Chalk the Gates

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Los Angeles actor and singer Alexis Martino joins Chicago-based musician and graphic artist Karlis Kandero to form an echo-folk duo called Chalk the Gates. Together they spin tales of weird America over guitars that are sent through sweeping, rhythmic digital delays and then densely looped to weave a rich sonic landscape. Chalk the Gates’ songs broach topics such as invasive technology, war, the gentrification of cities and much more.wednesdayTheir debut album, titled Dissent Vehicles, starts in 2005, half a generation ago, when the Invasion of Iraq weighed heavily on the mind of a nation that had never heard of smartphones or Barack Obama, and still consumed movies on VHS cassettes. Karlis Kandero explains:

“I try to write lyrically challenging music that’s about the point where the political and the personal intersect, viewed through kaleidoscope lenses of power, identity and nostalgia “


Chalk the Gates is a reference to the hobo glyphs that were used by American transients to communicate with each other. The band logo is an adaptation of the two-symbol phrase “This is the place…to tell a hard-luck story.”

Every song on Dissent Vehicles starts with a literal vehicle in mind. Some are obvious, like a Humvee lacking armored plates, or the airplane Hank Greenspun used to smuggled guns. Some are less obvious – such as the electrical current used to torture victims of CIA rendition. One of the songs is composed entirely of Dick Cheney quotes. 

wednesday 1“The record has an unusual structure:  we live in an age where music is no longer presented on media that has ‘Sides A and B.’ Why not make a triptych album? The record is in three acts, and a three note descending phrase is heard in almost every song, bringing the album together musically. I listen to a lot of Ani Difranco and Andrew Bird, but also to a lot of tribal house. The latter genre is presented in the form of two to three hour mixes, whereas folk music is usually packaged as stand-alone three minute songs in different tunings, different topics. I set out to blend the cohesion of a Soundcloud DJ mix with the intimate vocals of folk.


The looping and the digital delay impart a four-on-the floor beat to the songs, but we try to keep the vocals intimate. There are breaks, but there isn’t that lovely part in techno where the high-hat comes in, doubling the beat. This entire record was made with one guitar and one banjo, so instead that moment is created by finger picking. Instead of beating on the guitar to create snare and kick, as many really great progressive finger-style guitarists do, I use a combination of the Korg SDD-3000 delay (made famous by U2’s Edge) and a two-channel looper to create percussion.”


photo by @scottyrocks

Kandero found Martino on Craigslist in 2010, looking for a vocalist to accompany his guitar music.  “I always knew we’d end up performing together” says Martino, “but I didn’t quite know how or when and it all fell into place. We are like-minded individuals who are able to understand what the other is saying without having to go into great detail and that makes our work so much easier.


At certain points we were, as we’ve begun saying, ‘Postal Servicing’ this album; rehearsing harmonies or new lyrics and sending them back and forth until it was all just right.”


Photo by @scottyrocks

They rehearsed much of the record in Silversun Pickups former residence in Silver Lake, Los Angeles, but almost all of the album was recorded live, on four tracks, in Kandero’s Wicker Park studio over St. Patrick’s Day weekend 2018.

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photos by @scottyrocks

Erik Cameron recorded the album and mixed it, so he’s heard these songs quite a few times over the last few months:


“It’s acoustic, hummable and so on, but it qualifies as ‘folk music’ on a deeper level, in that it connects people to a place and time in history; it’s a story about why the world is the way it is, and therefore why you are the way you are. That’s a totally normal function for folk music that’s been weirdly bred out of a lot of mainstream pop songwriting, probably around the same time it became an industry. And here, that function sits neatly next to the electronic effects and unsettling moments about capital and war and voyeurism and believing your memories, because it gets the story right, the world really is that way.”


Chalk the Gates celebrated the release of the album by performing it live in Chicago, Tuesday May 29th at the Flatiron Arts building, where the album was recorded. 

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The performance was accompanied by projected visuals drawn by Karlis, and used a backlit scrim as well a front projection surface to meld and gently animate the pictures. The graphic inspiration for the album art was pre-Helvetica vehicle manuals, tying back into the theme of the album.  


“I’m really interested in the intersection of art and music. I’m particularly inspired by Scott Hansen (Tycho) whose digital art perfectly accompanies his ambient compositions; neither has words, so his Braille signature is perfect. My music is more digital than his – especially with the emphasis on the Korg digital delay – but my art less so. A big trend in music is the return to analog – there’s a large resurgence in analog keyboards, vinyl sales are up, there’s more outboard gear and guitar pedals than ever.


Most graphic design now happens entirely on a screen, but I try to find the ‘analog analogue’ in visual art; re-arranging elements like paper dolls on Bristol board, using shading film, ink splatter and X-acto blades to keep the design process tactile as much as possible. I remember when I couldn’t find Zip-a-Tone shading film any longer (the “dots” that Lichtenstein made famous). It reminded me of how there was this point where almost no-one was manufacturing magnetic tape for recording studios. So this weird, Twentieth Century plastic material you have to cut with a little blade becomes really scarce and valuable.”


Yeshua opened the evening with a slam poetry set, and also engineered sound for the event.


Flatiron Alum Shaina Hoffman played a stirring set…

It’s not unusual for famous musicians to paint, but it turns our many musicians also make comics. Glen Danzig, Tom Morello, Gene Simmons and Mike Daughty from Soul Coughing have all written sequential art. 


“Gerard Wey of My Chemical Romance even has an Eisner Award [the Grammy of comics]. Archer Prewitt of The Sea and Cake also draws comics, but the only other time I ever heard of someone making a comic about the music itself was Ghostface’s 12 Reasons to Die, which actually came with an accompanying comic book. This is a little different…”


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Thanks to the crew: Anthony Moseley (Collaboraction), Eric Gelehrter (projections) Matt Haney (projections) John Wilson (lighting design) Jeshua (sound engineer) and Jordan Chablowski (lead usher). Huge thanks to Scotty Rox and Natalie Miller for the photographing the event!

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Stellatos, Karas, Hilborn, Dancy & Gelehrter: Dec. 7th Flatiron First Friday


IT’S GETTING COLD OUTSIDE, but things are heating up in the Flatiron. This First Friday open studios will feature a plethora of art, so come ready to get a leg up on your holiday shopping while supporting local artists!

MICHAEL STELLATOS is a street photographer based in Chicago, Illinois. 


The focus of Michael’s work is narrative through candid images of people in the streets on Chicago and Greek life in the United States, and all over the world. His primary goal is to capture the mood of each scene or character, and create a story that has a timeless quality.


His inspirations in photography are Ansel Adams, Vivian Maier, Harry Gruyaert, and Danny Lyon.​ We’re happy to welcome his work to the walls of the Flatiron! 

BARTEK KARAS is well known in Chicago and beyond for spinning bass music under the name Jeekoos, and maybe that’s how the robots found him…


“The BotBots descended upon me from inner space, appearing one day as if it were most ordinary of events. Our relationship has developed over the past couple of months into something more organic than one might expect.”


“We’re looking into the future together, developing what it might bring. One Bot at a time.”

These robots make perfect hand-made gifts! Come an get ’em!

DAVID HILBORN is a multi-medium artist. His work over the years has varied in style, material and technique while maintaining consistency through unique color harmonies, complex patterning and exposed structures.


When he’s not creating personal work, He is usually out creating artwork for commercial and residential clients.  We’re happy to welcome him to the 3rd floor galleries of the Flatiron.


MARGARET BOBO-DANCY is the Flatiron’s newest resident artist. Originally from Winston – Salem, NC, she graduated from the School of the Art Institute in 2013.


Her work is at times figurative, at times sensual and is often lush and surreal. Her media range from bronze and glass to video, and it has been seen at Echt Gallery, The SAIC Sullivan Gallery, Gallery 400, Woman-made gallery and Jackson Junge.


She’s a great addition to our community and you can get a sneak peek of her work this Friday!

Also: this month is your last chance to see Palimpest of Chance and Change by Erik Gelehrter.  And then be sure to come back Jan 4th First Friday for Pen, Ink & Song’s 5th anniversary party, featuring live music, surprise guests and a giant art liquidation sale! Come get lost in the Flatiron!

Album cover for reggae group Akasha


Original: 24″ x 24″ acrylic on board.

AKASHA’S NEW LP, Mother Of Exiles is set to be released on Jump Up Records December 7, 2018.

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Akasha is one of the finest reggae acts around, so when lead singer Cosmos Ray approached me last year about doing an album cover I was excited.  He had seen my 2016 paintings Uncle Kafka and Saturn Devouring his Mother and decided I was the man for the job.

Sometimes bands are looking to be guided through the record cover creation process – not Cosmos. He wanted a Pieta, reminiscent of Michelangelo’s but with a twist: instead of a dying Christ body in Mary’s arms, I was to paint a dying Statue of Liberty tended to by a slave wet-nurse – a stirring symbol of the brutality and hypocrisy that America was founded upon.

“It’s a concept album dealing with how to comprehend complex issues such as immigration, discrimination, and oppression with an approach infused by love, service, and unity” explains Cosmos.

I tried to maintain a classic reggae color palette, and also incorporated silhouetted protestors, tying the piece to contemporary controversies surrounding Civil rights-era sculptures of Civil war-era heroes. While the piece is dark and brooding, note that Lady Liberty’s flame is not quite yet extinguished. Might it be that the loving care of our most historically oppressed is what brings her back to life?

Thursday, December 6, 2018, at The Whistler in Chicago, Akasha is hosting a release show with a live performance and the return of the strictly-vinyl, always-royal reggae party, Simmer Down Sound. Doors at 9 pm, No Cover, 2421 North Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago, Illinois.

Palimpsest of Chance and Change: Erik Gelehrter


“NATURE ACCUMULATES, from our genome to the millennia of layers in the ground beneath us. But nature also erodes, revealing concealed structures and surfaces. Nature decays, old life taking new forms. Emergent patterns arise from such complexity, and our minds find beauty in these.”

Eric Gelehrter’s artistic process is a dialogue of chance and choice, as he seeks to evoke subtle resonances in composition, texture and form, incorporating found objects and their fields of associations to create a cohesive whole.

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“Coins from nations that have passed into history, ancient chains, unhewn wood, mechanical components outside of the mechanical context, salt, glyphic line drawings; all fused onto 24” metal tiles with layers and layers of polymer. Liquid Plastic, a ubiquitous, pervasive material of our age; The Anthropocene. This is our geologic layer, our strata.”


Although these pieces speak to universal themes such as entropy, the passage of time, and natural processes, the work is also very much rooted in Chicago.  These works all began with a $0 budget, found materials, found colors, flotsam, discards, scraps, salvage, treasures.  “Accreted over years by a collective of bohemians, over there due West on North Avenue, part of an endophytic subculture that still pervades the visible, prevalent, omnipresent cultural and political landscape of our time.”

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Eric doesn’t see this work as part of a larger art movement or scene:

“I’m reluctant to attempt to name this aesthetic. Elusiveness itself is a fascination of nature, and we benefit from its contemplation.”

Eric Gelehrter’s Palimpsest of Chance and Choice is on view now at the Flatiron Arts Building through the end of the year. The artist will be present November 2nd and December 7th from 7pm to Midnight. 1579 N. Milwaukee Ave, Third Floor rear.

Still on view on the third floor of the Flatiron: Yva Neal’s MOSSome Gift and Jeremiah Read’s The Abstract Machinist. 

Dry – Erase Globe

THIS SUMMER, I teamed up with my collaborator Kevin O’Neill to bring to life an interactive sculpture that had lived in a sketchbook of mine since 2010 – a giant dry-erase surface in the form of a 300 lb rotating globe.


Participants use magnetic dry-erase markers to draw in new nations, mountain ranges, and fantasy oceans. Suitable for “cartographers of the imagination” of all ages! In fact, people of almost any height can take part simultaneously, as the 36” diameter world illustrates the fact that there really is plenty of room for everyone on this sphere! 

We enlisted the help of the Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber of Commerce to fund the project and Nick Berg at Ojo Customs headed up the steel fabrication. Check our their projects at This is the same shop that recently created the political sculpture Metro Gun Share Program: 


I was inspired by the beautiful metallic seafoam-green of the Ellis bandsaw in Nick’s shop to give the project a vintage hammered aqua color palette.

We debuted the sculpture at Wicker Park Fest, and for the entire three-day street fest people flocked to the globe, drawing, writing, and doodling. Every hour, we’d dutifully wash down the orb and give the crowd a blank canvas again.


We even made a mini-globe for the dogs:


At night, the installation comes to life with LED lighting and can also become a dynamic projection-mapping surface! 

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Dry Erase Globe is available for rental! As a bonus, we’ll create a “world map” photo-stitch of your guests’ well-wishes, doodles and jokes! email for more info about event rentals. 

Burning LaPortal.

EARLIER THIS YEAR, when I received the somber news that my friend and collaborator Tom Laporte had passed from this world, I knew almost immediately that I would try to honor his legacy at the 2017 Burning Man festival. Screen Shot 2017-11-08 at 7.57.36 PMTom loved everything about Burning Man; he was an integral part of the media team, a fixture on Burning Man radio and the historian and chief-elder of the Burners Without Borders camp. His absence would be felt all across the great city in the desert, and many memorials were planned, but I felt that it was also imperative to create a physical container to hold space for our camp’s collective sorrow over his death. BM is a sculpture exhibition first, so I began to conceive of an interactive shrine for Tom.

Tom loved radio, and he was a great proponent of live-streaming the Burn to the outside world. His voice is familiar to people who didn’t even know him, and he lives on in PSA’s played at both the main event and regional burns. So I kept coming back to the idea of a radio … perhaps a giant interactive radio to honor his voice? I had previously built two iterations of an interactive sound sculpture for Burning Man, an inward-projecting audio loop station called Audioreolae. I did some research and settled on the RCA 70 Cathedral Radio as a starting point for the project. It was a timeless design that would also honor Tom’s Catholic upbringing.

Often temples and shrines at Burning Man bear an aesthetic one might cynically call “Asian Fusion.” (2015’s Temple of Promise is the great exception.) I was excited to create a piece featuring the gothic arch, the central form of the great Northern European cathedrals whose mystical designs celebrated the divine feminine and sought to explain nature. Could the cathedral radio be both a big radio…and a tiny cathedral? Could there be an interior? In the great Burning Man sculptural tradition of toying with scale and context, I began building a big ol’ radio.

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No lasers were armed in the making of LaPortal.

Instead of using Auto CAD or CNC, I hand cut the forms out of Baltic Birch using jigsaws and paper templates.  I knew that I would have to transport this thing 2,000 miles from Chicago, so I kept the scale reasonable at 10 feet tall with a slightly flared 6’ by 4’ footprint. The flared footprint made the radio seem like it was growing out of the desert, and although I would later have to mutilate it, but I would be glad I’d flared the base, not only for stability, but for smoothness of form. 20170807_143705For the iconic “shell” speaker port I used burlap, and the giant dial was made from an HVAC end-cap. The RCA 70 radio has a tiny dial that turns a station indicator through a small window, and I knew that I had to combine the old radio with a more modern car radio display so users could see the needle moving. This also allowed the radio to be a portal that one could walk through. Hence; LaPortal. Instead of being an obelisk one would stand around, the radio became an intimate space, with inward-directed audio similar to Audioreolae.


The “Altar of Tubes.”

The inside became a shrine, and instead of votive candles, I inverted Ball jars, painted the bottoms silver to create a flickering “altar of tubes.”  I panelled out a curved ceiling for the interior and painted a comical adaptation of the iconic Creation of Adam panel from the Sistine chapel ceiling fresco by Michelangelo that I called “Creation of Hotdog.” I also made a rose window with Tom’s simple, optimistic and rebellious catchphrase Fuck yeah! hidden in the design. The window was made from vellum, to create a “melting stained glass window” effect when the structure burned.



“Creation of Hotdog.”

The most difficult mechanical hurdle was fabricating the linkage between the dial and the needle (a WD-40 straw). I considered using a bike chain, airplane cable, servos and even motion detectors.


The Brain Unit.


In the end, I took and cue from the Euroburner artists at Nowhere and went with the “keep it simple” approach, using a relatively straightforward rubberized-rope pulley system.

Message_1502894126908 (1)Hidden under the face of the radio was a USB MIDI key-controller, and the pulley system would glassando over the keys with a plastic ball (upcycled canopy tie) triggering both audio content, as well as specially composed AM radio “white noise” between the stops. Sometimes the ball would get a little stuck, or trigger both content and white noise. You had to fiddle with the radio dial, but that was the point; In essence, the interactivity was an exercise in using digital tech such as LEDs and USB audio to create the look and feel of a tube-driven, analog device. The lighting plan for the sculpture was a simple, warm yellow.

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The next step was programming the audio.  I’m immensely grateful to Joshua Gunty and Kevin O’Neill for their efforts here. We used an old Macbook running Ableton to power the sound, and created 4 different sets so that the content would change throughout the week on Playa. We programmed ten “stations” per set. (In keeping with the Catholic theme, these truly were the “stations of Tom.”) Some stations had PSA’s, some had content from Tom calling the Manburn. We included content from BWB telesalons and the BM Global Leadership Conference. We even included Tom’s interview with Abbie Hoffman, recorded when Tom was just seventeen. I broke the sculpture down into a 8’ by 4’ by 10” flat-packed package and had the excellent and reliable Chi-Cargo service ship it to Nevada.

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I had one last stop to make before heading out West. I met up with Tom’s son Daniel and picked up Tom’s ashes, which the family had decided should make their way to Tom’s favorite place. Danny related to me something Tom had said to a friend a few days before he died:

“The resistance is back on. You and I both know how to do it. Dare to Struggle. Dare to grin.”

I flew to Reno with Tom’s ashes on the seat next to mine and with that quote in my mind.

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In classic TLP tradition, LaPortal was a renegade project. Tom passed in March, when many BM projects have already been underway for months (letters of intent for honoraria sculptures are due 9 months out). BWB’s camp real estate includes a portion of open desert across Esplanade, and we are permitted to curate this swath of open Playa. As far as placement, electrical supply, breakdown and disposal were concerned, the Radio Cathedral was nothing more than a piece of camp deco.

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Crowdsourcing for materials was done once at the Freakeasy Pre-compression event, where the radio was activated with a beta version of the interactivity and content. I made a birdhouse-sized radio with a contribution hole and Burners filled it with cash. No Facebook or Gofundme involved.  


We placed the radio about 50 feet into the desert across Esplanade from BWB camp, framing the Man, next to Donkey Boy’s Temple of Tension tightwire clinic.



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Detail showing Manbase in the distance.

Throughout the week both friends and strangers were able to hear Tom’s voice on Playa one last time. There were tears and there was laughter, but most importantly there was Tom. I had enormous help from David Schnack and Kellie Larson, who decorated the inside of the radio with a thick red fabric to create a somber and sound-dampening environment. People wrote messages to Tom on the inside of the structure, where there was just enough room to spend a few moments listening.

We celebrated Tom’s life with a service Wednesday night, and there were special moments where strangers who had known Tom met each other for the first time and remembered their departed friend.


Christopher Breedlove talks about Tom.


The largest mobile flamethrower on Playa gave Tom a 21-poof salute.


One of Black Rock City’s greatest resources is a seemingly endless supply of radial serendipity. I never cease to be amazed by the coincidences I experience on Lake Lahontan. My final touch to the radio was a vintage-looking, braided two prong power cord, basically a sight gag. 20170901_153459A worklight shell filled with expanding foam and plywood prongs made it look like the ghost radio was unplugged. The foam made it light and springy in the wind. And what was the next project down the street on the desert-side of Esplanade? 20170903_111729 (1)A giant, marble outlet at the same approximate scale. I could have just about plugged mine into theirs. (Ask first). And we were unlisted, it wasn’t a placement gag. Curation via pure serendipity.


The week wore on.  The $100 Macbook never crashed and LaPortal played, its inside filling with sharpie messages to Tom around the altar. 


Soon it was Sunday.  My plan had always been to burn the radio shrine in the ashes of the Manbase on Sunday morning, and I had taken care to build the radio out of formaldehyde-free luan for a clean, non-toxic burn. The whole sculpture could be mounted on skis to and dragged to the center of Burning Man, but due to unforeseen circumstances that deserve no further mention, the Man base was closed Sunday, and no-one was able to burn small effigies. What to do?


Burners Without Borders camp has a New Orleans fire-pit that dates back to the organization’s inception, helping with the rebuilding in the Gulf Following Hurricane Katrina.


BWB’s opening night fire, 2017.

The pit measures just over 48” square, so with a little deconstruction and a little luck, I was able to remove the bottom flare of the structure, get it down to four feet square and place it in the pit. I biked over to BMIR and placed an announcement that we were burning Tom’s radio at sunset “at home.” We had a 5-gallon bucket of water and 4 fire extinguishers on hand, and placed a team member up on our deck to watch for errant embers.

As the sun dipped behind the Western mountains lining our Lake of Dreams, we lit the radio. The structure burned without need for any accelerant, as the fire climbed the 2×4’s in the corners of the radio.  20170903_194859-2Flames poured out the speaker port just as planned, the birch burned slowly while the burlap sparked right up. I had added some colorant to make the inside of the ceiling drip blue and green fire.

IMG_20170907_090855_380Just as the rose window began to melt, we saw the Temple ignite in the distance. A Temple builder friend had scaled that structure and placed some of Tom’s ashes at the very top of the spire, facing the city. 20170903_200639The two fires burned in unison under an almost-full moon, contrasted beautifully by the infinite shades of violet created by a spectacular Black Rock desert dusk.20170903_200601

Even for Burning Man, it was really something.


In the end, the gothic arch is what made our unorthodox burn a success; the weight of the structure was directed inward, and the sculpture collapsed in on itself, with just a few small pieces falling outside the pit.


It was an incredibly beautiful moment, and I feel that we did some justice to Tom’s many contributions to our city, our camp and our culture.

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Although the large radio is now just ashes and memory, I’ve since built a miniature version about the size of a jukebox to house the interactivity and Tom audio content. This version of the radio will be on display at the upcoming BWB Chicago fall grant salon, Nov 14th at Transamoeba studios.


We’re also keeping the audio we collected available online at the newly-created

This site will also serve as a contribution portal for more Tom content so that if we ever re-create the installation, we’ll have even more content.


My gratitude to Christopher Breedlove, Weston Rose, Kevin O’Neill, Joshua Gunty, Carl Sporny, Ayda Keshtkar, David Schnack, Kellie Larson, Minimonk, B-Dub, C-haus, Daniel Laporte, ChiCargo, BWB, BMIR, BMORG, Temple Crew and the entire LaPorte Family.

But mostly, thank you Tom.

You were one-of-a-kind.

(Fuck yeah.)

Hoku-Chi prints

Da Wave. 38″ by 67″/ 2017. Acrylic paint, ink and sand. $1200. Print: $25
Pulaski at Night. Acrylic and ink. 24″ by 24″/2017. $300. Print: $25

PI&S features Rudy Hall.

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PI&S welcomes Logan Square-based illustrator/painter Rudy Hall to the exhibition walls of the Flatiron for the month of November. Rudy is a graduate of SCAD Atlanta (the sequential arts school sometimes called the “Harvard of comics”), and while he demonstrates great flexibility in his drawing chops as an illustrator-for-hire, his own signature style comes through in his paintings and portraits.

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His compositions have an illuminated quality that fuse graffiti motifs with distinct nods to the cyber-punk aesthetic.  Totem objects float in space around his stoic portrait subjects’ deftly painted faces, and his work bristles with implied movement. Prints for sale at PI&S and for more images, please visit his website.



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Every October, artists all over the world take on the Inktober drawing challenge by doing one ink drawing a day the entire month.  I followed Jake Parker’s Inktober prompts for each day’s drawing, although I sometimes stretched the interpretation a little.

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A sampling of my Inktober drawings:


..and here’s the other 22.

Thirty-one drawings, thirty-one days!

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Drawings will be on display at Pen, Ink & Song during The Flatiron Arts Building’s Fall Arts Festival/Open Studios Nov. 3-5th at 1579 N. Milwaukee Ave. from 7pm to midnight!

The Art of the Heal.

97-Canon-DSC_4672.jpgI threw up a few times the morning of November 9th. 9/11 was a shock, but 11/9 was nauseating. I am deeply connected to multiple communities that are in real danger from the looming Drumpf catastrophe, but I was shocked by how visceral my response was.


Just a day before, I had renegade installed my Trump sign-redacting sculpture #towerchicago on the Chicago river front, across from Trump Tower, complete with red carper from which to take the perfect photo of Adrian Smith’s gleaming skyscraper…one without Trump’s name on it.


I thought the sculpture would be a part of a celebration, not a bitter protest. I felt sick, and didn’t even want to go see the piece again. The urge to run was strong as well. I hold dual citizenship with the US and the EU, but it is though Latvia, a tiny, former Eastern Bloc country that relies on its NATO membership to thwart the constant threat of Putin’s Russia next door. Did we really keep an endangered language and culture alive for half a Century, only to have a reality TV-show host sell free Europe to his ex-KBG sugar daddy?

The thought of Russian troops returning to the Baltics made me physically ill for days.

So I started painting. Unlike pen-and-ink work, which is meticulous and unforgiving, I find painting to be more therapeutic; political art catharsis. Perhaps the most terrifying part of the whole election nightmare was seeing how clear it was that Trump himself was caught completely off-guard by the upset. It reminded me of Goya’s haunting Saturn Devouring his Children (1820) painted while the artist was ill, confined to his home, and disillusioned with the Spanish government.


Saturn seems surprised and horrified by what he is doing…but he continues. I couldn’t get this image out of my mind, so I adapted it to suit the current situation:



In American political cartooning, the trope of “raping Lady Liberty” has long been used to sow xenophobic fear. But since Trump himself has admitted to a long history of sexual assault against women, it seemed quite appropriate to show her disrobed. I finished the painting in three days (using acrylic paints) and then coated it with a lacquer to give it that classic oil painting look.


I also made a poster version that was a kind of veiled shout-out to this Nation cover from 16 years ago, where Brian Stauffer depicted George W. Bush as Alfred E. Neumann, before the result of the 2000 election had been decided.

Damn, do I miss the Twentieth Century.

I even find myself missing the previous decade. Looking back on my political art from the last ten years, much of it seems suddenly outdated. Remember when Sarah Palin finding herself a heartbeat away from the nuclear codes was about the scariest thing we could imagine?

Or  how about Vladimir Putin besting George W. Bush in a battle of the wits?


While 9/11 was a complete shock to most of us, 11/9 seemed more like the prognosis of a cancer we had suspected was growing in our body politic. For years, the Right had whipped up a bigoted base with talk of death panels and fake birth certificates. And these lies were predated by a the lie Colon Powell was made to sell; the threat of WMD in Iraq. Without bending to accommodate and normalize THAT giant lie, the incredible sacrifice made there makes no sense.

So just out of decency to our dead, we had to normalize that lie to some extent. This cancer of lying has been growing for some time. We just didn’t know it. If you know you’re sick,you can do something about it.

And if you know you’re dying (and you’re David Bowie) you can orchestrate the most dramatic album release in music history.

2016 started thusly:


Bowie’s twisted, agonized figure from in the video for Lazarus was my inspiration for a mash-up of Kafka’s Metamorphosis with the national tragedy of white nationalist Steve Bannon playing alt-right Rasputin to a trust-fund sociopath. What had we become?



I call the four-foot wide painting “Uncle Samsa.” Once again painted with urgency in acrylics, then coated with an oil-based lacquer.  I used an “interference” blue-green hue to give the roach elements a sickly iridescent sheen. Sort of need to get this thing out of my studio. (Saturn sold, miraculously.)

The real reason I made the paintings was to deal with my own personal trauma following the election. Without forgetting it.  It’s important to remember. Just as we must remember the good will directed towards us by the nations of the world following 9/11 to truly appreciate the squandering of that good will by Bush and his lying cabal, we need to refuse to normalize the disease of Trump if we have any chance of cutting the cancer out.

The situation in which we find ourselves is not normal.  Trump campaigned on a series of alarmist lies, essentially claiming that the country was dying, despite unemployment rates lower than Romney promised, gas that was dollars cheaper per gallon than it was under Bush, and an economy that had almost recovered from a perennial Republican war-recession.

And now we are sick. Billionaires and Bigots are in charge, and they promise to privatize, corrupt, steal, and strip down this great nation for parts.

Now more than ever, truth is medicine.