In the past couple of months I’ve designed a couple of signs. It’s kind of a natural fit because my work has a strong graphic component. In both cases I did these for friends of mine. Anthony Potenzo from Three Aces and Donnie Madia of Big Star, are both old and dear friends of mine. Both are Chicago Italian guys who remind one of how this city used to talk. Both have thick Chicago accents and a curbside eloquence that reflects their respective upbringings. Donnie is a West side Italian and Anthony grew up on Taylor Street in a tight-knit Italian American enclave that used to be notorious for protecting its borders from ANYONE whose last name did not end in a vowel. They are the kind of guys I met and had felt like I’d known them my whole life. . .and in a way I had. They are guys who love this city and devour anything having to do with its history. Both are consumate storytellers who evince a remarkable generosity of spirit. They are my friends and I am fortunate for having them.
I liked making the signs because they are very public works of art. They may be signage but they are also the visual lingua-franca of HOW I understand this city. When I was a kid there were some incredible signs in Chicago; The Magikist lips on the Eisenhower Expressway. . .the Ferrara Pan Candy Company sign just off of Harlem and the Ike, and downtown there was a Winston cigarette billboard that actually blew smoke rings. I was enthralled with these images, as well as a Bay’s English Muffin sign I used to see on the expressway as well. They captured my imagination as a little boy and seemed to be a primary American language writ large. There were other signs. . .the Baby Ruth sign off the Kennedy, the Beatrice food sign that functioned almost like a trompe l’oiel device; all of them tricked out in neon. The Star Carwash sign on Elston is still one of my favorites, enough so that I’ve included it in several drawings. After a certain amount of time these images become iconic, like the Shell sign that used to loom large over the west side years ago.
I like the idea of making public pieces and I’ve not done much of it, mostly because I couldn’t find a medium I liked. Now I have. I designed these and with the help of Seaton Scarf’s flawless fabrication and Deirdre Boland’s elegant layout, I have a couple of public pieces and I couldn’t have done it without these two fine artists.
What’s kept me from trying to make public works before is just dealing with the city. If you want to do a public commission in Chicago, it is best if you prepare your ass-kissing technique. It helps if you use Preparation H for lip-gloss.
It is very political and the artist is made to jump through a shit-ton of hoops and be always hat-in-hand. Fuck a big bunch of that noise. I think I have found a coll way around this. Signs. I dig them. They speak to me and one doesn’t have to subject one’s self to the verbal rectalingus of other public art projects. Artists should not have to massage some bureaucrat’s sack to add beauty to the city.
The best thing about my signs is I’m getting paid in food. These fuckers have no earthly idea how much me and my crew can eat. Fuck, they’d have been better off paying my ass. If I wanted to, I could eat a dozen of Paul Kahan’s tacos without breaking a sweat. You include my crew, (where even the girls eat like a pack of fucking timber- wolves) jesus. . .we could bankrupt these poor bastards in NO time. Anthony is getting off a little easier because Taylor Street is farther away from Ukrainian Village than Big Star. Still, his day is coming. We will eventually show up, forks in hand and eat the ass out of that place too.
The food in both of these joints is outstanding. The music is good and it isn’t full of frat-boy fuckheads with their hats on backwards.
I’m really proud of the signs. More than once I’ve had my driver, Ashkon, drive me by Three Aces late at night to see my work up in neon. I never get tired of it. It lets the city know I was here.
This new piece is called The Winter Tiger. More and more I like drawing moths; almost as much as birds. There is a ferocious poetry about them and their jittery flight and need for warmth. It speaks to something ancient and human.