Full Rooms and Empty Rooms

Last Tuesday I went to The Whistler for Stirrup’s record-release. My friend Charles plays drums in the band. The small room gradually filled up as the 9:30 showtime approached, until it was standing-room-only. Aside from the oblivious, yammering couple on a date next to me, it was a great audience to mark an accomplishment. It’s no small thing to put a record, book, movie, whatever out into the world. There are often years of struggle, doubts, and frustrations behind the small packaged thing you’re presenting to friends and strangers alike as if it appeared all of a sudden, with little effort. 

A couple nights later I was back in the same room for Bill Hillmann’s book-release and it was a very different scene. The place was mostly empty and the people that were there were there to drink rather than to hear Bill read from his memoir about running with the bulls. I bought a copy but may have been the only one.

Bill and his wife Enid gave me a ride home after and voiced their frustration. It’s dispiriting when one’s work isn’t acknowledged, much less celebrated. Publicity and promotion is a tricky thing too. I’ve been to events that were hyped all over the place and you could hear crickets, and others that weren’t mentioned anywhere and were packed in like sardines. If you’re in any of the creative rackets it’s gotta be for a reason other than external validation or fame because if you wait for others approval or encouragement odds are you’ll be bitterly disappointed.

Sunday morning an interview I did last fall with a Northwestern journalism student was finally published. Aside from the horrible case of you-know-itis which my interviewer chose not to edit out, it was interesting to read my answers to her questions as a sort of time capsule. At the time of our talk my second book had just come out and I was probably more hopeful about my prospects than I have been lately.

I don’t quit because I’m not good for much but drawing and writing. There’s nothing else for me to do so I’ll keep going. Whether the room’s full or it’s empty.

Hannah’s House

I make most of my living these days off commissions of various kinds. Pet portraits, non-pet portraits, record covers, poster designs, book reviews, and a bunch of other kinds I’ve chosen to forget. Sometimes though someone wants a picture I might’ve painted without being asked. That was the case with the one above. It was commissioned by a woman who’s moving out of state and wanted a keepsake of her neighborhood. It happens to be in my neighborhood and I know someone who lives in the building. All paintings have a backstory, a narrative known only to the painter. I’ve always wrestled with how much to say about the significance or meaning of the subjects I choose to paint; the trouble being that the artist’s words tend to dictate how a viewer will interpret the picture rather than using their own eyes and minds. Oftentimes I’d rather know nothing of an artist’s intentions or hopes. The words feel like a crutch, a way to prop up mediocre work. Other times a bit of explanation enhances the experience. In any case, I might’ve painted this without being asked.


Down the street from my place is a coffeeshop called Jackalope. I’ve been spending a lot of time there in the 5 months or so I’ve lived in Bridgeport. The other day it dawned on me that I’ve been logging serious time at coffeeshops for all the 18 years since I moved back to Chicago from Boston. I was 26 then, I’m going on 45 now and very little has changed. 

I’m still trying to figure out how not to have a job, how to depict these places where people work, talk, romance each other and otherwise live. These paintings and drawings are my way of documenting moments and eras in time. I won’t hazard to guess what it all really means or whether it means anything at all but obviously these places have grabbed my interest for going on 20 years and that’s gotta add up to something. Perhaps you can tell me what that might be.

Last Sunday I got to watch and listen to my friends George and Lawrence play in their old band Groundspeed for the first time in some 14 years. I’m not at all interested in nostalgia but it was good to see these guys honoring a thing they did long ago just for the sake of doing it. It wasn’t a cash grab or sentimental wallowing as so many reunions tend to be and I was glad to’ve been there.