The Apollo Moth

The Apollo MothWe die of cold, and not of darkness.“–Unamuno


The first frost is hell on moths.  On window sills they lay, powdery and seized up, each a mirror of another after the killing frost.
The first frost  is your for real, no-shit sign winter is here.  In the Midwest, this means it gets dark at 4:30 (Daylight Savings0,  to which I say, “What the fuck are we saving it for?  And can I withdraw some when I need it?”   Winter is a merciless bitch here; six months of gray layer-cake skies and  ankle-high slush.  Moths in late fall fly a desperate kind of flight; a trajectory against the dying of the light.  I love autumn.  For me, it is when things become more spare, simple and stripped-down.  Nature bares its elemental shape, and lines and color take over.  There is a tree across the street from where I write this that turns to a firey yellow and at night in the street lamps; you’d swear it was ablaze.

It is also the political season and I cannot bring myself to vote.  I don’t believe any of those running of either party.  They seem to be part of the aural wall-paper, the fuzz -laden white noise on televisions and radios I pass by.  A cacophony of babbling assholes who  promise public service and in the end serve themselves and their  friends, as well as the particular party of mouth-breathing geeks they sallied forth from.

I used to think freedom demanded participation; that it was one’s duty to vote.  I don’t think that anymore.  When your choices are between the crabs and the clap, you can choose “none of the above” and leave me the fuck alone.  I will deal with the consequence that one of these civic midgets will have an enormous amount of discretionary power over my life later.  Don’t vote for these idiots; it only encourages them.

People will tell me that then I will get the government I deserve.  Like I deserved Bush?  I voted against him.  No, this dodge doesn’t work on me.  I don’t need to be part of the collection of hand-jobs out there pimping the bozo they LEAST hate.  That is not democracy– that is  picking at the fruit stand at the end of the season looking for the least fucked-up banana.  This is choosing the leper with the most fingers and the prettiest scabs.

In Greek and Roman mythology, Apollo is the cheese;  the god of war, love, you name it he is the alpha-god.  He is god of so many things, you wonder if it was all too heavy for him. You wonder if he ever told Zeus, “Fuck this.  Give me a break.  Let me kick back, drink some mead and score some goddess pussy. Would that be so bad?”

The Apollo moth is actually a butterfly.  I turned it into a moth because I’m an artist and I can do whatever the fuck I want.  The mating habits of the Apollo moth are hard on the female.  The bug book describes a “saw-like” penis.  Ouch.  Well, sometimes it’s hard to be a woman.

What I love about them are the big bloody spots on their wings.  I saw one of thse at ‘”Evolution,” a great natural history store in Manhattan on Spring Street in Soho.  The kids who work there are enthusiastic and really helpful and knowledgeable and if they get the feeling you are genuinely interested in natural history, they will go to any length to help you out.  My last day in New York, I needed a better source book for moths, and the last book they had was their display copy and they sold it to me anyway, which many natural history stores will NOT do.  They could tell I was excited and showed me through their excellent collection of species in the drawers upstairs.  This is my favorite store in New York.  I got introduced to species I’d never seen in any of my books and learned a lot just in a cursory conversation with the young woman who showed me the moths.  I’ve watched all of the Bug-Channel shows and there is never much about moths; they have a bad reputation among bugs.

There are silk moths in China and Taiwan that women hold in their mouths to keep them warm while they spin silk–these I have to find.  I couldn’t believe this story.  Moths are reviled the world over for their destructive appetite for paper and cloth; they are symbols  of death and dessication.

They are also luminous and beautiful in a way that is scary and unnerving; like some art.  They are a fun thing to draw because of the myriad of textures and patterns in a moth’s body.  They are creatures of problematic definition and I love the fuckers.  If you’ve never seen a luna moth shimmering in the evening light, well, then you are not completely alive yet.

Published in: on October 16, 2010 at 9:13 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Devil’s Moth

The Devil's MothI recently gave up my studio. I’ve been there, on North Damen, for 17 years.  I decided after watching some artists that I admire getting stuck in the mud of the art world, that this 1900 square feet would be better served by  providing a space for them. I mostly make small work and I have a huge 4-bedroom apartment.  I have more than enough room to make my work at home.

Of course this is not all there is to it.  To be completely honest, having a public studio finally wore me out. As I get older, this gets harder, and this thing I do is not a career; it is a vocation. . .a calling.  I have the attention span of a flying insect (ADD doesn’t even cover it).  I am like a chimp in a camera store. “Oooh! Tony see shomething SHINY!”  In other words, I am easily distracted.  I also wanted to write a lot more. The success of This Train emboldened me to think of ways to incorporate my drawing-collages into performance pieces and the idea excites me.  Writing is hard fucking work, but it’s not labor.  Work dignifies us.  Labor kills us.

I’ve had the luxury for 30 years of not having a boss; nobody carving on my dick or trying to tell me what to do.  You get used to it.  Don’t get me wrong.  In the art world you have your share of asshats trying to manipulate your world, but power in this setting is extremely fungible.  One week one person has it, the next another.  It is a schizoid business run by fashionable mental-defectives.  What passes for wisdom  in this racket is the last thing you heard.  The theorists make up for the fact that they actually have no skills  be denigrating those who do.  These are the squishy people who mostly staff museums and galleries.

I also badly wanted out of the idiot parade of the Chicago art world; the social orbit of resentment, petty jealousy and bone-deep grudges.  I stopped giving a fuck about the local art world a long time ago, but as long as I had the studio, people were free to come in and piss in my ear about it every day and it got to be a huge pain in the balls.

I won’t reiterate what I think about the merchant class of art-wankers.  Everyone knows that I think this town’s art world is run by pygmies, midgets and chihuahuas.

I decided to set an example.  Why not try an exhibition space that takes NO percentage from the artist?  It is an interesting thought that finally got the best of me.  It is what FireCat Projects will do.  We’ll try it for a year and see how it works out.  The place is booked for the next 12 months and I’m excited about the possibilities.  People will be curious to know how we will fund this, and we thought of that.  Our other projects, publishing and swag like T-shirts, posters and stuff like that, should defray most of the costs.  We will not be a not for profit.  While there are many fine organizations that choose this route, I feel that by and large, they’re set up to lose.  We’ll sell popcorn, just like movie theaters.

This has taken some getting used to.  For the past 30 years I’ve had a studio.  At times, when I didn’t have a home address, I always had a studio.  I come from working class stock.  You get up in the morning, have your coffee and get out the door to work.  This is the way it made sense to me for all of those years and now it doesn’t.

One pays a  price for always being visible and if one does this for too long, one loses himself to the consensus that surrounds them.  No thanks.

I like getting up and walking my dog, enjoying my neighborhood and the oddball configuration of my apartment now that my kitchen is a studio.  My books are nearby and it’s quiet.  I don’t have the phone ringing off the hook because nobody has this number.  I still take my calls at the gallery.  My partner and publisher, Stan Klein, is in charge there now.  I will be there a lot.  It is the place I built and I’m very proud of it.  My show will be the first exhibition at FireCat.  It is a way of saying “hello” and “goodbye” at the same time.

I will be a mile and a half south in Ukrainian village, a wonderful neighborhood that reminds me of this city 30 years ago, full of cranky old Ukrainian ladies, trees that this time of year turn to a firey yellow and one asshole with a leaf-blower.

There is also a gelato place, Black Dog, where, if I stick to my diet all week, I am allowed one scoop of the most exquisite sorbet I have ever eaten.  I have a fire-pit and cable and a jillion books.  I work ten hours a day and walk around in my pajamas.  I am primed to become the eccentric old codger my father did not live to be. Mostly. I get to make my work, all day, everyday.

I have it made.

I returned to making moths because they still speak to me in a way that sends ice through my veins, and yet I am awed by their beauty and otherness; their appetite for destruction and gogeous flight. . .even this late in the year.  Look up at any street lamp and you see them, slugging it out with the light, trying not to die.

Published in: on October 12, 2010 at 3:46 pm  Comments (1)  
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The November Moth

The November Moth

“Every Angel is terrible. . .” –Rilke
The Duino Elegies

As a kid, I’d watch moths dance around the streetlights and wonder if they were angels.  My Irish grandmother told me that angels fairly surrounded us; keeping evil away.  I loved their powdery wings and and byzantine markings and the fact that they had a kind of fur.  To me they were strange angels.

Moths are loaded with symbolic definitions that span cultures the world over.  In Mexico, the black witch moth is a harbinger of death and is actively feared.  It is said that if one lands in your home, someone is ill and about to die.  A white witch moth is said to bring the spirits of the newly expired to the next world.

Two years ago, I made several moth pieces for my installation in Prospect 1, the inaugural New Orleans biennial.  It was an experience that fairly changed my life;  kind of a “road to Damascus” revelation.  I like to think that I reclaimed my purpose as an artist there.  The opening night of the installations for Prospect 1 was the best night of my life as an artist. My exhibition was hung in a defunct (or so we thought) funeral home in the Treme, on Rampart Street, and the opening was attended by my friends and a great many citizens of New Orleans.  There was a wondrous swirl of conversation, music and  joy.  The community of people who lived there were in attendance and enjoying the art and the goodwill of all of these interlopers from all over the world.  My friends John Boutte, Paul Sanchez and LeRoy Jones provided the music; heartfelt, raucous, bawdy and soulful, in equal measure and I learned a lesson about community and who I wanted to be in the world.

There was no surrender in these people at all.  New Orleans had experienced furious loss on an inhuman scale and in every way culturally.  They were fighting their way back. I learned a salient lesson about  the sanity and grace art-making and the presence of art can imbue in a culture.  I never worried again about my “career,” and re-took art as my vocation. . .my calling.  Careers are for guys who pimp stocks and insurance, not artists.

This thing we do is a labor of desire–
a thing of the spirit.
And if this is not your reason?
get out–
you’re fucking it up for the rest of us.

The last couple of decades we’ve watched the dialogue about art get hijacked by squeak-heads, midgets, pygmies and chihuahuas  with a belly full of theory and no soul whatsoever.  I have four words for them. Get the fuck out.  Bring your empty sophistry and shit-talk somewhere else.

Painting isn’t dead–neither are the other disciplines that require actual skills.  I’ll tell you what is dead; your art fairs. . .your 25-year old curators mouthing banal platitude after banal platitude about what it is that we do.  Let me tell you something, Dip-Shit; I have  shoes older than you.

To all of the dickheads running “art fairs”:  This thing that we do?  It’s not private property.  Xerox that to your brain, Bunky.  The public, and I mean everyone, has a place in this exchange; and while you fuckers collect your tariff and admire each other’s clothes, know that we work for them–them and the future.  You guys are the custodians; like the washroom attendants at your ritzy joints. You guys merely hand out the mints and hand towels.

Do yourselves a huge goddamned favor.

Take a look at the extroardinary example Daniel Cameron has set in New Orleans; a biennial that used this holy place in its entirety to provide context for the very real idea that art can elevate us above any measure of devastation.  It can embolden us to draw the next breath, take the next step, hold out an unselfish act as an example to our community.  Art is hope.  And hope dies last.

It has been an uphill battle to raise money for Prospect 2, the next New Orleans Biennial, and I don’t know why that is.  Politics and  the infighting of organizations aside, I will tell you this: New Orleans is our most necessary city.  She is our covenant with the old world; the one we came from before we slaughtered our way to our own country.  She was built to a human scale and Spain, France, Italy and the Carribean are still present in architectural amber.  It is the place where the boast of the American “melting pot” actually melted; a place peopled by individuals, artists , dreamers, poets and musical visionaries.  She gave us jazz. Lillian Hellman, Truman Capote and Louis Armstrong.  We owe her–big time.

Published in: on October 1, 2010 at 1:01 am  Leave a Comment  
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