Math’s not my strongsuit. I forget when things happened. What came before what. It hurts my head to trace a timeline and even when I go through and painstakingly reconstruct one, I get parts wrong a lot of the time. All that said, I know for sure that the collage show I’m putting up Sunday, June 19th marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of my first show at the Rainbo Club.
It won’t be the twenty-fifth show, I missed a few years, and, as stated, math is a problem, but if I were to guess, I’d say it could be the twentieth. The first, in the fall of 1997, was in the display cases on the Damen Avenue wall, where the windows would be. I don’t recall what I put up. Probably gouaches and sumi ink paintings of my apartment on Claremont. I was all about interiors then. Maybe a couple views out the windows. I suppose I should’ve kept a ledger with details like that. Sales too. To this day, I don’t note who I sell what to.
I didn’t make postcards for half the shows either. The first six years that would’ve likely been the only material record or evidence that the shows took place as I didn’t learn to even turn on a computer until late into 2003.
After that I posted details on MySpace and the succession of fly-by-night/crash-and-burn art sites. Can’t even recall most of their names which is probably for self-preservation—it’s good to forget all the failure, otherwise, moving forward becomes impossible.
I know two of the shows, likely a decade apart, were devoted to bookshelf paintings, which I started making in the late 90s and have returned to periodically ever since. There were three or four portrait shows, many full of cityscapes and roomscapes; one of paintings done at the Rainbo itself.
There was a time when I had expectations of moving on from putting up art in bars. The art world tells you it’s gauche, only for beginners and amateurs. But after every gallery experience blew up in my face, fell short, or otherwise disappointed me, I began to look forward to putting up stuff at the Rainbo and other bars and restaurants.
The thing about having work up at a bar is that people will actually see it. They’re not there to look at it or judge it specifically, but that’s all to the good because this way when they notice something on the wall it’s without any pressure to comment or appreciate; they’re just drinking or trying to get somebody to go home with them, then, when they look away from their quarry a second they see a painting of a bookshelf and become curious.
A bar is a lot closer to a dwelling than a gallery is. Therefore seeing a painting on the wall at the Rainbo is a lot more the way it will look at your place than it does in some antiseptic white cube. Also a lot cheaper for all involved. Since you’re buying that book painting from me rather the bored girlfriend of a hedge-fund manager or child of a millionaire, I will charge you a lot less. I’m not selling prestige or status. Nor am I presenting you with a good way to hide from the tax man; I’m just offering you a picture I made.
I’ve sold a lot of art off the walls of the Rainbo Club over these twenty-five years. Some of the people I sold paintings to have become friends; others I no longer speak to. Artwork can remind people of good times as well as bad. So can places. I know the reason I skipped having shows at Rainbo a few times was because the place reminded me of relationships that went south. I had to stay away for a time to allow the bad feelings to fade.
But I always return. The bar has been a constant in my life the way no personal entanglement can mar for long. I don’t know how much longer the place will be around but I’ll put up art any time they let me.
It’s a home away from home.
If you’re in Chicago on Sunday, June 19th, come by the bar and say hello. I’ll be there 4—8pm. The collages I’ve made the last two years will be on the walls and in the display cases. I’m looking forward to seeing you there.
—You can now listen to the whole thing online before you plunk down your $10 for my tape. Then listen to Mallory and I talk about Only Lovers Left Alive. Then read my short review of Sergei Loznitsa’s Donbass, which isn’t a documentary but may as well be.
—Wednesday morning my talk with novelist and all-around solid literary citizen Tobias Carroll will go up, but in the meantime, listen to the one with Professor Sonia Weiner and catch up with all the episodes before…