I never spent much time at the Gold Star. When I lived in Wicker Park over a decade ago the Rainbo was my bar. But when my coworker Brian suggested I call up Mary Ann, the Gold Star’s owner, to put up paintings there I didn’t hesitate. To say that neighborhood has changed would be an epic understatement. The Gold Star is one of the few holdouts keeping Division Street from total sports bar/strollerville apocalypse. We talked on the phone a couple months ago and she didn’t give me a firm date, but last Wednesday, a couple days after I’d taken down my show at Rootstock, she called again. So I rented a Zipcar and schlepped a bunch of paintings north. I took only oil paintings knowing that the lighting there isn’t exactly ideal; if people can’t make out color, at least they’d get texture. The oldest one is from my art school days and the newest is from last year. It’s sort of a hodgepodge but it doesn’t look half bad in there. They should be up for a few months so you have plenty of time to check ’em out. Just beware of the yuppies, they’ve completely overrun the surrounding streets.
Friday, after dropping off a price list and postcards at the Gold Star I headed back south to Pilsen for my friend Steve’s art show. Steve owns Bernice’s Tavern, the bar around the corner from my place. He’s been drawing for decades but this was his first proper show. Bar scenes alternate with dreamscapes and nightmares in his drawings. Many were done after long shifts pouring drinks and not being able to sleep. The room in which they hung contributed to the bent nature of some of the imagery; the walls and ceiling narrowed as you moved inward in exaggerated forced perspective. It was a little like being in Alice’s Wonderland. I recognized many of Steve’s regulars from the bar and the whole scene had the kind of welcoming vibe rarely present at art openings.
Afterwards, I went downtown for the 30th anniversary screening of my friend John’s movie Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer at the Chicago Film Festival. I first saw Henry back in Brookline in the late ’80s when it showed at the movie theater I worked at. Back then it seemed like one of the scariest things I’d ever seen on screen, not because of the gore or violence but because of the way it made the viewer feel complicit in Henry’s and Otis’s crimes. By watching we were like accomplices. A year or two later, when I went off to art school, I was given a Henry t-shirt as a going away present from the movie theater. That t-shirt was stolen during a trip to New York. Me and my first girlfriend stayed one night at the Chelsea Hotel and one night at the Y. The shirt disappeared in one of those places.
Waiting in line at the AMC River East to get into the screening, I spotted Rick Paul, who art directed the clips John shot with me for the Chicago Hack TV show. He had worked on Henry as well. Then Michael Rooker showed up and everyone’s smartphones pointed his way. He leaned into the crowd and had them pose for a selfie with him. John was there too, wearing a coat and tie. When I asked him about it he said the last time he wore a tie was at a funeral. During the Q & A after the film John talked about how there was never any laughter during screenings back in the ’80s but that they had all laughed while making the movie. Tonight there was plenty of laughter. Have the times caught up with Henry?
It’s a good thing to see friends’ work celebrated. I’m a lot more comfortable at their openings and galas than at my own. Maybe that’s why I like putting up paintings in bars. There the focus is not on my artwork but on drinking and talking. Every once in a while someone will look up from their glass or their date and look at one of the pictures. If it sticks with them, they might even call about buying it. When that happens that’s all the celebrating I need to keep going.