The December Moth

The December MothI found this moth in a book.  Startlingly and chillingly white, like the Angel of Death or the Eucharist of Winter, these elegant ladies seem to entreat the abandoned Catholicism in me.  That radiant white always was part of the church’s ritual; the death flowers. . .white calla lillies and roses. ..this powdery white essence, as ephemeral as ashes.

We are creeping ever closer to winter here.  The  six months of  slush and gray that turn this city into a Ggulag.  I get a ton of work done in the winter.  I go out of doors less and travel more.  I’ve slowly but surely embraced a more monastic existence.  I don’t really go to art openings at all.  This will change when FireCat Projects opens publicly.  That is the one opening a month I will HAVE TO show up for; seeing as, along with my partner in crime, Stan Klein, I own the place.  I used to make it a point to go to the galleries and see stuff; still do. . .but quietly now; never at openings.  Openings here tend to bring out every jag-bag in the village and you can smell the desperation, resentment,  jealousy and petty vindictiveness on them .

Our shows have never attracted that crowd of butt-wipes.  We get a healthy balance of real world and art world.  We keep things lively, we play music, give away the beer and always have a bit of food.  The vibe is always convivial and friendly.  Assholes and drunks are dispatched quickly and with all necessary encouragement, if they misbehave.

I’ve not had a show in Chicago in a few years and to be truthful, I was not in a big hurry to do this one.  The logic among my partners was that I had enough marquee value to assure  an audience for our first outing.  It also made sense as my last act there, in that space. . .the place I made my work for 17 years. It is your space now.  This show is really a way of saying goodbye.  I won’t have a public studio again.

More than likely when you visit FireCat Projects, you will meet my partner, Stan Klein, whom I’ve known since 1985.  Stan runs my career and Firecat Publishing as well as the exhibition space.  For the last year, we’ve quietly contacted the artists we wanted to shine a light on and we feel like we have a compelling collection of talent. We will release our first 18 months of exhibitions in the next couple of weeks.

I’ve been working like a fool to finish my pieces for this show.  I’ve always felt the toughest audience to please is here, and I really kicked it out for this show.  My first success was in New York and to a large extent this is where the lion’s share of my work goes to be sold.  In the last few years I’ve actually sold most of the drawing-collages  in Chicago, which was a huge and welcome surprise after 25 years of doing this.  I actually have a hometown audience.  I always had them for my etchings, but Chicagoans were slow to warm to my drawing-collages, but man, once they did, it was kind of amazing.

These pieces–the moths and superheroes–will be part of my next theater piece, “Stations Lost,” which I am writing as I make these.  It kind of builds on the questions that “This Train” asked–“What is home?” and “Who are we in the world neighborhood?”

Istanbul and its citizens made an immense impression on me as does the continual myth-making of the American narrative.  This body of work provided me with some answers.  I’ve outgrown the motives I had as a young artist and had my eyes opened a bit; enough so that the sight of moths circling the light, help lead me into the world.

Published in: on November 8, 2010 at 5:39 am  Comments (1)  
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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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