Painted postcards

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I was at my mom’s house yesterday and saw the postcard I sent her on her fridge. While in Greece I painted the postcards I would send back home. It made me feel less like a bum at the beach since I did more than just sleep there and I was being creative and true to my promise if dedicating the season to art.
My mom and my friend, Anne, have both framed cards I’ve sent to them. We love postcards because of the pictures. We love them because we are receiving a piece of someone else’s trip. When I send a card I try to limit what I write and I think about which image suits the person on the other end the best. “Mom will like the columns, the kids will like the beach scene.”
We are thousands of miles away and still we are thinking of the people back home and we want them to know it.
Consider this the next time you travel and stop at a postcard stand. Might your loved ones more enjoy something made of your hand? (That sounds like something someone else would write.)
I don’t know, collage on to a torn up map, make a sketch, send piece of a playbill. Or just pick up a postcard at a stand. Who doesn’t love a postcard?

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Building The Dream

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Did you know that prior to the Chicago fire many of the city’s buildings were sinking? So, to save them, the buildings were jacked up and placed on beams which, in turn, created a series of alleys and tunnels below the city. These tunnels created the perfect atmosphere for the creation of organized crime. No photographs of the tunnels remain and very few drawings of it can be found. But when a London based artist, Xenz, learned of the tunnels while reading “The Outfit,” by Gus Russo, he created a series of drawings and paintings inspired by the fact based story of Chicago before the fire for his show at Vertical Gallery. Xenz even built a 3-D mulit-layered model of what he imagined art of the city to have looked at the gallery’s storefront.

Xenz creates images that convey the sense of grime a literal underworld would contain as well as characters who might be milling around down there. He layers washes of umber, sepia, cream and gray to lure us into his compositions and make us feel as though we are entering a tunnel into the world below the tall buildings. Above, we see faint suggestions of structures of familiar modern skyscrapers that allude to the title of the exhibit, “Building The Dream.”

The drawings and paintings are now my favorite of what I’ve seen this summer and I want my book club to read “The Outfit.” Someone please buy me one of these paintings, they are compellingly gorgeous.

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Vertical Gallery
xenz

Teenagers…sigh

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I scheduled a meet up at the Art Institute with my most recently graduated AP Studio kids. Here’s what I learned about them as graduates:
1. It’s summertime, so only half the kids who say they will be there will actually show up.
2. The kids that do show up will be late, 15-60 mins late.
3. There will be no apologies for being late, just like in school. In fact, they will act as though you should be grateful that they are there at all.
4. They are there more for the experience of being downtown than they are for the artwork.
5. They will enjoy the gift shop more than the exhibit.
6. They will be very polite in the museum and behave appropriately.
7. They will stand to pose for only one selfie, then they are done and ready to catch the red line to china town for a bubble tea.

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Overheard at the exhibit:
“This reminds me of Dalí for some reason.”
“It’s like… He’s making fun of art.”
“I could totally paint that one on the top left.”

We also observed that Magritte was way ahead of his time, fashion wise. He thought of barefoot shoes before they ever materialized, he envisioned the Brazilian wax and he painted wood grain tattoos on women (that one has yet to catch on but in sure we will see it in twenty years or so).

Magritte At The Art Institute of Chicago

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Lynne works at the same school I do and two years ago we were at a conference with a group of other teachers from our district. Most of the others were much younger than us so we found ourselves socializing at different locations than the others and we really hit it off. Since then we’ve been saying “we need to get together again” but we haven’t. We arrive to school around the same time each morning so the extent of our social time is limited to the five minutes we each have before we need to prep for the day.

So, I was really pleased when one morning, last week, I got a text from her asking if I was available the next day to meet her downtown. It was a beautiful Friday afternoon and being downtown on these days sometimes makes me feel like a tourist in my own city. We met at the Monroe street entrance so we could head to the Education Center and renew our free passes. Lynne wasn’t familiar with Rene Magritte but she was all for paying more for a ticket to get in to see the show.

Magritte was a surrealist and probably one of the more creepy ones. Surrealists were influenced by the ideas and theories of Sigmund Freud and the artists tried to tap into the subconscious to create their work. Magritte repeats the use of several images; one being emotionless men in dark suits and bowler hats. Most of the figures in his work seem to be devoid of emotion and identity. The colors are all very dull and the painting technique very precise. The gallery the show was exhibited in was very dimly lit. I’m not sure if that was done to decrease damage to the colors of the paint but, if so, it also made the experience that much more surreal. It also kinda made me sleepy, I yawned through the whole gallery.

Photos inside the exhibit were not allowed but I was happy to see in person many works I’ve only studied in books along with so many others that I’d never seen before. Lynne remarked, “this would be a cool project for your students,” when she saw a piece that used words in it. I repilied, “it would be a cool project for your kids too!” Later, I saw her jotting ideas down in a notebook.

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Like my other non-artist freinds, Lynne was ready to leave before I was and I was certainly hungry, so we left to get some lunch and live the tourist life for a couple hours. We went to Park Grill at Millennium Park and sat at the bar for some lunch and a glass of wine. Days like this I do not take for granted as a teacher.

The Art Institute of Chicago
Millenium Park Grill

Bridgeport Art Center Third Fridays

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My meet up buddy was again, the vivacious and spunky Miss Vero of Cicero, IL. She had to work until 9:00, on Friday, and the open studio was only until 10:00 but we went anyway, at 10:00. When the doors were closed and locked but we got in when someone else was leaving.
The Center is housed in what was once the Speigel catalog warehouse on 35th in Bridgeport, Chicago. The warehouse also houses a furniture dealer and an event venue which seemed to be hosting a wedding last night. We could see the flashing disco lights on the top floor beckoning us to crash the party.
Instead, we headed up to the third floor and found a couple studios still open and artists welcoming us to have a look. My favorite artist on this floor’s gallery space was Ruth Esserman whose artwork features thousands of identiless people shown from an arial view and looking busy at work though their poses were static. You cannot tell if the forms are male or female, what race they are or what they are wearing. They are assembled about in a way that reminded me of ants working together around their hill. There is no joy or drama just a sense of a task being handled through silent communication. The large paintings were my favorite because I was able to stand in front of them finding new things within for a while. It looked like colors were laid down then she put a white wash over them, removed areas where she wanted the figures, painted the figures and even used what looked like pencil for their shadows.

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After the show, Vero and I headed over to Maria’s Packaged Goods for a drink. The beer menu at this place had us deliberating over what to order for at least ten minutes. Then, as is typical of time with Vero, we spent the next three hours involved in a great conversation. She gave me some tips on how to improve my blog and critiqued my refrigerator and pantry contents (Vero was my house sitter while I was in Greece). I learned, finally, what a Michelada is and why there was some leftover Clamato on a shelf in my fridge. Vero is a good example of benefits of teaching beyond summers off. Kids grow up and become adults and the ones you really connected with while they were in school can become your friends as adults. Friends that are great additions to your life and who have things to teach you.

Bridgeport Art Center

Maria’s Packaged Goods

Ruth Esserman

Art Institute Book Club Meeting

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When we read a book we like to meet places that are somehow related to the book. When we read Loving Frank, for example, we decided to meet at Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio in Oak Park. For Caveat Emptor we decided to hit The Art Institute Of Chicago and see if we could find some of the artists Perenyi forged.

Twenty four hours before we met I tweeted @perenyi_ken to let home know what we were up to in hopes that he would tweet back. He did not. Sigh. But that means now I can talk shit about his forging because he probably won’t check out the tweet I compose about this blog.

With the Art Institute’s map and App in our hands we first headed to The Early American Art gallery and found a Peto, a couple Heades, and a Sargent.

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Here we are in front of a Heade.

Rachel and I had both downloaded the book on our devices and didn’t find the examples of Perenyi’s work until we finished the book because they are at the end. “If I knew that’s what he was describing while I was reading I wouldn’t have been so impressed,”remarked Rachel. I agreed. Many well known Early American artists and works sought out by collectors (who pay high prices) really aren’t that good if you are expecting super realism or quality comparable to Winslow Homer. I think the reason Perenyi, who is a self taught artist, was able to replicate works so well was for two reasons: 1. He was a genius about using authentic materials and making new paint look old. Much of his labor went into creating authentically old looking paintings. 2. As a beginner painter he knew he had to choose artists whose abilities matched his.

I kind of wanted to walk around more and point out my favorite European artists and explain why they were important. But when I had to talk Dora and Rachel into seeing the Magritte exhibit and they finished it in ten minutes (it took me an hour to get through it) that was my first clue that they were reaching their end. Dora kept texting and looking at her phone, they seemed unimpressed by my pointing out the beauty of the architecture in the museum, and I’m sure Rachel’s feet under her very pregnant belly were killing her. I had to realize my friends were just not as into it as I am and get the out of there. So, we wrapped things up and found a place to feed us salad.

The Art Institute of Chicago

First class flying

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I have been home now for twenty four hours but it doesn’t really feel like that long. I left Cephalonia on a 7 p.m. Flight into Athens Sunday evening. My flight home wasn’t until the next morning so I had to stay at the airport for twelve hours. In those hours I had a meal at the airport hotel and watched the final World Cup Match. Then I went back to the airport and found a couple of cushy chairs to pull together and lay on. But since I was by myself I couldn’t sleep very well.

At 5 a.m. I checked into my flight. I used miles for my round trip to and from Athens. All my miles. I had 110k and I needed all of them. The last time I used miles to get to Europe I only needed 70k. Sigh. I always check to see if I can upgrade to business or first class and it’s usually either unavailable or too expensive but for this trip I found an upgrade to first class on the way home would cost $300 so I did it. I was in a business class seat from Athens to Frankfurt and it really wasn’t any different from economy, except that the food was better. From Frankfurt to Chicago, though, I was in my own little “pod” and didn’t even feel like I was on a plane. I could barely contain myself when I saw my little “pod” and took this picture.

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It was my first ever first class experience and it seemed the same for all people up there because we were all taking pictures of our “pods.”
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At one point during the flight I saw the guy in front of me raise his camera above his head so he could video tape the entire circle of space around himself. (He will see me waving at him when he looks back on that video.)
Right after that I took this picture:

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The food was phenomenal and my wine glass was never empty. I fell asleep before dessert but woke up an hour later to find my tray was gone and the need to use the bathroom before reclining my seat fully flat to get some real sleep. On the way to the bathroom I found everyone asleep. We looked like babies in basinets. Giant babies with the proportions used by iconographers under down blankets and sleeping soundly while the flight attendants did their paperwork. It made me giggle a bit. I remembered the flight to Athens where I awkwardly tried to find a comfortable position to sleep in while the kid next to me would wake me with his occasional rancid farting and the kid behind me bumped into my seat. I remembered the stupid woman who woke me when she opened her shade to peer into the obscenely bright sun lit sky. This, I thought, is probably what everyone back in economy must be experiencing and I didn’t feel one bit guilty. I slept like the baby I resembled in my fully flat seat. I had enough room to lie on my side or my back, however I wanted. This is how everyone should be able to fly on trips more that a couple of hours. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to go economy again. I will need to save another 110k miles before I return to Europe and you’d better believe I’m going to look for that upgrade.

I used my Global Entry status on my passport to bypass the long lines at passport control, found my luggage easily and got out of customs speedily to find my mom waiting for me to welcome me back. It’s nice coming home to your mom no matter how old you get. First class love.

Caveat Emptor

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My book club decided on Caveat Emptor by Ken Perenyi, a memoir about his life as an art forger, before I came up with the idea of dedicating my summer to art. The book is interesting, entertaining, educational and a bit humorous as well as surprising.

Perenyi was a kid without any idea of what he wanted to do with his life when he met a group of people in the New York City art scene just after he graduated high school. The young adults introduced him to the art scene and included him in their parties and social circle during the late 1960’s. As someone who always hated school but was good with his hands Ken fit right in and was encouraged to create. He became interested in antique furniture and old paintings and the process of restoring them which led to a realization that he could create paintings that looked like pieces art collectors would pay top money for. In the beginning Perenyi thought the skill to be a temporary way of earning money in order to fund his own art but it became his life career.

The book is filled with an array of characters you’d imagine a person coming into contact with through such a line of work. Perenyi becomes friends with fashion models, mobsters, cleptomaniacs, drug addicts, lawyers, thieves, art restorers and wealthy collectors. We are taken through Pernyi’s young adulthood into present times and see how his career develops and how he adapts to challenges. What interested me most was reading about how he was able to simulate the cracking of old paint and the aging of varnish. He hunted for old panels and canvases to paint on to make his the materials authentic and he learned a lot by working in art restoration.

Perenyi’s writing style is simple, his art is in painting, after all; but the book is interesting at the very least. I have always said that if I could do any other career it would be in art restoration and the book has me thinking about that path again. I completed it as I ended my trip to Greece, which seemed very appropriate.

iconography

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My cousin and her family are Greek Orthodox. Friends of hers from her church back in Illinois were visiting at the same time that I was and we all took a trip up the mountain to the monastery of Cephalonia’s patron saint: Moni Agiou Gerasimou. Because he is the island’s patron saint many children are named after him, which is why “Gerry” is a popular name here.

Gerasimou was a bit of a hermit and hid in caves below what was the monastery’s original temple. You can climb down some stairs and see the caves. Also, the body of Gerasimou is held in a crypt here and may be visited and honored.

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The temple is beautiful but a newer, even more extravagent, church is built next to it and has been in the process of being completed for over thirty years. Inside are golden chandeliers, white marble fixtures, and icons painted in a rainbow of bright colors and embellished by gilded backgrounds that depict every story of the Bible. The iconographers explained that they only paint in spring and summer when the weather makes it possible for the paint to dry properly.

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Of interest to me, as an artist, was the traditional style in which the icons are painted. The building and artists are modern but the figures are painted in a style that ignores what modern painters know about proper figure proportions and accurate portrayal of the human form. Regardless, the site is a must see for any visitor to the island of Cepahlonia.

Aqua Magic

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At the beach today I took note of the turquoise waters and was reminded of a group of AP students I had the pleasure of working with a few years ago. This group was very skilled, funny, clever and  talented at the art of critique.  We had a running inside joke that if your piece had any issues or you felt you needed to add something the answer was always, “aqua.  Add some aqua.”  It was funny but it was also true.  Aqua is a magical color.

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Have you ever known anyone that didn’t look good wearing the color aqua?  Have you ever met a person that didn’t like the color?  I was on a plane, once, seated next to a woman who read cards and was into people’s aura’s and all that.  You know the type.  She took note of my turquoise ring and earrings and said, “ahhhh…turquoise.  This stone is known to attract men when women wear it.”  Well guys, we have something in common.  Because I can’t walk away from turquoise jewelry when I see some.  

Do we love this color because it reminds us of waters that beckon our visits in far away lands?  Or is it just plain universally beautiful?  

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All the postcards I painted have aqua in them, but my favorite is the one that is almost all aqua.  

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