Jail Dog

Jail Dog etching

Published in: on December 11, 2014 at 11:46 am  Leave a Comment  
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The City Bird

The City Bird (etching)

Published in: on May 5, 2014 at 6:19 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Blue Wound

The Blue Wound (etching)After the Civil War, a great many of the men honored for valor could not read or write.  Less than half of Americans were actually literate.  A good many of the Westpoint men died in battle–on both sides. For years, Civil War vets were tracked down by word of mouth to award them their medals, and a great many of these men refused them.  The suicide rate among veterans of the North and South was astoundingly high; more than any of our other wars.  There was no therapy.  Post traumatic stress disorder was a century away from even having a name.  The vets of the Blue and Gray called it “battle fatigue.”

After the war, many men took to the road, or the rails, hopping freights in such numbers they became a culture of people we now know as hobos.  There were 300,000 unemployed men and lots of free transportation.  Many looked for work and many more just wandered the country looking for a place to fit in, or call home.  One of the ugly byproducts of the war was men discovering they no longer had a place to go home to.
The hobo alphabet was the language these men and women cobbled together; marks, slashes, stick-figures and pictograms left on fences around railroad depots, with which to alert each other as to what was coming their way; if food could be found, if shelter was to be had, if the cops were brutal, if they would be beaten or arrested. . .or worse.

There is anecdotal evidence these symbols have their genesis in cattle brands and battlefield sketches, which would make sense.  What has always touched me about this set of symbols is how it united a culture of powerless people; how humans in any dire circumstance find a way to communicate.

As a kid, I was a ceaseless daydreamer, making doodles and odd idiosyncratic drawings while I was supposed to be paying attention in school.  They were wildly elaborate and the nuns took to referring to these leaves of absence as going to “Tony World.”  I’d make constant, ever-evolving drawings on my school papers; snakes, choppy arrow shapes, blood drops and networks of circles and airplanes and skulls– just whatever and it would make my teachers nuts.

In fourth grade, I had a miserable old bitch named Mrs. Loversky who took special umbrage and used to take my pens away when she was talking, so then I would just daydream without doodling.  One time she was running her head about fractions, “blah,blah, blah,” and I was thinking to myself,  “Why don’t you just fucking die you old bitch.”  Only I wasn’t just thinking it.  I’d actually said it without knowing it until after it was out.


She went mental, waving her big flabby arms over her head like a mental patient, screeching until the nuns came in and had to calm her down.  It turned out she had half a load on.  Mrs. Loversky used to go to the restaurant at lunch and power down three or four brandy drinks to get through the day.  This did not get me out of trouble.  The brides of Christ took turns in the hall kicking the holy dogshit out of me.  But they sent Mrs. Loversky to the Acorn Academy to dry out for four weeks and when she came back, she never took my pen away again.  She told me, “If drawing while I’m talking helps you to learn then go ahead.  I’m sorry I yelled at you.”  After she did that I felt bad for what I’d said.  She was much nicer to me after that and I began to kind of like her and feel bad for her.

I thought of this because of the peace I got as a kid from just drawing nothing in particular, sometimes just filling page after page of my notebook with marks and slashes and shapes and smears and continuous lines that seemed to hypnotize me while I made them.    Etching entreats that same kind of sublime feeling for me; mark-making for the joy and curiosity of mark-making, letting my subconsious out to walk around and guide me  a bit.

When I first stopped making etchings eight years ago, one of my fears was that they’d gotten a bit “pretty”–that the grit and grime had filtered out.  Not to worry here.  This one has grit and grime to burn.  I had a lot going through my head when I made it.  The hobo, the battlefield, the men without language making marks with which to communicate, the boy lost in his lines and wanting to stay lost.

This is a new 5-color etching.  It is for sale.  Let me know if you would like one.

Published in: on April 28, 2011 at 6:47 pm  Comments (2)  

The Tiger Koi

The Tiger KoiOver eight years ago, at the completion of The Autumn Etchings, I stopped making etchings.  I’d made them for 12 straight years and made over 400 images.  I love making them; the ink, the acid, the alchemy of all of it. . .the knowledge that no matter how well you plan, about 20 percent of it is up to the fates.  My etchings were well-collected (and thank you for that).  They are in all of the major museums and led me to places I never thought I would get.

After The Autumn Etchings, I was tired.  I’d made very little one-of-a-kind work during those years and I was more and more curious about combining drawing and collage.  I also felt like maybe my tank was empty.  I needed a break and made myself the quiet deal that when I had something I felt was new to bring to etching, I’d make more.

I can’t count the times in the last few years while making something particularly graphic, I’d thought to myself, “This would make a remarkable etching.”  I began to realize how much I missed it.   Last fall, I made a piece with the peerless Teresa James, with whom I’d worked for ten years and we made a lovely five-color piece called, The Spider Music.

A month ago, I picked up the phone and bought an etching press. . .a Takach.  the only kind I use.  I hired Will Sturgis, a first -rate etching printer and Glenn Hendrick, also a terrific printer, and then Lauren LeVato, a wonderful artist who also does sales and PR and I started Black Shamrock.  So I’m hacking up copper like a banshee and I am one happy Mick.

One of the compelling lures back to etching was visiting Tokyo, a little over a year ago.  Land of Hokusai, Hiroshige, and all of the other Floating World artists who’ve made such magnificent etchings.  Tokyo itself– its odd, other-worldly order and quiet.  Ueno Park, a huge sprawling public green with ravens and storks and cicadas.  The huge koi ponds with monstrous koi, some as old as 225 years, gliding like luminous ghosts in the brackish water.

Koi are primarily carp with a better paint-job; glorious yellows, oranges, golds, pinks and in some cases, iridescent whites, floating in the ponds like ancient apparitions.

I loved standing there and feeding the koi.  At first I gave them “koi food,: which they ate politely enough. The next day I came back with a sack of Big Macs from McDonalds and started tossing them hunks of that and the koi went  bat-shit for those.  Everytime I came near the water they’d put their mouths up to the surface and make slurping noises with more gusto than Jenna Jameson.

One day, the pond-keeper walked up to me and I thought I’d get in trouble for feeding them McDonalds.  I sheepishly said, “I probably shouldn’t be feeding them these burgers.”

He smiled and said, “It’s fine.  They eat shit.  How much worse could those be?”

I realized feeding those koi and sitting in that park that for the first time in a long time, I was happy.  Whatever else was going on in the world around me; it could wait.  Taking a moment or two to marvel at the natural world around you was well worth it.  The respite re-energized me and it was good.

This is a new five-color etching and it is for sale.  The pre-publication price is $1500.00.  In 30 days the price will be $1800.00

It is in an edition of 40.


Published in: on April 8, 2011 at 12:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Spider Songs

The Spider Songs - Etching

I stopped making etchings about eight years ago.  I’d made a suite called the Autumn Etchings, and at the time I thought that was about as good as I had ever done it and that this juncture would be a good place to stop for a while. I was tired and it had been a rough ten years making nothing but etchings.  I learned a lot about how to make pictures and I loved etching, but also, having to finance a shop and sell the etchings was a full-time job in and of itself.  I was forever traipsing off to New York or New Orleans or L.A. with two portfolios jammed with etchings,flats, and interleaving.  I had a good time, but it was tiring as hell.  I also had missed making one-of-a-kind work; drawings and combing drawing and collage.  After the Autumn Etchings, I decided I’d not make any new etchings until I had something new to bring to it.  I eventually got rid of my presses and made my studio over into a drawing studio instead.

For ten of the years I made etchings I worked with Teresa James.  I hired her from a coffee shop and together, with the help of Stephen Campbell, we taught each other how to build an art business.  Teresa opened her own gorgeous studio, White Wings, about eight years ago and luckily for her, she’s not made all of the mistakes I have.  The years we worked together were hard.  Etchings sold for a fraction of what my one of a kind works did, but I was learning to be a better draftsman and expanding what I knew about drawing.  We had two shops;  one at 13th and Wabash across the hall from World Tattoo, and the one in Bucktown that is now FireCat Projects.  We had to hustle to scratch out a living, but with a shaky economy, we found a new generation of younger collectors that could more easily afford multiples and we were able to make a go of it.   Our collaboration culminated in Max and Gaby’s Alphabet, 26  five-color etchings for each letter of the alphabet that I made for my children.

We learned some bitter lessons about making art in Chicago; that a great many Chicago collectors buy their work elsewhere and that print-making had been relegated to a second-class kind of art-making here depite the rich legacy of phenominal artists who made prints in this city.

We didn’t care; we went about making our work for the best reasons possible. We had to.

In the last few months, I’ve started making some etchings again.  This time, Teresa is my publisher.  She and her assistant, Kari McCluskey, have helped me ease back into it without any difficulty.  I’d forgotten how much fun I’d had working with her.  Her new shop is bright and immaculate, unlike BigCat in its heyday.  It is a joy to work there.  We made a couple of things and I really enjoy them, so we’ve decided to make a new suite of work over the next several months and I’m really excited about it.  She and I were always a good team.  She was measured, patient and methodical and I’m a rabid ape.  Somehow, it all worked.  I’m grateful for Teresa’s hospitality and generosity of spirit.

This piece was inspired by my trip to Tokyo and a lovely, quiet park named Togo Ginga.

Happy Thanksgiving.  I am grateful for all of you.

Published in: on November 23, 2010 at 3:58 pm  Leave a Comment  
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