Farewell Joe Markevicius

Joe Markevicius, Riverview
I learned today of the death of Joe Markevicius, one of my favorite artists. Joe was a “soutsider” artist, a graduate of Gage Park High School and a wizard with pastels. I always thought there was a sadness to Joe at least partly reflected in his choice of subject — mostly Chicago places that had disappeared or were in the process of disappearing.

His renderings were incredibly detailed and his skies always dramatic. I never got entirely clear on how much Joe had studied art, but from his own account his training was limited. His craftsmanship was for the most part self taught, and he certainly worked outside the mainstream art world. In some ways he seemed like an architectural version of the great self-taught Chicago painter Drossos Skyllas, whose portraits and landscapes were as finely rendered as Joe’s buildings.

I first encountered his art in the late Puffer’s Bar on Halsted Street in Bridgeport. Though he worked mostly with pastels, it was an oil painting that caught my eye, a rendering of the Tripoly building, one of my favorite Chicago structures, soon to be torn down. I bought pictures from Joe for several years after that, including lots of doomed buildings and a few trains, all given his visionary treatment and incredible attention to detail.

Joe eventually left Chicago to live in Asheville, North Carolina. In a classic case of procrastination regret, I always meant to reconnect with him after he returned to Chicago some years ago, but of course now it’s too late. I remember he found the label “soutsider art” amusing, but his work for the most part never got much attention outside the South Side, though Intuit has borrowed pieces over the years, including the Tripoly building and Aladdin’s Castle (Riverview).

One day Joe will receive the full recognition he deserves for his art. I feel fortunate to have known him and to remain surrounded by some of his wonderful pictures in my home, including, especially, the Tripoly building. We first bonded over our mutual love for this doomed landmark — and monster movies.

You can read Joe’s obituary here.

Here are some examples of his work.

Joe Markevicius, Wallace Street building

Wallace Street building

Joe Markevicius

Play Tripoly, Polk Street and the River

Joe Markevicius, Zephyr


Riverview, Joe Markevicius

Riverview, Western and Belmont

Joe Markevicius, Old Spiegel Catalog Building

The Old Spiegel Catalog Building, 35th Street

Joe Markevicius, Old Spiegel Catalog Building

The Old Spiegel Catalog Building, 35th Street

Joe Markevicius, clothes lines

Clothes lines

Harvey Ford: Objects of Beautyness

Harvey Ford was a prolific producer of drawings when he was in the art program at Joliet’s Stateville Penitentiary, but he also made some impressive sculptures, mostly ceramic, and at least a few papier-mâché. The colors and shapes are more than a match for the intensity of his drawings, many of which he made with burnt matches.

Although prison art programs produce a lot of material that is of little interest beyond the cellblock walls, the Stateville program, as its output makes evident, encouraged artists to follow their own creative direction. Ford was a true visionary and a case study in the potential of institutions to unlock amazing creative talent.

“You never quit looking. You sit there, look at a blank piece of paper, take a photo of your mind and wait for your hands” to go to work, he told me in 1992.

The result, he explained, is “something in a different dimension.

“…Anybody can draw a straight line. But you got to bring it to life, to make the straight line do something different…. You got to put yourself into that picture. If you don’t, you got what everyone else does, a plain old flat picture.”

See the sculpture gallery below, and some drawings below that. For more information on Ford and Stateville, see my pieces on prison art from 1998 and 1994.

Some some of those not-flat pictures:
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My Last Days Of Vinyl

Angelic Gospel Singers, James Brown
This week I completed my decade-long record-digitization project, having ripped around 675 vinyl LPs, 150 78s and 1,100-plus 45s.

First record ripped, on Dec. 8, 2007: a 78 rpm disk of Milky White Way / Bread of Heaven by the Angelic Gospel Singers, followed by I Can’t Stand Myself When You Touch Me and several other vintage James Brown albums. Last record ripped, on May 19, 2018: A 7-inch record with uplifting public service announcements for young people from the Wayout project, circa 1980s. Immediately before that: three square-dance records complete with calls. I didn’t exactly save the best for last.

The process has given me a chance to revisit records I hadn’t touched in years, and some — especially 45s — I had never heard. There were many great discoveries among the old soul and R&B records I used to acquire by the stack at thrift stores and flea markets. Lots of obscure (and, it turns out, often valuable) Chicago soul recordings.

612 thrift-store-bound 45s612 thrift-store-bound 45s

Now it’s all about disposal. These are the 612 45s that are Howard Brown thrift store bound. I have eBay aspirations for another 500 or so 45s. The thrift store records are fine musically, just not worth enough to bother selling. Of course there are still several boxes of LPs to be sold, and a few dozen 78s. So not totally finished with the vinyl/shellac.

Pop-Up Art Sale At Intuit: Folk, Outsider, Tribal, Etc.

I’m joining with several other collectors for a two-day art sale Friday April 20 (5-8) and Saturday April 21 (11-5) at Intuit, 756 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago. The emphasis will be self-taught, folk and outsider art, but there will also be African masks, textiles, kitsch items, contemporary art and other interesting things — lots of cool stuff at very good prices. You can see a flier below, and photos of some of the things I’m planning to bring. It should be a fun event, and We’ll be donating 10% of our proceeds to Intuit.

While you’re at Intuit, we’ve got two great exhibits — the fabulous Stephen Warde Anderson in the back room and five great Wisconsin artists in the front. Plus upstairs will be the very popular Closet Clearance Sale offering new, vintage and gently-used clothing and accessories (more information at http://www.art.org/closet-clearance-2018).

Review — Jim Shaw: The Hidden World

Jim Shaw: The Hidden World, edited by Marc-Olivier Wahler. Koenig Books, London, 512 pages, 2014. ISBN: 978-3863355845. Hardcover.

Jim Shaw’s collection of religious, political and cultural ephemera, published in 2014 as an exhibition catalog, makes for a great book, especially if your collecting interests align with Shaw’s, as mine not coincidentally do. Continue reading

Review — As Essential as Dreams: Self-Taught Art from the Collection of Stephanie and John Smither

As Essential as Dreams: Self-Taught Art from the Collection of Stephanie and John Smither, by Michelle White, with contributions by Lynne Adele, Brooke Davis Anderson, Haley Berkman, David Breslin, Víctor M. Espinosa, William Fagaly, Edward M. Gómez, Jo Farb Hernández, Lee Kogan, Colin Rhodes and Leslie Umberger. The Menil Collection, Houston, 112 pages, 114 color illustrations, 2016. ISBN: 9780300218411. Hardcover, $45.

As Essential as Dreams could easily have been another routine entry in a long line of vanity art projects-exhibits of personal collections, ideally at prestige museums, with catalogs just weighty enough to prove the collectors’ good taste and sound artistic investment.

That’s not to say the shows can’t be fun to visit and worthily eye-opening. Indeed, the collections they feature seem to be maturing in sophistication and depth, while the rising profile of scholars is helping equalize the intellectual and physical heft of their catalogs.

The 2013 Great and Mighty Things exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art was a breakthrough show from a personal collection, and 2016’s Stephanie and John Smither show represents another gratifyingly substantial exhibit mounted by a highly-respected mainstream museum, Houston’s Menil Collection. Reports say the show was impressive in person, even if smaller than the Philadelphia blockbuster.
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Review — Outsider Art: Visionary Worlds and Trauma

Outsider Art: Visionary Worlds and Trauma, by Daniel Wojcik. University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, MS, 276 pages, 174 color illustrations, 2016. ISBN: 978-1496808066. Hardcover, $45

Outsider Art: Visionary Worlds and TraumaCan we agree that the art still sometimes known as outsider is much more interesting than what to call it? It might seem a simple enough proposition, yet arguments over the label continue to distract from the art, even among those who consider the debate mostly fruitless.

Daniel Wojcik’s book is a case in point. When it’s good, it’s very good, providing sensitive, thoughful accounts of the art and its creators, with real insights into the psychological, cultural and practical dimensions of their art making. Wojcik does consume a few too many precious pages diving into decades-old polemics, however, recounting the traditional indictment that charges the O word with elitism, exclusion and marginalization. Continue reading

About those Ventures

It took a long time to get to the Ventures in my project to rip and sell a large vinyl collection. I left them for the end because, frankly, I wasn’t sure I could face listening to the hours of music my Ventures 24 albums contained.

These guys released some two dozen albums in the first half of the 1960s alone, and they must have been desperate for material. How else to explain why a song like Jimmy Crack Corn – a standby from everyone’s second or third music lesson — would wind up on Dance With The Ventures (also known as Twist Party Vol. 2 — itself a title that speaks volumes about the integrity of this group’s artistic vision).

It’s not that the Ventures were bad. In fact, it turned out I’ve enjoyed listening to the hours of instrumentals I ripped. But in their vast output it’s not always easy to find the kind of passion you expect in headlining musicians. And how could they be so unalterably square in a period when being hip was not that hard, something that Johnny Cash so ably demonstrated? Yes, I’m happy today that I can listen to their rendition of the Get Smart theme, but its existence speaks volumes about what the Ventures weren’t up to in the 1960s. Continue reading

Angkor Temples: Highlights

To grasp the impact of the temples around Angkor Wat, think of Chartres. Chartres is wonderful — here you find a dozen-plus Chartres, all within 45 minutes of each other. The Cambodian temples are every bit as spectacular as their reputation would have you believe. Their massive scale, their finely crafted detail, their lovely jungle settings, their ruin and their restoration combine to make this one of the world’s great places.

Yes, it is very hot, and many of the sites are crowded with tourists. Some temples were probably over restored. But the architecture is compelling and the sculpture fascinating.
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