March 18—April 16, 2017 Hume Chicago, 3242 W. Armitage, Chicago, IL 60647 Opening Reception: Saturday, March 18, 6-10pm Gallery Hours: Saturdays, 12-5pm or by appointment
I’ve been drawing in bars since before I was allowed to drink. Like coffee shops, subway cars, and any number of other public gathering places, taverns allow an artist to observe without necessarily being observed. Bars are neither home nor work, they are third places, where people gather to make community. Because they are engaged with others or with their own thoughts, people in bars make for great subject-matter. But what of the rooms themselves?
Over the past five years I’ve been taking my paints to my favorite haunts. I set up in different parts of the room each time and try to catch some of the atmosphere and feel of these places which play host to so many different kinds of people night in and night out. The three taverns portrayed in these paintings are ones I know well. Each has played a part in my personal history and there’s no way that bits and pieces of that history don’t make it into the pictures in some way.
The Rainbo Club has been an artists’ and musicians’ bar since back when creative people could actually afford to live within walking distance. Today it is a lonely holdout in a neighborhood glutted with strollers and sports bars. I’ve been a regular for over twenty years. My wedding pictures were taken in its photo booth, I’ve put up art on its walls many times, even worked the door a few nights. It all comes back every time I go through the door.
I’ve worked at the Skylark for a couple years but coming in since it opened some fifteen years ago. Like Rainbo, many artists have darkened its doorstep; unlike Rainbo, some can still afford to live nearby. Pilsen is well along in the gentrification process which swallowed up West Town years ago. One of the bitter pills of this transformation is that the very reasons which attract people with money to these neighborhoods are destroyed by their arrival. It’s one thing to dig the way artists make do with what they’ve got and quite another to live without the comforts and amenities one’s wealth has made one used to. Soon dry cleaners and sushi shops sprout like mushrooms and bars like the Skylark are but a memory.
Bernice’s Tavern has been run by Steve Badauskas’ family for over fifty years. Bernice is his mom and she still lives in the apartment behind the bar. Before Steve’s father bought the bar, another Lithuanian immigrant ran it. When I moved to Bridgeport the place drew me in as if it had been waiting for me to come in for years. The regulars are a mix of neighborhood old-timers and kids just out college and still figuring themselves out. It’s a place which welcomes all comers.
The paintings in this show may not directly address themes like gentrification but they definitely record specific places at specific times and thus cannot help but reflect the changes which make themselves felt nearby. The three taverns portrayed in these pictures are in three neighborhoods which are each at a different point of transition. Whether bars like these survive will determine whether these neighborhoods continue to be their own places or become cookie-cutter subdivisions no different than any other. These paintings are a way to pay tribute to particular places in particular times with the hope that they don’t disappear anytime soon.