I 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.