Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Two Careers in Rolling Steel

Tapping a Blast Furnace, image from ArcelorMittal

Before he came to Blue City Cycles to work as a bike mechanic, Mike Okelman got 2 engineering degrees and worked at a steel mill in East Chicago –  home of the largest blast furnace in the Western Hemisphere in fact – where he made 4 times as much money as he ‘s making now.

Engineering is the kind of profession his parents wanted for him, and steel mills offer the kind of secure, well-paid jobs that have become hard to find.  But after 4 years in the mills, Mike says the work he does at the bike shop is more satisfying, and it also supports a more sustainable lifestyle.

Mike always knew he wanted to do something technical.  He had an idealistic admiration for American manufacturing and an abiding respect for the labor unions that made industry a source of good jobs. His parents wanted him to pursue a professional career, so he enrolled at University of Illinois Urbana Champaign to study mechanical engineering in 2002, and worked straight through his bachelors and his masters by 2008.

Back in 2005, he toyed with the idea of trying out an internship in the auto industry. “I was imagining working on energy efficiency and fuel cells,” he says, but GM’s presentation that year was all about the Hummer.  Instead, he found himself at a job fair talking to 2 guys from International Steel Group.  They had a table top model of a steel mill they’d probably last used to recruit new talent 25 years ago. “No one was talking to them,” Mike recalls.

Ladle of Steel
photo from NW Indiana Steel Heritage Museum photo gallery

2005 was an excellent year for steel makers worldwide, as economies boomed the mills couldn’t pour metal fast enough.  But American steel makers had been in decline for decades.  In 1967, the industry represented almost 5% of US manufacturing output; by 2001, it represented less than 1%, and the labor needs of the steelmaking process had dropped by a factor of 1,000.  Recruitment hadn’t been a priority for most mills in recent years, as evinced by that dusty table top model.  Plants that hadn’t shut down were still rearranging themselves to find a comfortable position.

International Steel Group had just purchased Acme Steel, a venerable Chicago company whose fortunes more or less tracked the local industry – starting in 1880, when Acme first opened as a maker of steel clasps and barbed staples. In the 19th Century, dozens of small makers of steel goods were embedded in Chicago neighborhoods.

Over decades they tended to combine into big vertically integrated operations that could smelt iron from ore, make coke from coal, turn iron into steel, cast it into blocks and roll it into finished materials. They also tended to precipitate on Chicago’s southern edge, by Calumet, where raw materials could be brought by the barge-full to their doorstep, and from where the beams, rails and pipe they produced could be shipped to all points of the country, if they weren’t absorbed into the construction of Chicago itself.

Acme opened a plant in Riverdale in 1918 as the Acme Steel Furnace Company.  Acme Steel employed 1,400 workers during the Great Depression, and by the 1950s ranked among the top 300 largest manufacturing companies in the nation. In 1964, it merged with Interlake Steel, itself a combination of Federal Furnace and the By Products Coke Company – they were located just across the Calumet River from Acme’s plant.  By the 1970s, Interlake Steel Group employed 3,500 in the Chicago area and posted annual sales of nearly $700 million, even though the American steel industry had already started its uneven descent.

Smoke Rising from the Indiana Harbor Works Plant
image from NW Indiana Steel Heritage Museum photo gallery

Steel making is dirty, dangerous and energy intensive, so maybe it’s natural that the industry should move to emerging economies less concerned with protecting their labor force and their environment.  When the steel industry first got started in the US, native born workers wouldn’t take those jobs, but the steel mills could staff themselves with immigrant labor.  The immigrants worked 12 hour days until late in the 1920s, and the unions didn’t get a foothold in the mills for another 10 years.

Decades later, when foreign competition gained ground with lower labor costs and government subsidies, the Americans still had the advantage of massive capacity in plants already built, but their calculations about whether to maintain or modernize them were getting more complex.

The big integrated mills weren’t just expensive to build, they were hugely expensive to operate.  Reheating a blast furnace after it’s cooled down costs a lot, both in energy and in stress on the equipment, so the blast furnaces would run continuously for years at a time.  Every 15 years or so they’d need to be overhauled, their insides gutted and relined with new refractory brick.  When the No. 7 furnace in East Chicago was overhauled in 2014 the operation took all summer and cost $70 million.

By the 1980s, more steel makers faced with maintaining old equipment were opting to reconfigure as “minimills.” They’d skip the costly process of reducing raw iron in the blast furnace, and focus on the latter stages of processing steel.  A minimill might have an electric arc furnace for melting steel scrap, another furnace for finessing the alloy’s chemical balance, and a continuous caster for extruding semi-finished goods.  To be cost effective, integrated mills need to put out at least 2 million tons of steel a year.  A minimill might put out 200 to 400 thousand tons a year, and the electric furnace could be started and stopped to meet changes in the marketplace in something closer to real time.

Relining Acme Steel's Former Blast Furnace

Acme Steel spun off from Interlake in 1986, unhitching itself from its blast furnace and the coke ovens on the other side of the Calumet.  By the early 1990s, it employed 1,200 workers, about the same number the old Acme Furnace employed at its Riverdale plant.  It was still using oxygen furnaces from the 1950s, but in the 1990s they invested in a continuous caster – a major modernization that would allow them to skip the intermediate step of casting molten metal into ingots first, before rolling it into sheets, bars or rods in a separate process.  The continuous caster extrudes metal through a track of rollers into long, semi-finished products.  Acme’s new caster was employed rolling out spools of pipe.

They never quite recovered the investment. Mike says it helped put the old Acme Steel out of business.  By 2001 they were in bankruptcy protection and finishing a phased shut down.  The next year, the shuttered plant was acquired by investors headed up by WL Ross.  Ross got his start as a bankruptcy adviser, he says he helped clean up the mess left by Mike Milken’s junk bond buyouts in the 1980s.

By the 2000s, he wanted to intervene more directly to turn troubled industries around. And there was clearly still money to be made in steel.  Competition is global and margins are slim, but world consumption was exploding.  The US was enjoying its housing boom and a new heyday for really big cars.  Emerging economies were racing toward the middle class, pushing up prices for commodities of all kinds, from metal to meat.

Ross’ investment fund first created International Steel Group to reorganize Pennsylvania Steel.  In 2002, ISG Riverdale reopened as a minimill employing 250 workers.  In 2005 the company merged with Ispat Inland Steel Company in East Chicago, and LMV, a holding company controlled by an Indian steel magnate, to form Mittal Steel USA.

Blast Furnaces of the old Acme Steel

That was also the year Mike took an internship at the ISG Riverdale plant.  He says it was different from a big, union shop. Which is not to say the workers at Riverside weren’t unionized.  They were a rough around the edges, but their roughness mainly expressed itself as hijinks.

They used to call him Monica (you know, because he was the intern); they once glued a little crown cut from a styrofoam coffee cup to the top of his helmet and called him to the shop floor to see how long before he figured out why everyone was chuckling.  But then when he broke his foot in an accident involving a radio flier wagon and a flight of stairs (not at work) the guys in the machine shop made him a little stick figure model to commemorate the incident.

Mike says the Riverside plant itself was almost quaint.  The carts and moveable equipment all still said “Acme” on them.  They didn’t melt their own iron anymore, it trundled over from Indiana in torpedo shaped rail cars, the big vessels of molten metal passing through residential neighborhoods, apparently without incident.  If it were to harden en route they’d never extract the iron from the car.

They made it into high alloy steel in oxygen furnaces that date back to the 1950s.  The whole room was coated in thick coat of kish – carbon particles exhaled as graphite dust by the steel as it's chemistry is refined.  Mike says it glitters in the air, it rains over everything, settling as a thick gray smudge.  The continuous caster was newer of course.  They used it to cast high alloy steel into spools of small pipe that would be used for making things like knives and golf clubs.

After graduation, when he took an engineering job at the former Inland Steel mill in East Chicago, their continuous caster would be turning out spools of pipe for oil pipelines and sheet metal for the auto industry -- materials for big industry and massive infrastructure projects.  A 3,100 acre integrated mill, the East Chicago plant, now known as ArcelorMittal Indiana Harbor, is the largest plant in North America.  It employs 4,900 workers and puts out 9.5 million tons of metal a year.

Collectively, America’s big integrated mills still produce almost 90 million tons of steel annually, and have remained attractive acquisitions, even if no one is building new blast furnaces in the States anymore.  Inland Steel was acquired by ISPAT, another company controlled by the Mittal family, in 1998.  Ispat Inland became part of Mittal Steel USA in 2005.  Then, in 2007, Mittal Steel and Arcelor, the 2 biggest steel companies in the world, merged into one.

Indiana Harbor Ship Canal
image from NW Indiana Steel Heritage Museum Photo Gallery

When Mike came to work at the Indiana Harbor plant in the summer of 2008, world steel was still booming and the ArcelorMittal was on a buzz, calling meetings at their Indiana plant to announce all the great new benefits they’d be extending.  A few months later big banks were collapsing and all those new benefits were quietly dropped.

The steel industry has always cycled between boom years and catastrophe – by 2010, the industry was cautiously recovering, by 2013 it was declaring a rebound.  Back in 1999, the Chicago Tribune ran a feature on the steel industry that profiled Inland’s famous No. 7 furnace (built in 1980, 10 years into American steel’s decline) and the trends that had gone on to close two-thirds of the nation’s blast furnaces in the 20 year since it was built.

Workers were boasting to the reporter about the hellish working conditions, and about their deep attachment to their work, an attachment the reporter attributed to “the lore of the furnaces, and the psychological rush of harnessing raw – and potentially deadly – power to create something.”

The reporter observed that the process of steelmaking is basically unchanged from what it was a century ago, when Inland first opened the mill.  But engineers are still employed refining the process, partly because molten metal doesn’t readily submit to controlled study. Before computers, Mike says engineers would use water models to project how it would behave, because water has the same “kinematic viscosity,” it pours the same way.  Now they use computer modeling to study fluid flow, heat transfer, factors that might cause molds to break, or cause defects in the steel.  They’d test the latest equipment being pitched by vendors.

Steel mills use water applied with a system of nozzles for cooling.  One of Mike’s projects at the East Chicago plant was to investigate a new cooling system.  For a year, they took measurements, studied blue prints, consulted with nozzle makers and other engineers, and concluded the new system would have definite advantages – it was more flexible and could reach parts of the process that were particularly hard to access.  But in the end it was shelved as too expensive to implement.

The global financial meltdown did not help.  The Indiana Harbor Plant tightened its belt. Workers who could retire did so.  The company reassigned engineers, including Mike, to work as supervisors on the floor. That was technically a step down, though Mike says he liked the work more.  He hadn’t been drawn into the field by the promise of computer modeling. “I’m very hands on.  I want to build things…I want to be part of the process.”

On the floor there was lots of moving equipment and parts were always breaking, there were literal 
fires to put out.  Between castings, the supervisors and their crews would go over every part with a checklist, performing audits and writing maintenance reports.  The supervisor takes attendance, makes sure everyone’s appropriately deployed – and then inspects the quality of the steel as it rolls out from the of the caster.

Steel moving through a continuous caster
image from ArcelorMittal

The molten metal starts to cool as it passes through the casting machine, it forms a hardened skin, or sleeve, that allows it to move smoothly over a system of rollers that are working it into shape as it passes over them.  If the metal cools too fast or too slowly, it might break out of the sleeve and create big problems.  Or if a roller gets stuck, or mucked up with pieces of debris, it’ll leave tell tale imprints in the finished steel.

A ladle of molten metal can be worth a million dollars.  Mike says you’re taking chemical samples throughout the process to make sure the composition of the metal is right – if it’s not, you can sometimes fix it, but steel can also be “poisoned” by an excess of certain ingredients, like copper for instance.  And once it’s poured, if it doesn’t react the way it’s supposed to in the mold, it could spill over, or explode – like a lethal home baking project.

So the work was interesting, but the atmosphere was tense.  And that rash of retirements only widened an experience gap created by decades of industry consolidation. The floor was manned by a lot of guys with 30 or 40 years of experience, and a few new guys with 1 or 2 years.  It wasn’t easy to be a 27 year old, supervising salty workers in their 50s and 60s.  And there was nobody with 10 to 15 years who could remember how they were trained.  The old guys were often impatient to stop and answer questions, or to show the new guys what they knew.

He recalls there were a lot of strong egos, a lot of communication accomplished by in your face shouting matches – a method encouraged by the physical intensity of the mill, which is basically a huge open air warehouse.  It’s freezing in winter, or sweltering when they’re pouring steel.

“You can easily kill yourself.  You’re not always sure what you should or shouldn’t do,” Mike recalls.  There’s molten metal, poisonous gases and explosive steam.  “Mistakes are either life threatening or they cost a lot of money.”

There were several guys who died while he was at East Chicago plant.  One guy got crushed by a leg of a gantry crane; another was crushed in a truck-rail collision.  One of the supervisors was killed by a sudden steam explosion; a senior supervisor he knew succumbed abruptly to mesothelioma -- he woke up one morning and he couldn’t breathe, they rushed him to the hospital and he was dead before afternoon.

The mills needed to be staffed around the clock, and they were short staffed, so everyone was logging in long hours. The long hours meant that Mike was making good money, and also that he had no outside life, so he wasn’t spending any of it. He paid off all his student loans, and then he started socking as much as he could in retirement account. And then, after 4 years, he had enough.

Inside the Shed
image from NW Indiana Steel Heritage photo gallery
“I got to the point I realized it was important to me to respect and like the people I work with,” which was not the overriding atmosphere at the mill.

Now, he jokes that he uses more of the skills he’d hoped to use as an engineer working at the bike shop.  It’s certainly a hands-on job – with a lot less housekeeping and filing of reports.  The mechanics each have an area of unofficial specialty based on their favorite kind of bikes.  Owen Lloyd, one of the shop's owners, gets any English tourers or racers that come in the door.  “Owen’s an English three speed kind of guy,” Mike’s a Japanese road bike kind of guy himself.

Even customer service never approaches the stress of the mill.  A lot of Blue City Cycles’ customers are in the service industry, they’ll do the mechanics little favors, like bringing donuts to the shop.

Some customers won’t bring their bikes in for service until they’re completely unrideable, they make for entertaining stories -- like the guy who came in with a flat that he’d kept riding even as the inner tube was forced out of the tire and wrapped around the rear gears, he rode it until the wheel wouldn’t turn anymore.

Then there’s the customer who had her bike in for brake adjustments a few times, and then came back one day to buy the tools and cables to do the repair herself.  “We love that,” Mike says “We were like give us a call if you have any trouble…”

Feel good stories aside, you’d expect the most significant drawback to Mike’s career change would be the effect on his financial well being .  His earnings have been greatly reduced.  Probably part of the reason he can swing it is because he’s not raising kids right now.

But the bike shop also helps sustain him in indirect ways. Because it effectively ties all of them in with a community -- of customers, and of owners and employees of the neighboring businesses .  They’re embedded into the neighborhood; it’s quality of life benefit that spills over in immeasurable, but material ways.

The clearest example is Mike’s apartment.  It’s just few blocks from the shop; he pays a very reasonable rent.  He leases it from the girlfriend of the owner of a business across the street.  It’s an apartment that’s been in her family for many years, so she probably doesn’t have to bring in big rents, she rents the other apartment to one of her boyfriend’s employees.

Trying to live on a bike mechanic’s wages would be very different in Logan Square, where DNAInfo just reported a developer’s plans to build 500 square foot “micro apartments” with rents starting at $1,200 a month.

Logan Square renters are paying a lot for their neighborhood’s amenities – it is better stocked with hip restaurants, boutiques and bars -- and for the street vibe that comes with them.  Bridgeport has a street vibe too.  It’s not based on cool-factor or cache, it’s the vibe you get from running into 5 people you know between the coffee shop and the drug store, and Mike thrives on that.

He lived in Humboldt Park near Logan Square before he worked at Blue City Cycles, he says it felt more transient, people live in an apartment for a few years and then they’re gone.  There were plenty of neat restaurants and neat little bars.  “I’m the target demographic for a lot of that,” he says but he thinks there’s something a little artificial about them, like they’re decorated new to imitate the kind of quirky, run-down color you find at a place like Bernice’s. “Why not just go to Bernice’s?” The beer costs half of much.  And you might swap some stories with Mike Okelman there.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Now Running for State Rep From Greater Bridgeport

Candidate Theresa Mah with neighbor Diana Tovar Cruz at God's Closet Clothing Pantry

When you vote for a candidate for government office you can listen to all their campaign promises to achieve specific goals, but in the end you have to have some confidence in their judgment once they get there.  So you want to know what they stand for, broadly speaking, what their ideals are.  But you also want to know they can actually make things happen once they’re in.

Two candidates are gearing up to run for State Representative of the 2nd District in the Illinois General Assembly – that’s the seat that represents most of greater Bridgeport, from Pilsen and Chinatown to Back of the Yards, McKinley Park and much of Brighton Park.  Right now, the State Representative for the 2nd District is Edward Acevedo, long time Democratic party loyalist and an assistant majority leader to Michael Madigan.  He isn’t running for re-election, instead his 29 year old son, Alex Acevedo, is running for the seat.

The younger Acevedo doesn’t have much of a resume yet.  When he first announced his intentions in June, Sun Times columnist Dan Mihalopoulos suggested his candidacy stands for “the time honored tradition of dynastic politics.”  In years past, that might have been enough – the son of a powerful party man could be counted on to stand for the party agenda, and he could use his connections to grease wheels and play his part in getting things done.

But today, as politicians struggle to get their arms around budget and pension issues their old school predecessors managed mainly to kick down the road, the younger Acevedo’s fate at the polls may also represent real change.  This week Crain’s Chicago Business columnist Greg Hinz says Acevedo would have resigned and appointed his son to side step an election, but Party Committeeman John Daley said no.  Hinz guesses Commissioner Daley decided to give the district’s changing demographic a fair chance to express itself in an election. The 2nd District was re-drawn in 2011, uniting Chinese voters previously divided into 4 districts into one “Latino-Asian coalition district.” Now the district is just over half Latino, and roughly equal parts Asian and White.

On August 24th, our McKinley Park neighbor Theresa Mah will launch her campaign for State Rep for the 2nd District from the Zhou B. Art Center in Bridgeport.  She has a strong resume of public service in a wide range of capacities, and a consistent record of legislative and policy change.  Judging by her achievements, Mah stands for giving voice to everyday people, and for building up the roadways to the American Dream.

Candidate Mah at Fiesta Del Sol in Pilsen
with Pastor Tom Gaulke and Vicar Toby Chow from First Trinity Church

It’s a consistent theme in her life and career.  It traces back to family stories she heard about her grandfather, a Chinese immigrant to the West Coast in the 1920s, and his struggles under discriminatory policies and low wage jobs.  People like her grandfather – first generation immigrants and laborers of all kinds -- have been integral to the building of this country, yet their labor is still ignored and dismissed. “Their stories aren’t told,” Mah says. Initially, she wanted to correct that as a history teacher.  She taught her students how to think critically about the role of the voiceless in building our society.

As a historian, she’s equally convinced of the profound impact that policy can play in people’s lives.  She wrote her dissertation on housing segregation, where government policies like redlining had devastating effects.  But policy can have equally powerful positive effects – think of the way that defining collective bargaining rights helped build the American middle class.

When Mah moved into a role as a policy advocate, she says giving voice to everyday people has been the connecting thread.  She worked as a policy consultant for the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community, and later as a Senior Policy Advisor to Governor Quinn.  In these roles she worked on immigrant issues, but especially on policies that helped them reach for the American Promise.  Smoothing out hurdles to licensing of cosmetologists makes them less vulnerable to exploitation, and doing the same for engineers makes it easier for them to stay and apply their skills toward the Illinois economy.

She helped bring a badly needed a new library Chinatown.  Mah says libraries are an especially important point of cultural access for immigrant communities – the former Chinatown library was so undersized and heavily used that patrons would regularly find places to sit on the floor.

And the avenues that give immigrants access to the best promises of American society are the same ones that are essential to the working population at large. Mah is serving her second term on the Local School Council for Thomas Kelly High School.  In a time when the Chicago Public Schools are regular targets for cuts, Mah says Kelly shows what public schools can achieve: "It should be an example of a high achieving school in a lower income district.”

With the Crosstown Coalition working for a 31st Street Bus
Mah has been an active participant in the Bridgeport Alliance which made the bus one of its central campaigns

As a candidate, Mah can boast not just about what she stands for, but about her practical skills for working with all kinds of people, building coalitions, and finding the levers of state government to realize goals.  She says the Chinese Coalition averaged a piece of legislation a year while she worked with them.  She sums up her job in the Governor's Office as "problem solving." She took full advantage of the opportunity to talk to as many people as possible while she was there.  She learned what her colleagues were doing, what their agencies are responsible for, so for any given problem she could navigate a logical pathway from point A to point B. 

Today, as Mah knocks on doors to talk to people about her campaign, she’s been surprised how many people don’t know who their current State Rep is, even when they live within blocks from his office.  She says a big part of the conversations are about what the job of the State Representative actually is, and she brings it up as a lesson in the importance of keeping in touch with voters after the election so they know what their Representative is doing.

When the Sun Times’ Mihalopoulos wrote about the younger Acevedo’s campaign back in June , he remarked that political dynasties have been faltering.  He pointed out State Rep Will Guzzardi successful campaign against Joe Berrios’ daughter on the northwest side as one example, but he sounded unsure whether the southwest side is ripe for a similar change.

Theresa Mah is confident that it is.  She’s a veteran of other people’s political campaigns, and she’s assembled a team of advisors and staff, including a manager who led Susan Garza’s Aldermanic victory over a 16 year incumbent.  “It’s a winnable campaign,” Mah says of her run for 2nd District State Rep, “It’ll be won by talking to people.”

Talking to neighbors at a CAPS Smokeout in Hoyne Park
Mah says CAPS meetings are where the most engaged members of the community can be found

Sunday, July 26, 2015

4Art Gallery Starts an Art Scene

Robin Monique Rios first became a gallery owner in 2003, when she and Jerod Schmidt opened the 4Art Gallery in Pilsen within 6 months of finishing art school.

If this sounds bold, Robin makes it sound like a pragmatic move.  She says she was raised by tough Southern women, having a job was always a priority. She started working for hotels while she was still in high school, later she’d switch to the telecom industry.  She worked on business and corporate accounts at MCI, which came in handy when she went to write the gallery’s business plan.

Meanwhile, she did well in corporate and male dominated environments.  She says she got every job she applied for, and she advanced at every job she got.  She says she has a learning disability so she always struggled in school, but in the workplace she compensated, she never let anyone see her struggle to learn.  She always had money to spend, but she wasn’t a shopper, so she spent it going to nightclubs and looking out for her friends.

That part is important, that she felt successful in the corporate world, or at least valued and well paid, with an active social life on the side, because after about 10 years of it, she fell into a depression anyway, and she says it was because “I wasn’t living my life.”

It is true that the year was 1999, MCI/WorldCom was poised for some problems.  There was lots of shifting around within the organization, though Robin says her employer would accommodate her if she refused a particular job.

Today Robin puts great importance in spiritual expression, and back then, she wasn’t doing that.  She says she was having thoughts of suicide, she was functioning on the outside, but in secret, she was thinking about how she might end it all.

Then one night she switched on the television, and she saw a commercial for the Illinois Institute of Art.  “It was as if the t.v. illuminated,” she says. “It was as if God himself was talking to me.” 

The Illinois Institute of Art was founded in 1916 as the Commercial Arts School; in 1999 it was promoting a new campus embedded in the Merchandise Mart, which was still dominated by showrooms for furniture and interior design.  Today the school promotes its Chicago context, with its advertising agencies, world class restaurants, high fashion and design.  In the commercial Robin saw “they were describing all the things they were going to offer, and I wanted to learn all those things.” 

She had some trepidation about going back to school.  She doesn’t test well. “I don’t comprehend what the questions are asking of me.”  But she put that aside and asked the admissions counselor to just pitch the program.  The campus was small, a class might have only 5 or 6 students. “The instructors will work with you to make sure you have what you need to learn,” he assured her, and that turned out to be the case.  “It was the best thing I ever did,” she says now, “I didn’t miss a single day of class.”

She met Jerod Schmidt at school.  Their personalities were so sympathetic she says their reactions to life were often in sync, and after graduation they were both a little depressed by the job prospects they saw at other people’s businesses.  They started talking about opening their own business - a fine art gallery that would also offer framing and graphic services.  So they wrote the business plan and got a $20,000 small business loan from Accion Chicago.  That seemed to be the easy part.

The hard part seemed to be finding a good space.  They started looking in Wicker Park first, because they thought they needed an arts scene to bring in customers.  This was back in 2003, the Around the Coyote art fair still drew tens of thousands of people through the Wicker Park galleries, and the Flat Iron building had been buzzing with artists for over a decade, but Wicker Park rents were so high she figured they’d have to bring in $10,000 a month just to meet expenses.

She was driving home from a particularly discouraging day scouting overpriced spaces in questionable proximity to the heart of the scene, when she passed the Podmajersky buildings on Halsted and saw a “For Rent” sign in one of the windows.  On a whim, she stopped the car and called the number.  John Podmajersky III answered the phone and offered to show her some spaces on the spot.

Deanna Isaacs would write about the John III and his plans for the family business in the Chicago Reader later that year.  It was his father, John Podmajersky Jr, who had bought the properties, starting in the late 1950s.  Over 40 years he accumulated more than 100 of them and renovated them as shabby-chic live-work spaces for artists. The designs were playful, he opened floor plans, added spiral staircases, clerestory windows, made covered passageways outside.  The backyards were joined into shared private gardens furnished with architectural curiosities salvaged from other buildings.  But the fronts were left relatively nondescript – they had a uniform look, just slightly off-beat in their paint jobs, the artistry went on behind the fronts.

His son wanted to bring more energy to the front.  He saw the renovations around the UIC campus approaching down Halsted Street.  He didn’t want artist’s studios with their back to the street, he told Isaacs he wanted “artist entrepreneurs” who would open commercial businesses in the storefronts.  Isaacs interviewed 2 of Podmajersky’s new tenants for the article – one was an art consultant for corporate buyers, the other was Robin Rios.  She and Jerod had opened the 4Art Gallery in a 2,800 sf space at 1932 S. Halsted earlier that year.

The space had a great accessible floor plan, storefront windows and reasonable rent, the only thing it didn’t have was a scene.  So she and Jerod set out to generate one.  The Podmarjersky’s already organized an Open Studios night each year.  The galleries in River North drew crowds by marketing 1st Fridays, open gallery nights when the public was encouraged to wander through on the same day every month.  Robin and Jerod began to market 2nd Fridays in Pilsen.

What was trickier about Pilsen was that most of the studios were part of that hidden trail of spaces the older Podmajersky built.  So Jerod made maps of where all the artist studios were – they printed fliers and gave copies to the other artists to promote themselves, they spent hours handing them out downtown, and at other arts events. Robin still remembers approaching an established gallerist to ask her for advice.  The woman was incredulous.  “Why would I tell you how to start a gallery?” she wanted to know.  Robin and Jerod had the opposite instinct – they believed they’d be more successful if their neighbors were too.

In the end, they were successful at bringing crowds to Pilsen, and even at helping Podmajersky fill his storefronts, but it wasn’t clear it all worked to sell a lot of art.  A few years later the storefronts were emptying out again, 4Art had paid off its loan but Robin still wasn’t drawing a reliable salary. One departing gallerist told the Reader she thought 2nd Fridays were mostly a party where people came to drink wine, eat the cheese and crackers, and watch each other look at art.

Yet on any given 2nd Friday the crowds still come to Pilsen.  They wander the artists’ studios, they rub shoulders with each other, and they look at art with the person who made it right there to chat with them about it.  And the party and the art may be sympathetic in non-commercial ways.

They’re both expressive activities, for instance. As a place where people come to show themselves and to check each other out, a social scene is a sort of theater for mutual display. People hone their personal style, stimulated by people they see around them.  And to the extent their tastes evolve together as they participate in the pageant, the scene is also a sort of collective activity for spinning webs of meaning, for creating a context where each individual’s small acts of expression take their significance.

The curator Claire Molek says when she set out to revive a curated version of open gallery night in River North, her goal was to make the art scene more “transparent” -- more accessible to the public who might not feel conversant in art, but also more open to participants in the gallery system itself, who might be tempted to stay in their own box and protect it from poaching without a nudge to step out for a collective project.

That kind of transparency and context might be more important for an art world now, in a postmodern landscape, where critics have less authority to define direction and meaning for whole schools of people than they did even a few decades ago. Selling art could be an after effect.

As an exercise, Robin recently sat with an intern at the 4Art Gallery and did a Google search for images of abstract painting. Scrolling through, they saw a lot of repetition, treatments and effects they’d seen before in other people’s art, repeating again and again through the Google scroll.  It’s as if they’ve been mutually informed, communicating by invisible threads.  Robin tells her intern that what will be new about her work as a fine artist isn’t necessarily her style, or her technique. “What’s new is your connection to the world.”

Robin does take pride in her technique.  She describes herself as a digital painter, and she considers digital art the most recent art movement to point a whole new direction in the field, the way Impressionism did.  She recalls being amazed at the possibilities opened up by tools like Photoshop. “It blew my mind,” she says.  But in the mid 2000s, critics and artists weren’t sure using digital tools made real art.  And Robin herself is a little critical of artists who are too free with Photoshop filters and effects.  She uses her own photographs, makes her own effects with the camera, she’s proud that photographers who looked at her work couldn’t believe it was digital because they couldn’t see pixels, even with a glass.

At first she was making photographs of fairly traditional genres – landscapes and buildings in picturesque decompose.  But her signature, her “brand” she even calls it, her particular connection to a subject matter, began take shape when a friend gave her an X-Ray and asked her to make it into a piece for a 2004 exhibit called The Devil Show.

 “It spoke to me on so many levels,” she says.  She’d been sick a lot as a kid, and always with exotic illnesses, including a bone disease that fused her hip and put an end to her skateboarding days.  As an artist she came to believe her physical ailments were an expression of soul sickness, the unhealthy spirit she’d got by suppressing her true self, by not living her life.

She’d been so nervous about showing that first piece she didn’t want to attend the opening.  But when she arrived there were people waiting to talk to her about it.  Some of them wanted to give her X-Rays and MRIs of their own for her to make into art.   Eleven years later, she has made more than 40 pictures in a series she calls Observation.  She says the Observation series is about stripping away layers of social and personal constraints in order to reconnect with the world as our true selves.

As a gallery owner, Robin emphasizes that she represents artists who make fine art, as opposed to what she calls “decorative art.” The distinction must hinge on that goal – making art that expresses a real connection to the world – but since the goal is ephemeral, the distinction is also a moving line.

Robin says she’s known too many older artists who’ve had some success, but have become embittered misanthropes in the process.  They got sucked into a cycle where appreciation of their work seems to wax and wane, and they find themselves making the same kind of thing over and over again.  Either they’re trying to fill a large order for a hotel buyer with lots of rooms to fill, or they’re trying to recapture that landscape that sold, to hit the stylistic notes that brought some recognition before.

She says the critics, who could theoretically give artists feedback and push them to re-approach the world anew, aren’t much use anymore.  When Dan Davidson was in art school [profiled on The Hardscrabbler in April 2015], there was a so-called Artforum Mafia, a clique of critics whose essays defined the terms artists could use to make sense of their own careers, whether they followed their guidance or rebelled against it.  It doesn’t sound like today’s critics carry that kind of authority – or necessarily even seek it.  “No one’s writing long articles anymore,” Robin says.  “It’s all just Q and A.”

If the critics have stepped back, it sounds like gallery owners have stepped up to guide the show: they scout out what’s important, and neglect what’s not; they cultivate artists and educate buyers to appreciate them.  In fact, that’s pretty much what the old ArtForum Mafia was afraid would happen – it’s the kind of art market feedback loop they pictured when they argued about the commoditization of art.

And the commercial results have been fabulous.  At least in the secondary market, after pieces leave the gallery and are sold again at auction, the market has moved from one record to another, shouted on by ever more astonishing prices for superstar art.  In 2014, worldwide sales for art sold at auction topped $15 billion, up 300% from 2004, according the ArtPrice annual market report.  In the 1980s, top prices for individual artworks had stagnated around $10 million in the western market; in the 2000s a market emerged for works priced $100 million or more.

But behind the shouting around the superstars, the auction market has grown broader too, as in more art, made by a larger field of artists, finding a larger audience.  Partly, there are just more fabulously rich buyers from more parts of the globe.  They’re trying to establish new museums, or they’re building their personal collections, diversifying their investments.  China’s auction market has surpassed New York’s every year since 2010.  It’s helped shift the whole balance of genres.  Europeans and Americans buy paintings above all else, but ArtPrice reports that sales of drawings have taken a new scale under the influence of the Chinese.

But maybe the most encouraging point is that even as the celebrity paintings get all the press, the vast majority of sales, 80% of them, are of pieces priced less than $5,000.  In 2013, that segment represented nearly 300,000 works of art sold, twice as many as 10 years before.  By 2014, sales of contemporary artists brought in $1.2 billion in revenue, which was $1 billion more than 2004.

Auction sales are where speculative buyers have access to bid up prices, but a vigorous secondary market is good for art sold in galleries too, especially if interest is growing in emerging contemporary work.  It may be that in fine art, as everywhere else, it’s harder to establish a canon of important work than it once was.  The conversation is ever more diffuse, it’s confusing, but there’s more opportunity to be part of it. Especially if it transacts at a local level, in your neighborhood, for instance, like it does in ours.

By 2009, the Pilsen art scene was wearing Robin out.  John Podmajersky had succeeded in filling his storefronts, but then his all efforts seemed to backfire.  Robin says she didn’t have a problem with John the way some people did – she never thought he was responsible for marketing the district, for instance, but she did think he went overboard on the rules.  He had rules about the hours his artist entrepreneurs should be open, and about the appearance of their window displays.  And then the rents kept going up, Jerod had moved to Portland, and Robin was tired of promoting the scene.  By 2009, she was ready to close the 4Art Gallery.

Then she got a call from Michael Zhou, son of ShanZou Zhou in Bridgeport.   Robin had seen the Zhou brothers at the occasional 2nd Friday event in Pilsen before, Michael told her his father and uncle had respect for what she she’d accomplished, they wanted to create something similar in Bridgeport, and they wanted her to be part of it.  Robin says it was an emotional meeting – she was flattered, but she was also exhausted.  In the end, the vision Michael laid out for building an art mecca in Bridgeport won her over.

Robin says the space was very raw when she moved in, her own space it was smaller, but it was also more manageable, she represents about half the artists she once did, and she’s part of a vibrant art scene she isn’t responsible for generating herself.  Today, the Zhou B Center thrums on 3rd Fridays – from the basement to the roof, and there are hosts of other shows throughout the month.

The 4Art Gallery is located on the 4th floor of the Zhou B. Center at 1029 W. 35th Street.  Robin displays works from her own Observation series at the back of the gallery.  This is my favorite one.  It’s an X-Ray of a human skull, painted in with more than 20 other images: there are train tracks burrowing into the depths, and gothic windows opening to the light.  There are the creaking gears of thought packed in a frontal lobe, and there are doves in flight just outside the skull walls – soaring on invisible currents.  It evokes all the limits and possibilities of the human mind.

On my most recent visit, I told Robin about the things I saw in it, and I was gratified when she told me it was very similar to what she saw.  It was only walking home afterwards that I remembered we had talked about that same picture before.  Did I see those things myself?  Or did she point them out to me and they took root in my mind somewhere, pushing to the surface as I looked at it again?  I don’t remember, but either way, as I start my collection of Bridgeport art, that will be the first picture I buy.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

A Field Vision of Art

Malevich's Black Square

 A few weeks ago Daniel Davidson came into Bridgeport Coffee excited about a review he’d just read in Apollo, a British arts journal.  He didn’t agree with it – he was stimulated the way you are when you stumble across a clear articulation of something you know to be deeply wrong.  The essay described a new exhibition of Malevich’s Black Square, an avant-garde painting first shown in 1915.

The title is accurate: Black Square is the picture of a black square, painted inside a white one.  It is sometimes described the culmination of the European tradition that evolved from realistic pictures through ever more impressionistic depictions of light, geometric form and shifting perspective until it arrived at pure abstractions.  Malevich himself is said to have hoped that by breaking loose from representation of the material world, his painting pointed the way to a plane of ideals and utopian social possibilities.

In the century since then, the utopian social possibilities haven’t been realized, and some critics have wondered if abstract art hasn’t been less a culmination than a cul de sac, cluttered with empty shapes where anyone can project his own fantasies.  The review in Apollo was more optimistic; the author, Rye Dag Holmboe, describes some recent abstract art he believes show new directions for the genre.

Daniel is of the opinion that abstract art is really a dead end.  But it is a dead end he wrestled with himself for decades before he found a way out, and the review in Apollo has inspired him to describe it in his own essay.  Which he begins to compose at the coffee shop, in a journal with a black cloth binding and thick white pages, like Black Square with content.  It’s filled with carefully drawn text and illustrated with pictures cut from magazines and catalogs, some of them are from his own work; some of them have been cut apart and reassembled as inverted rectangles, a theme from his days as a systemic minimalist.

Davidson with his journal: Black Square inverted

Daniel was an art student in the 1960s.  Which has meant his career spanned the years when the modern world is sometimes said to have given way to a postmodern one.  In that formulation, the modern world was marked by progress and rational certainty, the people who lived in it were engaged in a common project to pull eternal truths out from the flux and chaos of everyday life. The postmodern one started as people lost confidence in the common project, settling into a world of relative truths.  They might still have the power to create significance, but they’d assemble it self-consciously, with doses of irony to show they knew they were making it up.  Daniel’s journals are a jumble of both.

On one page, he’s made a collage of events picked out from 1937, the year of his birth. The fascists bombed Guernica that year, Goering appeared on the cover of Look magazine, Stalin turned his paranoid gaze on his own inner circle. Howard Hughes flew across the continental United States in record time, Amelia Earhart was lost in the Pacific, Disney released Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, its first full length animation feature, where innocence triumphs.

On another page, he’s summed up his life in a brief outline ordered around a series of spontaneous acts.    He remembers them as a series of breakthroughs, abrupt intrusions of insight that rupture the patient practice of everyday life.  Like the moment riding the El home from school one day when he decided he would race sailboats – he’d had no prior experience with sailing, but it’s an enthusiasm that stuck with him through his life.  He does not count the moment in 1957, as a young philosophy student walking back to the dorms when he renounced the afterlife, even though it was abrupt, because he was considering the question.  But he does count the moment in the army in 1962, stepping off the landing from the mess hall, when he knew he would be a painter.

He had studied commercial art at Lane Tech High School, but he describes his courses there as entirely separate from fine art; he says he learned to draw by cutting class, sketching from the street and wandering the galleries of the Chicago Art Institute. But then, when he decided to be a painter, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago was the natural place to start. 

from Davidson's journal: 1937

At the time, abstract art was enjoying a re-florescence in New York, egged on by a clique of quarrelsome editors at Artforum magazine.  The intellectual artist Ad Reinhardt was working on his own series of nearly identical Black Paintings in homage to Black Square -- they occupied him for 13 years from 1954.  Holmboe says Reinhardt embraced Malevich’s metaphysics, his appeal to “oneness” and “unity,” but the utopian social goals seemed beyond art’s reach in the years after the war.

In Chicago, a new school of students was beginning to define themselves against New York and its so-called Artforum Mafia.  They took stylistic cues from commercial art, and they made images of people and objects – they were cartoonish, carnivalesque, with a bawdy, political edge. Some would come to be known for an art show they titled “Hairy Who?” after a critic they found particularly pretentious (as in, “Who the hell is Harry B?”)

Daniel defined himself against the Chicago school.  “I didn’t want to be a Hairy Who.”  He wanted to be a New York artist. He made a study of Artforum.  His idol was Frank Stella, known for his flat geometric stripes in bold colors with sharp lines -- they didn’t represent other objects but were objects themselves.  Describing their appeal, Daniel says they were vibrant, muscular, but also systematic. “Every year or so he’d change something up,” introduce the next logical step. “Which eventually led him into utter nonsense,” as Daniel recalls, “but that’s another thing.”

Daniel developed his portfolio and “plotted and schemed” his way into Yale, because Yale fed directly into the New York arts scene.  After earning his MFA from Yale in 1968, he took a teaching job so he wouldn’t be beholden to the gallery system.  He taught printmaking, drawing and painting at Alfred University in Upstate New York from 1968 to 1982.

He began working on a series of inverted rectangles, working with 4 by 8 pieces of Masonite.  He painted them, cut them apart and turned them inside out. He showed them at New York’s OK Harris Gallery in 1975.  Though the whole time, he was working on another kind of project.

As a student at Yale he had taken a course in Chinese painting.  It was a tradition entirely outside the logical path he’d learned in European painting, it started from calligraphy, and elaborated on the quality of the brush stroke.  On the side, he started doing his own brush stroke paintings, working with a graphite powder so fine it would billow each time you dipped the brush in it.  He says the results were beautiful, but he wasn’t sure where to go with it. “It wouldn’t fly in New York.”

from Davidson's journal: a pictorial summary of his career

In an article for the New Yorker called “A Girl of the Zeitgeist,” Janet Malcolm would describe an about face at Artforum made with the arrival of Ingrid Sischy as editor on the eve of 1980.  The writers of the 1960s and 70s had faith in art as a coherent project that followed the history of western painting to its end.  Progress meant being pulled forward by a necessary pursuit of the next new thing – there was a logical path, a ladder, there was no looking back.  As Sischy described “that particular avant-garde” to Malcolm: “Its rule was that painting was dead, it was just decadent picture making, the regressive act, and all one could do was produce heroic works of abstraction, accompanied by a great deal of terminology.”

The old writers and editors shared a common education in art history, philosophy and aesthetics.  They defended art’s aloofness from the compromised values of the bourgeois world.  Art didn’t need a “social mission,” its mission was encompassed in the intense aesthetic encounter you’d either experienced, or had not.  Their resistance targeted the commoditization of art, by which they meant subservience to a gallery system that levered the artistic aura for outrageous profits.

The first thing Ingrid Sischy did on her arrival at Artforum was scrap the issue underway and pull out an issue of entirely new art in 2 weeks. From that first issue forward, the whole tone of the magazine changed.  The editorial content was less erudite and more irreverent, more inclusive, even socially conscious.  Malcolm’s article describes a terrific fight over an exhibit showing African Art alongside Modernist abstractions after one of Sischy’s writers criticized it for taking the African Art from out of its ritual context, and pressing it into the service of a Western project.

Under Sischy, Artforum covered European artists, and painters of figures and objects; painters who would treat art history less like a ladder, and more like a trunk of dress up clothes in the attic; painters whose pictures alluded to power dynamics very much of this world, and who also participated with relish in a gallery system that made them fabulously rich over night.

Barbara Rose was one of Artforum’s old avant-garde.  She had been married to Frank Stella in the 60s.  She told Malcolm about having everybody over for parties “and there would be raging arguments.”  But they were arguments among intellectuals who cared deeply about the same issues and who spoke the same language. “You had a sense of not being isolated. You were talking to other people.  It might be only 5 people, but you were talking to somebody, and you knew who you were talking to.”

The small group created a “consensus of educated people,” they gave a sense of coherence to the magazine, and to the culture.  “There wasn’t this horrible leveling where everything is as important as everything else.  There was a sense of hierarchy of values.”

Duchamp and Mondrian in one of Davidson's Meta-Paintings

The lost consensus of educated people sounds like a complaint that old elites have probably always made about the new generation that fails to recognize their own importance.  But in the 1980s and 90s it enjoyed a wider resonance.  In 1987, the year after Malcolm’s article appeared in The New Yorker, Allan Bloom would publish his book The Closing of the American Mind, detailing the decline of the classic liberal education, deeply experienced, that prepares a leadership class that knows how to think.  And his book was a bestseller.

Its popular appeal might be evidence less of the real value of high culture than of the particular dilemma of its time.  In 1990, David Harvey published The Condition of Postmodernity.  In it he argues that a new round of acceleration of the world economy has been accompanied by a new kind of cultural change.  The two spheres have long been linked by processes of creative destruction – with new business models, new products, new fashions, new developments in art, and new urban plans burning down the old ones and building on their ashes, over and over again.  That dynamic has been underway since the earliest days of capitalism; freedom from tradition and its superstitions has been one of the core values of modernity.

In the decades after the war, creative destruction only accelerated.  Information and transport kept moving faster, the world got smaller, and smaller.  And as those changes accelerated, the cultural landscape got noisier.  By the 1970s, it wasn’t just a matter of more change, faster.  The rate of acceleration was so dramatic that modernity surpassed itself, there was a qualitative break.  It ricocheted through the arts and popular culture; it ruined that project where creative destruction had a purpose, which was to keep the way clear for rational progress toward universal, or at least widely understood ideals.

The experience was profoundly disorienting.  Rose and Bloom, and all the people who might not be part of their circles, but who took a little comfort in knowing they were there, weren’t just practicing the usual complaint about an old elite’s loss of prestige.  They felt the loss of purpose.  They had no tools for navigating a culture where there is no center, no outer boundaries, and maybe no instruments for navigating a sure course, just a lot of individuals wandering around in the wilderness with lots of freedom on their hands. And a media machine for doling out distraction and fame in small doses.

At least that’s the idea of a “postmodern” condition.

from Davidson's journal: Nietsche and Kandinsky in a boat stuffed with fireworks

Before he studied art, Daniel studied philosophy.  As an abstract artist, he saw himself as an aesthetic engineer, he would take a simple thing and work his way through all the permutations of it.  “It was my way of being creative, of imagining stuff.”

At first, like a good modernist, he thought there was something behind the abstractions.  But even in art school he felt stirrings of doubt.  Even Frank Stella used to tell people that his paintings were just what they appeared to be.  The more you looked behind all the theorizing, Daniels says, “it all turned to dust.” He found an alternative in Chinese landscape painting early on, but that was just another tradition, it wasn’t a satisfying answer.  He would alternate back and forth between abstract geometries and calligraphic techniques, “from one visual idea to its opposite,” for 40 years.

In the late 1990s, he went back to get a second MFA at UIC’s Electronic Visualization Lab, where he practiced systemic minimalism in a new medium, but the new medium wore on him, he missed the painterly technique.   He says he left Chicago for awhile to get away from digital art.

He set up a studio in Silver City, New Mexico in 2003.  And it was there, in the desert state where he first decided to be a painter, that he launched a series of 60 paintings that he considers his third spontaneous action. It wasn’t instantaneous, like the others, it was spontaneous in the sense it was not planned, it seemed to come from some mysterious ground that he’d prepared without knowing how – it was the synthesis he’d been striving to realize his whole career.

The paintings were inspired by the I Ching, the Book of Change, an ancient Chinese divination text.  The I Ching composed of a series of trigrams and hexagrams – each one representing permutations of 3, or 6, solid and broken lines.  Each has accumulated layers of numeric and symbolic associations over the centuries.  Ancient commentaries describe the Book of Change as a microcosm, a sort of element table of a universe in flux.

Daniel had run across it in the 1970s, it had interested him as an ancient example of a binary logic system.  He painted out the hexagrams on 64 large sheets of paper, but he didn’t go deeper than that.  He brought the 64 sheets out in Silver City for a gallery exhibit.  He was disappointed in the gallery scene in Silver City, he says no one sold any paintings there, they just hung them on the wall and made money selling merchandise.  But it did get him started thinking about the I Ching

And he thought by painting, starting with abstract paintings of the hexagrams themselves, then adding his own layers of associations.  He painted the hexagrams for heaven and earth using birds of the sky, land and water; he depicted each of the hexagrams with the “mountain” trigram in them, using expressions in human hands.  He did more than a dozen paintings that worked his way through phases of art history, their accomplishments and limitations, all using correspondences with the 8 trigrams as a frame.

Daniel isn’t particularly impressed with the I Ching as a divination text – he doesn’t believe it will tell you the future.  But he does believe that if you go to it with a real question, something you want answered, you will find an answer.  He says it brought him back to representative art, in fact it brought him back to figure painting.  The experience was tremendously liberating.  It’s like, having found himself set loose in a trackless desert, he managed to map the world on a frame of trigrams, so he could navigate it.

Davidon's Birds of the Earth

What got Daniel going about that Apollo article was the idea that abstract art might still have further to go.  In his experience, it has been a dead end of what he calls “target vision” – the obsession with chasing the Next New Thing in art. He thinks artists would do better to try to achieve a “field vision” instead -- a wide angle view of the world.

In his essay, he proposes a schema for achieving a field vision that does not reference the I Ching.  He calls it the triangulation of art.  He says art history can be analyzed into 3 primary styles: the mimetic art of the western figure painting; the calligraphic art of the Chinese landscape, and pure abstractions of the Islamic tradition.  He says any painting can be placed somewhere within that triangle, either as a pure example of one of the primary styles or as some mixture of them.

Realizing that, understanding the map, makes all styles available, it frees the artist to paint poly-stylistically.  At least that’s what it did for him.  In his own art, he has become absorbed in “meta-painting” – painting about painting, often literally pictures placing famous artists together in an almost allegorical way.

After 7 years at New Mexico, Daniel returned to Chicago.  He moved to Bridgeport in 2012.  In Bridgeport, he lives in the middle of a burbling local art scene.  He inhabits a studio in one of the Zhou Brothers buildings on Morgan Street.  But he still describes his arrival here as almost accidental, he says he can’t remember how he found this particular place.  He doesn’t feel he can identify with what the artists around him are doing, or that they recognize the value of his work.  But that doesn’t particularly concern him either.  He says no one can help you make art.  It’s finding the field vision that’s vital.

notes from Davidson's journal