Lunch Drawing 18: Kid Gizmo

Kid GizmoIt is that time of year again, when baseball will inevitably break our hearts.

One day–the day after the World Series–it will be gone and the world will take on ever more deeply visible increments of gray. The leaves will put on quite a show though, turning to yellowy fire and deep plum and the air will carry the promise and curse of winter, clean and cold.

I have a show in 31 days. For the first time I can remember there is no over all thematic subject unifying all of it. I grew tired of everything having to fall together as an overall statement. I wanted to remember what it was like to grab my sketch book and go out and play. To make drawings that are almost unconscious, like doodles; when the less attractive and under-the-counter thoughts make themselves visible.

When I was a kid, I only wanted to draw birds, animals, naked women, and comics, usually nasty caricatures of the dopes who were authority figures in my life telling me history that was a lie, trying to pawn off a deity which was a lie, and values that were threadbare and empty. They told me to go to college so someday I could worry about storm windows and property values, and I gave not a fuck for any of it– still don’t.

I loved autumn because of the World Series. The names from my childhood that I revered–Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Denny McLain, Mickey Lolich, Al Kaline, Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson, Rollie Fingers, and Jim Palmer. . .I could get lost in those mythologies and forget the collection of dullards and dimwits assigned to educate me.

I loved drawing animals (dogs and birds mostly), especially birds. I also surreptitiously squirreled away as many Playboys as I could find. I loved looking at and drawing naked women. The curves and hips and legs and breasts were hypnotic and intoxicating and mesmerizing. Back then? I was too shy to ask women to take their clothes off so I could draw them.

I got over that.

I intend on making a bunch of naked women drawings down the road. For now, I go where the day takes me. I make up characters like I did as a kid and make quick and dirty pictures that I enjoy because I finally got a sense of *play* back into my work. It is hard work, but it is not labor. This one is about a dog I knew a long time ago named ‘Gizmo’ who had three legs and would bite you in the balls if you pissed him off.

The World Series is happening on my television as I write. Boston is kicking the snot out of the Cards. Jim Leyland, the great Detroit manager, just retired. He was always better than he had to be, taking mediocre teams and making them dig deeper and find their bigger game, and this breaks my heart a bit. But this is autumn, and at 54 years old I now know that this is what autumn does.

Published in: on October 23, 2013 at 11:30 pm  Comments (2)  
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The House Made From Leaves

The House Made From LeavesThis is one of those late summer drawings.

I read some stories about the Shaker culture who used to construct this canopy of a great bough of leaves, called a “Bower.” It was a place they went to worship and receive divine light–what they believed to be the light of God. Somehow the sun was not miraculous or divine enough for them, so they would go into the Bower and shake and chimp out thinking the sun was laying a different, holier kind of light on them.


This time of year, especially a day like today, late summer comes with a whisper of autumn; a chill to let us know what awaits us in a scant 30 days or so. I love days like this, the sun still high up in the sky in the late afternoon and the shadows creeping ever longer each day.

My back porch is a magic place this time of year; cool enough to draw outside and watch the birds at my feeder. Every once in a while, a squirrel tries to muscle in on the feeder and I have to throw shit at them. I mostly let my dog, Chooch, out in the yard because he doesn’t bother the birds and will chase the squirrels away. He has introduced three squirrels to Jesus and they don’t fuck around with him anymore. The word is out in the squirrel community.

In my neighborhood, there are gorgeous pines and oaks and maple trees, the odd exotic here and there, a Japanese weeping cherry tree in my neighbor’s yard and some tall elms frame the end of the block. The Ukrainians who settled this neighborhood planted as many trees as they could. My neighbors say it is kind of an effort to recreate the place they come from. Whatever the reason, I am grateful for the green thumbs of this neighborhood’s settlers. They’ve added much beauty to my life.

Published in: on August 14, 2013 at 1:11 am  Leave a Comment  
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The November Garden


It happens after you are on the other side of Fifty–a reckoning; the moment comes to you when you know without reservation that there is more behind you than ahead of you. Every autumn becomes a requisite paring down of colors and leaves and daylight.

There is a tree on my street that every year, for about a week, turns to yellow fire, and when the wind blows through it, right before dusk, you’d swear it was alive. You’d think it was connected to something ancient and if it could speak it would whisper a foreign language nobody speaks anymore.  Nature has this way with us; its own atavistic identifiers that move us for reasons we cannot always explain.

For me, there is always something sad about horse chestnuts when their spines fall off and they lay on the ground with craters like a decayed planet. It is nature, exacting its price, making mortal shells of once-robust and colorful structures.

I wouldn’t want to live anywhere but here in Chicago for autumn. The color change and the activity at my bird feeder changes incrementally every day and I’m able to sit on my back porch first thing in the morning and watch each moment become more amber, more laden with regret, and more relentlessly lovely. You don’t want to miss a minute of it.

Published in: on August 9, 2013 at 5:48 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Autumn Tiger

The Autumn Tiger

“We die of cold, and not of darkness. . .” – Miguel Unamuno

A great many Chicagoans will tell you they love living here because of the seasons. We actually get four seasons here; not in any kind of equal proportion, but we get all four seasons. There are two months of blazing hot, humid summer, nine and a half months of gray-layer-cake sky and nut-numbing winter, and two days of Spring.

The season I live for in this city is Autumn. There are trees on my block that turn to pure yellow fire and at dusk or dawn are unspeakably beautiful. There is a bit of a bite in the air and nature, even in the city, begins to pare down to its essential shapes and colors. The landscape shows its bones.

October has always been my favorite month. It has its sadnesses; the end of baseball for the year, which in Chicago–at least this year–is a welcome relief. October seems to me a month of reckoning. Whatever one failed to do with the rest of the year? Well, this is a good month to rectify this. It seems to me a month that is good for coming clean. Twenty-nine years ago, I got out of rehab in October.

Every morning the sun came up and some sense of contentment, if not happiness, seemed at least possible. I almost always have a winter exhibition to prepare for; it takes my mind off of other memories. I lost my beloved grandmother and father in autumn, and I think often of both of them.

The end of autumn seems to be Thanksgiving, which is the holiday that means the most to me. It is when I take the day and remember to be grateful for the immense luck of my station in life, and remember those whose strength and forbearance got me here. Autumn is a time of reflection for me.

Last year, I spent part of the autumn in Istanbul and unlearned a lot of crap I’d been told and taught about Islam and Muslims, and it was good. I had this hopeful feeling standing outside the Spice Market, next to the Sea of Marmara; that we pretty much all want the same things. I was far away from the poisonous 24-hour news cycle which is there only to scare us and divide us as people.

Autumn is tough on moths. The first chill usually kills them. A few hearty bugs make it until the second or third frost, but eventually they die of cold, and not of darkness.

The Autumn is also when the new art season begins every year. This year, I opened the season at Pierogi in Brooklyn with my new etchings. In the front gallery, there was a wonderful show of graphite drawings by Michael Schall, a gifted young artist from Brooklyn. I had the smaller room in the back and the new etchings looked great there, like a small box of jewels. I had a great time with all of my friends and my crew from Chicago flew out in force and had a lot of fun.

What I love about Pierogi is the shared sense of community. There aren’t a bunch of asswipes standing around and staring at each other’s clothes and appraising one another. It is a place about the community of artists; long on goodwill and short on pretense. Every exhibition I’ve ever had here I felt I was among my friends—that after a long, fractious journey through this career, I’d finally found my community.

It is a marvelous bunch–odd, funny, journeyman, and women—artists, who are in it for the long-haul; and yet have an immense sense of communal pride. This is the community Joe Amrhein and Susan Swenson built, and were kind enough to welcome me into.

It is also the beginning of football season. Usually, I have all of my pals over every Sunday to watch the Bears. This year, I’m just not feeling it. I’d rather work on my etchings and walk my dog.  Ever since they let Michael Vick back in, I can’t get interested in the NFL.  And I used to be a fanatic.

I don’t have three hours to burn on this stuff anymore. I think autumn is nature’s momento mori–a reminder that we will all attend ONE funeral–and I won’t waste the time anymore. I often tell young artists that the only thing on this planet worth buying is your own time. And I am right.

With the three hours I bought myself every week, I read more poems–James Wright, Wallace Stevens, Anne Sexton, Mark Turcotte and Reginald Gibbons. . .the good stuff.

I joined a health club and go swimming and it wakes you up and breathes new life into you on a daily basis. I allow myself to watch more nature shows on the Bug Channel–the oceanic stuff hypnotizes me in a wonderful way. I take walks and I watch the every-morning drama of my bird feeder. . .the cardinals, house finches, sparrows and blackbirds. . .I have it made.

Published in: on September 29, 2011 at 11:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Black Petals

The Black Petals

There is a lovely flower store across the street from my studio called Larkspur.  My friend, Beth Barnett, owns it.  Sometimes when it is gray and shitty in Chicago, which is about eight months a year, I go over there and marvel at the color and smell of her daily inventory of flowers and plants . . . it is one of those pleasures that I live for.  She has things other stores don’t–anemones, Vanda orchids, Calathea plants–the stuff nobody else much cares about.  This store is a revelation; it always cheers me up.  I bought a Calathea plant there last week because I wanted to draw its black and purplish leaves.  It is from Brazil and is often a mourning plant, a plant given at times of death, much like the Irish giving lilies.  I thought it perfect for the mournful and autumnal life of Crazy Horse.  Black petals as deep and rich as crude oil, or night in the Badlands.  Calathea does not grow within 2,000 miles of the Black Hills, yet somehow, it is fitting.

I was in New Orleans last week where everything grows and overgrows; flora and fauna incessantly trying to reclaim the place.  I was there for these panels sponsored by Louisiana Artworks, speaking to young (and some not so young) artists about how to enter the world as artists.  I became acquainted with some wonderful emerging talent that really deserves a bigger audience.  I was touched at how, in the middle of the shittiest art-economy I can remember, these kids were full of optimism, energy and desire, how they evince an undefeated kind of spirit in the face of no small amount of adversity.

I came back to a Chicago in the full thrall of autumn with the trees and bushes changing colors; gorgeous fiery yellows and russet reds, burnt ochres and umbers and oranges.  This city is never more beautiful than in the fall.  Soon it will be time to turn the clock back and it will be dark at 4:30 in the afternoon, which will bum me out.  I don’t get Daylight Savings.  What the fuck are we saving it for?  Autumn is sad in the same way finishing a good book is, you don’t want it to end.  Winter is cruel in Chicago and at times it is easy to believe that cruelty is the true nature of this city’s heart . . . it can be a heartless motherfucker.

Published in: on October 28, 2009 at 9:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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