Halloween came to and went from Situations, but signs of the portal to the netherworld remain.
So happy was I to attend Chicago’s international modern art fair, Chicago Expo — to behold the strange sights and to share them with a community of seers. All I ask of art is quantity (an adequate amount of it), and the fair had a satisfyingly delirious quantity of loose fresh art. All the art was better for it, to be immediately contextualized by other images, so many of such immense meditation. My favorite images speak for themselves —
Do you know unassuming Elston Avenue, which lopes through the northwest of Chicago along the river? People have been going on it since before our civilization, as a high ridge trail through the onion-y swamp, then a plank road. Today it is called after an 1830s businessman and houses a menagerie of mysterious old bulky spaces. Life has been walked into this path, and it feels like an apt locale for the type of magic seeing needed to produce art. Indeed on the 3400 block we find (looking to each other across the street) a gallery and an art school/gallery.
What happened at that gallery last Saturday only?
For the length of last Saturday only, Arts on Elston gallery (3446 N. Albany Ave) hosted a double exhibition sponsored by The Art House and curated by Rebecca George: the first solo show of J. Faun Manne, and also a group show of artists from the Art House advanced studio course: “WORKS ON WALLS III”. A selection of art to observe the length of this afternoon only, fringed in July sunlight slanting through the windows.
Works of J. Faun Manne numbered dozens, all of fresh 2014/5 vintage, images she netted in the dark of recent nights. In a massed crowd of Manne’s visions, we witness her mind’s eye seeing similar types of images, her heart speaking in the same palette. (A tan tea-stain color into ocher – this earthiness, this sickliness – the heart goes somewhere out in this dense band of feeling, hashed over with the distant smokiness of memory — and how this color wears blue around it!)
Images of what? Ladies, bodies, mouths, hair. Often a solitary figure, but sometimes many more. Animated in acrylic, with playful grit of texture and fabrics. Sensuality hangs heavily to the figures — their curves shoot beams. But clearly the figures are totems and not people; they do not quite live in our world.
WORKS ON WALLS III, the other half of the exhibition, showcased the diverse artists of the Art House. These adult students of art study with Rebecca George, who supports the fruitful flow of their images. Their 2-D works, though of many dissimilar hands, had a coherent spirit of the passion and wholesomeness of emerging artists.
At age 80 Barbara Hopkins takes up the brush to paint realistic portraits of her grandchildren (an image of yourself from the past rendered in the hand of your grandmother and given to you by her as a gift: here is a magic object). Timothy Curtin brings wry humor, as a vision of the city in gray stripes of cloud; Bev Borum scratches in the paint, digging feelings into it with words. And Charles Echols goes between large-scale colorful abstraction, and gray-scale pop art, vectorized enough to look screen printed but in fact painted free hand. The joy and vividness of life sounded through the whole show, for this one afternoon only in the dog days of Chicago summer.
Don’t try to find outsider art inside the Art Institute of Chicago. You might eventually locate the folk art gallery (secreted in a passage off a staircase) but will be certainly disappointed by the scanty and un-entertaining art it holds. You must meet the folk on Milwaukee Avenue, at Intuit Gallery.
Outsider art never felt outside of where I was. “Brut” has been the natural clacking tongue of images — of teenagers making saucy jokes in magazine collage, of loose doodle maps penciled out by introverts, of all the secret impulsive art drawn aboard all the buses of Chicago each day (only some of which could ever be Wesley Willis’). It must be almost all art made and consumed.
I recognize it instantaneously and with joy. From here, with the Volk, the insider art is the anomaly (with its combed lines and arcane bloviations). Outsider art shepherds in all the folk, not just the crazy or those with other ways certifiable authentic naivete. In this weird world, who can be familiar enough to get all the way “inside”?
The images are magical: they are supposed to do something. The images have a destiny. It is not always clear why the images have appeared or what they want. They have forced themselves out through a person, and it would seem they’re not done traveling somewhere, back and forth across worlds.
The artist may imagine they have saddled their works as “therapy,” but then, panting, they will recognize they are the ones running, blindered and whipped. And we may smirk at the artist’s contortions to catch the message (their advanced finger-painting technique), at the clarity of their subjection to their images (how charming the enslavement of Henry Darger to his world), and how we can see through the screen of their cute common media to the place where gods live. The images burn out from their hearts, lingering on the world a few human lifetimes like grey coals.
All art is up now at Intuit Gallery, 756 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL
“Content is King” they had said — so Content becomes a man, the enlightened warlock despot casting spells of letters at the world, the Vector with the logic of a field of dandelions. The “they” that says this are the enlightened graphic designers and tech types who, despite their lack of taste, engineer the Internet and spray down the world with Trapper Keeper aesthetics to trick people into buying awful products.
What if Google reworked its algorithm after the cliche “Silence is golden”, by which people encourage other people to not take up as much social space? Which is more “relevant,” the soggy blather of corporate blogs, written by unpaid intern drone adult children to feed their King the words he likes, or a irrelevant blog entry that was not even written at all? Perhaps ideally search queries should show empty pages, representing the content that was mercifully, justly, appropriately NOT imposed on the entire world via the Internet. Can’t the market reward what is not? I don’t have the answers but I’d guess the most correct response to many questions is silence.
So you can sense I am in a sour mood. Things get weird here in Chicago and I dipped into silence. I’ve seen art I loved and didn’t photograph, and I’ve missed out on some real good times. Can’t it be OK there in the void? No — the high moral logic of the Internet pleads it to be vanquished with as much tact as you can make. The evil of absence will justify the crass imposition of my perspective on otherwise ideal empty space somewhere in the Internet. Please forgive me but I must choose Good.
I’ll leave you now with the threat of my lips flapping like two wet towels in the wind, fighting this jihad against absence, and some fresh weird Chicago gallery art (uh, yes that is a complete copy of Bertolt Brecht’s FBI file on display at an apartment art show).
A number of subjects lock together in a moment: there is feeling in the colors (horrific gobs of white paint) but also in how a cat’s head is cut from the frame. We witness a witness’s silent despair, and we see it set in a richly peopled world. The figures are crafted with rubbery whimsy, and good laughs go with the joy of reading our own lives inside the strange dynamic relationships implied by the images.
I cast myself down five months of this obscure Chicago life and the endless pressing into the pointed urban face prints me to its mold. Each day this year I have schooled in a battery of basic skills that had atrophied in the provinces: how to cross the streets smoothly, how to pass in most society, how to drink the city’s gin, how to sweet-talk Chicago post office workers, how to hustle locally, how to be broadened by a wealth of people. Though I start to look the fool, I have not cut my hair. The city becomes me.
It possesses me demonically, and I only just begin to let it speak with my tongue. I point my empathy into it, feel it. I read shared poignancy in the color of its sky, I squint into the terrible shadow cast by its entropy. I see the clues it throws off that suggest its depth, like the distant echo of a deep well. I want to articulate it, I want to cultivate myself that it could articulate itself through me. This is a romance of longing and sugared embrace, set against vivid fears of ruin.
Stacked memories from another life a decade ago play songs to me on every block– this other person was almost everywhere I am today. Such memories do not fill up the place; I re-remember the city while also working to create it. Sometimes, when my angle aligns just so, I see clearly that nothing is at all like it was and marvel at this busy place. And then other times I wonder if the jaws haven’t already begun to jail me, if I’m no different than a bag of sawdust to the monsters of the realm, if the city’s fleshtone is not vivid streaks of macaw colors but a cold matte gray.
Summer will arrive soon, beautiful and overwhelming, public consciousness will glide along the hinge. I hope some people of the city will gain a few paces on their pursuers.