Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Thanksgiving Story

I like Thanksgiving because the holiday brings family and friends together to enjoy conversation, down-home cooking, and contemplation about what we are thankful for in our lives.  Of course, we embrace the mythic aspects of the holiday-- the underbelly of the historically dubious Thanksgiving story involves the genocide of Native Americans by a swarm of religiously conservative castaways from Europe, and a near future legacy of enslavement of people, destruction of nature, and global military dominion.  And then there is the horrific modern invention of Black Friday, which is nothing short of a consumerist zombie-orgy-- capitalist diarrhea.

Nonetheless, the holiday is grand if you are not working retail, or eating alone.  Most Americans choose to spin the holiday in a positive direction, and focus on gratitude.  I like to extrapolate the underlying message of Thanksgiving-- that we are all immigrants in this world, with something to bring to the table to share with others.  

I created this piece, “Undocumented Pilgrim,” in 2006.  It was published in American Illustration 26.  It hangs in my apartment, and I’m not sure if I ever want to part with it.  In my mind, the greatest thing about living in an American city is the rainbow of cultures represented in a metropolitan area.  With the exception of Native Americans, all Americans descended from immigrants.  Thanksgiving is an immigrant story.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Sophomore

     Liberated from school, an exodus of youth spills out of every orifice of Amundsen High on weekdays at 3 pm.  Like schools of exotic fish, the teens flood the nearby streets.  Exhibiting a cacophony of color accompanied by a soundtrack of extra-loud, crackly, pubescent voices, the teens swagger south on Damen Avenue past the window of my art studio.  I used to watch the daily parade, feeling mildly annoyed for reasons only a fellow curmudgeon could understand.  But then something changed in my perception:  they’ve grown on me.  Occasionally, a few teens knock on the window, wave hello, and even step inside for a visit.  They walk around, study the art, and ask genuinely interesting and challenging questions about the work.  I’m moved by their curiosity and enthusiasm.  
     A large Chicago public high school, Amundsen High boasts a poor academic record, and does not meet federal education standards.  Before the bells rings, a protective block of police cars line the street.  Needless to say, the school attracts students who do not test high enough for elite public schools, and whose families cannot afford private school.  Some of the students are dealing with incredibly difficult family situations while trying to focus on passing their classes.  
     While a year ago I foolishly dismissed these young adults as an amorphous cast of clones, I now view these teens as unique creatures-- overgrown puppies vibrating on the precipice of adulthood, exhibiting a mix of great insecurity, naive confidence, curiosity, open-minded acceptance-- while asserting individuality any way they can.  I’m fascinated by their hairdos.  This rooster, titled “Sophomore,” is inspired by high school style and swagger-- window dressing on deeply thoughtful souls contemplating the future.