Thursday, March 13, 2014

Ghost Train

Ghost Train
I had a dream once of a 4000 series L train passing the subway platform where I was standing. Though the 1920s era trains were still used on the Evanston Express during my youth, they had been taken out of the more heavily traveled routes that went through the subway by then.

This particular train was full of people that had been riding since the 1950s as was evident in their clothing.  It slowed down for the station but didn't stop. It scared the shit out of me as the people looked right at me.

I don't know where the inspiration came from. I'm pretty sure it was something I saw on television.  I often think of the dream while waiting for a train in the subway.  I imagine getting on outdated L car that is full of people from another decade and somehow being transported to their time.

This Ghost Train is from the 1950s with the livery used from the 1960s and '70s I imagine it takes place in the present, having been rolling nonstop for a few decades.  If it stops, I think I'll just wait for the next one.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

You Will Soon Be Like Us

Detail of Blue and Yeller, oil on canvas

Back in the gentrification of the late '80s and '90s, I was aware of all of the beautiful living spaces that did  not have art.  Dramatic lighting of blank or exposed brick walls ruled the day and probably still does.

In  response, I started adding the works of artists in the windows of my buildings.  Some were  local artists and some were national and global artists.  I enjoyed it, because it allowed me to explore painting in another artist's style while incorporating my own heavy-handedness and thick paint. I also often incorporated silhouettes of people admiring the art, inspired by Roger Brown.

I always liked putting this simple evidence of life in my, otherwise quiet and empty streets.  Since I was a kid, whenever walking the streets at night, I always tried to get a peek at what was going on inside the apartments and houses I would pass and still do.

I remember one such walk with my Dad back in '68 or '69.  He pointed out a red glow emanating from the windows of an apartment on our street and said, through his usual gnashed teeth, "See that red light? That means its a whore house."  It was a while before I knew what that meant and even longer before I knew why he appeared to be agitated, but it made an impression on me.

Fast-forward to last fall.  I was working on a painting from my new series and wanted to put something in the window, so I added some simple skulls.  After doing it, I found it was a connection to my earlier work that I thought may have been lost.  I didn't know what they meant and have been unable to figure out what they meant, but I did know that they belonged there.  Steve Jobs once said that "You can't always connect the dots looking forward, but looking back it all [makes] sense."

Well tonight, I connected the dots.

I used to have a photo, clipped from the newspaper in my studio.  It was a picture of a skull and bone installation created by monks in Italy.  Above the doorway, written in bones, was the phrase "Once we were like you. Soon, you will be like us."

It was a reminder to chart one's own course, despite living in a world that wants to make one into something else, to have one kneel at the crotch of power and despite those around one to drag one into their misery.

It's not easy, but it is a fight in which we all need to engage.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Where the Alley Meets the Street

In 2011 I started a series of drawings of Chicago Alleys.  I tried to capture the experience of exploring Chicago's other street grid at night.  It was somewhat of a diversion from the street scenes that I had been painting for some time.

Inspired by these sketches, I wanted to somehow incorporate the feel of the alley drawings in my painting. I started by focusing on an aspect of the drawings.  What came naturally were the phone poles and wires.  These paintings were largely formal studies of line, shape and color.

However, I wanted to somehow incorporate the buildings of my past work.  The backs of the buildings were not as colorful and seemed less interesting in these intimate closeups of alley life than what you would find in front.

So I started painting the corner of the alley where it meets the cross street.  These current paintings examine the utility of the alley and the formal presentation of the street.  Below is a sample of the earlier work and the first of the cross street paintings.

Overhang | oil on canvas | 22"x16" 
Power Trio | oil on canvas | 22"x16" 
Strung Up | oil on canvas | 22"x16"

Synchronized | oil on canvas | 22"x16"

Tangled Web | oil on canvas | 22"x16"

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Should I Stay or Should I Go

As computer technology develops and becomes more and more complicated, always at its heart is something very simple, very basic, very beatiful; a switch.  On. Off.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The First Thanksgiving

In fifth grade we had to do paintings of the First Thanksgiving.  Of course it was all about Pilgrims and Indians and turkeys.  These illustrations were your standard tempera paints on manilla paper stuff.  Well, at one point I accidentally dripped some flesh-colored paint on the end of a Pilgrim's boot.  It looked funny so I made it his toe and added a flap of boot that his toe had broke through.  I was so amused, I painted an arrow  sticking out of his hat.  For some reason, that painting disappeared.

Well about three months later I got my first baby-sitting assignment.  My Mom was called in to discuss my "problem." At that time my brother was about a month old.  Mom, a Registered Nurse, would come home from working the midnight shift in the emergency room at Edgewater Hospital and my Dad would go off to work downtown.  This particular morning she had to stop off at school first to discuss my problem with the school psychologist.  My Dad could (or maybe would) not stay home with my baby Brother until she got home, so I had to watch him.

When my Mom got there, they pulled out the painting.  Apparently my teacher and the administrators at Stone School were disturbed by what I thought was just a funny work of art.  They also told her about my drawings of tornados and flaming car crashes (I watched a lot of Speed Racer in those days). Bleary-eyed from being awake for almost 12 hours, her response was something like, "YOU HAD ME COME IN HERE FOR THIS?!!"

They already had put together an extended program of psychological evaluation and treatment and needed her signature to get started. She stormed out of the meeting and came home.

I went to school late that day and was scolded by the teacher, who knew I was going to be late and why.  I was in trouble anyway.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Alley Studies: A Trip Through Chicago’s OTHER Street Grid

Alley Study 4 with L Train
Chicago is famous for its large grid of streets. It’s a sort of framework on which the city is built. Based on the United States Public Land Survey, there are eight blocks to a mile with a major thoroughfare every four. These blocks are either laid out in full (long blocks) or halved (short blocks).

However, there is another network of roadways that is almost as large and somewhat more interesting. A secondary lattice of alleys, offset from the streets is where the burg takes care of its dirty business. It’s a place where garbage is collected, parking is accessed and power is delivered. It is also a place where many acts that aren’t meant for public view are carried out.

For children growing up in Chicago, the alley is a playground. There are games that are designed for it. Lineball, a linear version of softball uses the cracks, garage edges and phone poles to mark off areas that determine whether a ball’s bounce is a single, double, triple or home run.  Hitting the ball in a yard is an automatic out. Touch football with just a few guys is just made for the narrow confines of the alley.  There are also appliance boxes to play in and garage roofs to climb.

The sign on the front door says “DELIVER ALL GOODS IN REAR.” That means groceries, coal furniture and other large items go down the alley.  There was a time when the knife sharpener and the fruit & vegetable salesmen would announce their presence in song. Ice and milk were also delivered via the alley.  Carriers pushed wooden carts filled with the morning newspapers. Many of them had metal wheels that made a deafening racket as they rolled along, often at a jog.

The alley hasn’t changed much over the years. However, one can still find the occasional concrete ash bin. Perhaps the observant could even spot a 55 gallon drum or two being reused as garbage cans.
Before plastic bins, these were ubiquitous. They once contained fluids as diverse as banana puree and machine lubricant. Gone, though, is the distinctive sound of an empty can hitting the ground after it was emptied into the back of the refuse truck. Toward the end of their existence they had aluminum lids, compliments of the mayor, that would crash around the alley with the wind.

The alley holds together the social fabric of the city. People are more likely to know their neighbors from across the alley than across the street as they are usually closer and not cut off from each other by a busy street. It’s a place to hang out.

The alleyscape exists on a more human scale. Vehicles and pedestrians share the space much like a medieval street in modern Europe.

It is this relationship of alleys with the city that has forever made an impression on me and inspired me to make these drawings – a tribute to the Chicago alley.

From the book, Alley Studies: A Trip through Chicago's OTHER Street Grid, a collection of alley drawings, ©2012 William Dolan all rights reserved.

Please go here to find out more and to purchase the book.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

I'm Back

I walked away from blogging for a while while I focused on the art blog I'm involved with, NeotericArt. Well, for the most part, I've exhausted everything I wanted to say about the art world.

Since then, I've been occasionally been writing extended Facebook updates.  It seems to me this would be more of an appropriate venue for that.  It's also a good place to archive those thoughts. Therefore, in the next week or so, I'll be moving those posts over here. After that, I'll be writing more frequently.  I do have something to say that I can't or that I don't want to say through my art.

I will also add a link from the navbar on my site so more people can find this.  As it is now, spam bots are the only visitors that this blog gets.

In any case, it's good to be back.