Star for a Red Bird

Star for a Red Bird

Last year I made a number of ‘Star’ pieces. They were the coda to a body of work I’d made about the great Indian warrior Crazy Horse. Id always loved using the shapes of stars in my work because they defied so many cultural and artistic borders. Every culture, religion, and government has the shape of a star somewhere in its visual language. In Istanbul — the Turkish flag is everywhere– it is a red field with a white crescent moon and a star–our own flag has 50 stars to designate states– and on and on.

Last year I designed a sign for Big Star, the now almost-impossible-to-get-in taqueria on Damen Avenue. I used a basic compass-rose star, very common in tattooing and once the symbol of the IWW, The Industrial Workers of the World, “the wobblies,” an organization that still exists. They helped form unions in the early part of the last century. It was a labor movement full of lefties and was often accused of harboring communists. For me, this star spoke to the history of Wicker Park, a neighborhood full of working-class Polish, Ukrainian and Hispanic people for so many years.

The star shape still holds a lot of mystery for me. Its definitions broaden and narrow with each passing generation. When one becomes famous, they are a “star.” As a young boy, on those rare occasions when my homework was correctly executed, the nun would return my paper with a red star on it. Tattooers love stars, often surrounding primary images with a field of spit-shaded stars. It is a shape that awakens something primal and positive in us. One of the great stories I’d heard about Crazy Horse out west was that he’d put a hail-stone behind his ear before entering battle, because he thought they were pieces of stars.

I had to stop making the star pieces last year in order to finish a show I was making about Crazy Horse. My idea was that his assassination was the moment the theft of our continent was a fait accompli. This body of work is part of my book, THIS TRAIN, which is about the idea of “What is home?” Why is this country our home rather than the people who first lived here, and how can we be better stewards of our home/nation/city? Oddly, there were no stars in the hobo alphabet. I didn’t notice this until I was finished with this body of work. I’d have thought surely this symbol would have worked its way into the arcana of slashed stick-figures and gestural marks that constitute this lost language, but oddly enough, in the hobo alphabet, there are no stars to be found.

I was bummed back then, that I had to move on to other work. I’d always promised myself that one day I would do a whole exhibition of stars or moths or birds, only. . .inevitably, to get distracted or curious about something else. So I figure from now until the first of the year, I have a little time to indulge this curiosity and I think I’ll make and meditate a little bit about the shapes of stars.

Last week, FireCat opened. After a year of planning, financial restructuring and furious footwork, we opened to the public and man did you guys ever show up! First, we are grateful for your support and hope that you’ll like and continue to check out our program. This place was built for artists. After years of hearing myself whine about there not being a place where worthy artists could show their work without being financially butt-surfed, I decided to shut up and open one. The inaugural show was my own for one reason. It was a way of saying “goodbye” to the place and neighborhood I’d worked for 17 years. If that seemed self-serving to some, so be it. It was the best strategy we had at the moment. Of all of the artists we had scheduled, I was the best known here in Chicago and we thought it would better our chances to draw a crowd and support. Also, I’d earned it. After 17 years of working there, I wanted a chance to say goodbye to my friends and neighbors.

I’d have not ever been able to keep such a lovely place going without the help of my landlord and good friend, Walter Aque. All over the art world you hear horror stories about landlords pricing artists out of their neighborhoods. Walter did not do this. He made it possible for us to stay there and became our friend and supporter and collector. He is a rare and fine person and we’ve been lucky to have him in our corner.

My friends at Three Floyds have been my collectors and beer sponsors for years now and they have also contributed much to our success. Lincoln, Barnaby and Nick have made every event we’ve had even more special with their generosity of spirit and beer and their unflagging goodwill.

While I have all of the organizational skill of a rabid ape, my partner, Stan Klein, is cool, measured and always about what is possible. He has kept this project between the ditches and moving forward. Our crew, Tanya Galin, Ashkon, Glenn, John, Michael and Tony and Lauren helped keep all of the balls in the air and I’m grateful.

It was unusual seeing this place change from an always chaotic and messy studio to an exhibition place. I’d never seen the joint so clean. When it was a print shop we could only spiffy it up so much. Now it’s. . .elegant. Who’d a thunk?

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