gfy for web

I am very pleased to announce my participation in The Telephone Show at the Association for Visual Arts – “a non-profit organization dedicated to connecting visual arts and community in personal and experiential ways because we believe that art makes people and communities better” – in Chattanooga, Tennessee. I share those sentiments entirely.

Susan Fox, who runs ShapeShifter – a roving gallery in Chattanooga focussing on one-night exhibitions of new art – curated the show. Like the telephone game some of you might remember playing as kids, this project began with a single piece of art that served as the origin – the first statement made in the game – and that image was passed to the next artist, who created work inspired by the origin piece, and so on. Fun concept for a show, right? Above is my contribution.

If you’re in Chattanooga, the show runs from March 2nd through the end of the month.

UPDATE 3/21:

Word from Chattanooga is that The Telephone Show exhibition was the best attended opening that the Association for Visual Arts has ever had. My thanks to Sue Fox for including me. Here’s some press from the show:

The Times Free Press

Mineral House Media

Emmett Till on MLK day.

A new portrait of Emmett Till, the first in a series of three drawings of this civil rights icon, is paired with the Talking Heads lyric “same as it ever was.” For what I think are obvious reasons. The brilliant Jabari Asim wrote in his indispensable book The N Word, that “far more durable is the majority culture’s invocation of ‘timeless American values’ such as individual rights, religious freedom, and equal justice, and its simultaneous ignorance of other traditional American values such as greed, duplicity, and intolerance.” Till is as relevant today as he was in the 1950’s when he was lynched by two white men who were then acquitted of the crime. Such atrocities still happen. In my Chicago, there is still needless violence visited upon young black men and women. Same as it ever was.

See my 2nd version of the Emmett Till portrait, a work in progress, in the WIP gallery.

Facing forward.

In preparation for an upcoming show, I am making four new drawings, including this, which is based on the mug shot of a Finnish immigrant coming through Ellis Island in the 1920’s. The text is a lyric from the Living Colour song Type: “Everything is possible but nothing is real.” Sort of sums up my feelings about the idea of the American dream.

I’ve also made a portrait of another American dreamer, Spalding Gray, which, along with other new works, you can see in the COLOR gallery. Because why not?

Then and now.

 

I find myself in the odd position of having both a very old piece and a very new piece in two concurrent shows. I’ll eat your shame and make you new, 2009, will be on display at Jackson Junge Gallery in Wicker Park from the end of September to the end of October, and cunt, 2017, will hang in the Columbia College Library through mid December.

These are both important pieces to me, turning point pieces, perhaps.

Inspiration for I’ll eat your shame came out of a conversation between a couple of authors, teachers, and filmmakers about the iconography of war. As these five people spoke, I tried to remember all the snapshots I had ever seen from the hundreds of human rights catastrophes in my own lifetime, starting from what was then the present onslaught of cell phone photographs coming back from Abu Ghraib, and working in reverse chronological order through great American failures like the lack of relief for victims of Hurricane Katrina, slowly but constantly escalating police brutality, race riots and ethnic cleansings and massacres; the dark, defining moments of a culture captured on film, in print, for posterity, to be studied over time and revisited and learned from. I asked one of the panelists, Errol Morris, if he thought there would ever be enough of these profound images to eventually inspire people to work toward real positive social change, to make better choices. He replied, “One thing I’ve learned is to never underestimate the stupidity of humans.”

cunt, a drawing that happened over months spent considering the fallibility of language, the obscuring of truth, and the resolution of anger, among other things, ultimately allowed me to step into a new life. Within the lines and shades of this piece, I remembered something that a few years of self-loathing had significantly dimmed: my worth. The time I put into this piece helped me to not only forgive myself for the past – to find calm within the blue ocean of thought, a necessity if I were to ever touch dry land again – but to also be honest about my future and finally relinquish my attachment to the false security that comes from a steady paycheck, to employ better systems of value for the sake of my survival. With this drawing, I realized that I would rather work for myself, make my own choices, better choices, starting with how I live on a daily basis.

Both of these works are connected to my belief in the necessity of change, the power we do have to make real changes in our lives. I’m pleased that they’re both hanging on vastly different walls in my fair city.

Review of Henry Darger @ Intuit

  

I’ve just had two new reviews published in New City, one on Henry Darger’s Vivian Girls at Intuit Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, and another on Wild Cuts, a group exhibition at Woman Made Gallery. Feel free to take a look.

Darger’s work and life have always fascinated me, and Intuit does an excellent job of sharing him with the city. Woman Made is also an essential Chicago institution that doesn’t get enough coverage in the local press. The importance of women’s voices in the art world is not to be ignored or diminished.

There are more in the WORDS archive as well.

The horror…

As those of you familiar with my work are likely aware, I rarely make overtly political drawings. Juvenile humor is not something I toy with much, either.  But in the face of such farce, with such a low example of humanity in office, making important decisions – bad decisions – I couldn’t help but draw this chump, this child sitting on his throne. The door has been opened for reality TV stars to call the shots. Frankly, one of the half-wits from Jersey Shores could probably do better. Or at least no worse. Here’s to keeping our fingers crossed for a better future.

Impact

impact

Begun in 2012 as part of The Collector drawings, and revisited in 2015 and again this year, I finally finished Impact in May, and it promptly sold a few days later. This piece bridges different bodies of my work, combining aspects of drawings from both Notes to Self and What I See When I Only Listen. More importantly for me, perhaps, this piece spans a difficult emotional terrain that, once traversed, allowed me to realize I had done some actual healing. There are far worse things than therapeutic art.

You can see a detail shot of this piece in the COLOR gallery. And you can zoom way the hell in.