I defaced/improved another art-school-era painting. This one was done in my first Chicago apartment, at the corner of Foster & Sheridan. It features the futon on the floor and the Abraham Lincoln lamp I scored at some thrift store. Also a very early attempt to paint books on a shelf—a motif I’d return to repeatedly starting about a decade later. This one had to be done early in 1991 because I moved to Logan Square that fall.

Before I had at it, this canvas was languishing in my parents’ basement a couple decades. I’m not sure it ever hung on the walls upstairs but I could be misremembering. Two earlier paintings of the same apartment hang in their living room but there was always something wrong with this one. Many things, really. The chance to salvage the parts that work was a welcome one. I’d tried to take it back to Chicago on previous visits but didn’t rent large enough cars or had already taken up trunk space with other art.

It sat facing the wall a few months until I got to it. When I put it on the easel its oddity struck me again. There’s no way to travel back thirty years to ask the younger me what I was shooting for. The composition is fragmented and the objects in it are oversized, somehow out of proportion. I’ve never been one to sketch or plan but this one sure could’ve used some idea to jump off from. It wasn’t difficult to identify weak points and cover them up or rework them.

One of the joys of using old work as a ground for new is the chance that something inert or failed might be renewed, be given a chance at another go around. The flatfiles and portfolios filled with past failures are now full of possibilities.

They’re a gift I didn’t know I was giving myself.

Listen to my talk with singer/writer Jessi Phillips and with Mallory about Freaks.

I’m reading in public for the first time in a while. It’ll go much better with you there—