A couple weekends ago Open Books asked me to come sketch Aleksandar Hemon, Luis Urrea, Rebecca Makkai, and Irvine Welsh read excerpts from their books with actors from Steppenwolf Theater.

In most cases the writers would take the narration or inner monologue while the actors handled dialogue.

One of the problems with book readings is that books are a polyphony but the reader, even a great one, can only give the audience one voice.

This set-up with the actors solved some of that. Still, it made me think about how different the feeling of reading is from that of performance. 

When I’m not painting pet portraits I sometimes supplement my living by working door at a couple of my favorite bars. This weekend I was at Skylark on Friday and Rainbo on Saturday. It’s an easy job for the most part. You stand at your post, check IDs, pick up empty glasses, stock up the beer coolers at the end of the night and go home. The best part though is the people-watching. I saw a guy buy every unattached girl in the bar a drink over the course of about three hours. He’d wander over to me to report on how well he was doing, “killing it…” he’d whisper, then stagger back toward his prey. He’d follow them outside if they were going to smoke, then sprint back in to drain his bowels, then hustle back out. They all talked to him and some seemed to enjoy it but I think he went home alone.

On Sunday afternoon I volunteered for Chicago Architecture Foundation’s Open House. I’d always meant to make it to this yearly event and thought being part of it might get me to do so. Unfortunately the only site I got to see was the Columbia Yacht Club, where I was stationed. I spent the first hour outside by the entrance greeting people. I’ve never done this much in my own life but it’s really true that if you smile at a stranger they will almost always smile back. I sketched DuSable Harbor. There was a red-faced, mustachioed man on one of the boats bellowing at the Bears game on the radio. In between pain sounds he’d pour himself and his wife white wine from a little table on the deck.

The last few hours of my shift were spent inside the docked former icebreaker which houses the yacht club. Our main task was to record the zip codes or countries of residence of visitors so that the organizers could get a more accurate picture of their audience. The idea of the open house is to give the public an opportunity to go inside private places they wouldn’t be able to the rest of the year.

My part was pretty much the same as at the taverns. I greeted people, checked a small bit of information, then watched them walk by. It’s the perfect kind of gig for someone like me.

Chicago Chic

I’ve written about Jackalope Coffee here before. It’s just down the street from where I live these days and I spend quite a bit of time there. I’ve done a bunch of painting and drawing there and here’s the latest. This past Saturday they celebrated their third anniversary with a daylong party outside their doors. There was art, food, music, booze, and a screening of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure right out there on the street. I feel lucky to have a place like this so close by and look forward to being a regular for years to come.

A couple years ago I was in an art show in Pilsen. I put up some ink paintings which were part of the work I was doing with Clinard Dance (which, incidentally, still could use your help in mounting the piece I worked on in China next year…) A woman came up and said she wanted to write something about my painting for her website. She emailed me some questions which I promptly answered, then I didn’t hear from her for awhile. This isn’t unusual. People get sidetracked, lose interest, forget, any number of things. You learn very quickly that no one will ever be nearly as interested in what you’re doing as you are yourself. So you have to sometimes be a pain in the ass and bother people who promise things. You tug at their sleeves and make a pest of yourself because for most of us there’s no one else to do the dirty work of self-promotion. In any case, from time to time I’d write this woman an email to ask how her big feature on me was coming along. Occasionally she’d answer, explaining all the reasons why the piece had been delayed, assuring me it was just about to be published…well, it took two years of nagging but it’s finally here!

Panic in a Suitcase

Naming paintings is a bitch. You don’t want to give too much away because it has to work on its own. You don’t want to be too clever or too obtuse or to overthink it. Every once in a while it names itself but usually the painter’s stuck coming up with the title even though we’re painters in part to get around words. When I’m doing a picture of my bookshelf I have an easy cheat since I’m staring for hours at the spines of books. This one’s called Panic in a Suitcase after a novel I liked from last year.

Thursday, at a house filled with art and books in Ukrainian Village, Jessa Crispin held a book-release party for her Dead Ladies Project. I played a tiny role in its publication in that Jessa got in touch with me to find out what it was like working with University of Chicago Press while considering who to go with. I guess whatever I told her was positive enough for her to move forward and sign the contract. She read a chapter about Margaret Anderson, the legendary editor of Little Review. A couple years ago Jessa bought a portrait of Anderson which I’d done for a series called “Writers No One Reads”. I hope lots of people read Jessa’s book

On Friday I looked in on my paintings at Green Dog (which you can still go see for another week or two), then went to the Hideout for my friends’ record-release. Here are sketches of the bands that played. Each is worth knowing.

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