Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Dog and Pony Show

In an urban environment, like downtown Austin, or Chicago for that matter, one might see an empty space and think "That would be a perfect place for a parking lot." (Actually, in Austin they're more likely to put in a new condo, but I digress. Condos need parking lots too.) In a rural area the idea of space is deceiving. It may seem like there's a lot of space out here in DeKalb, Illinois, but rest assured it is being used for something other than parking their cars. While the parking situation in DeKalb may not be ideal (it's not nearly as bad as it is in Austin) the folks up here would never waste their time dreaming of fresh asphalt and reflective yellow paint. They have a hard enough time keeping their roads free of pot holes, a result of the salt trucks and snow plows that keep the streets free from ice and snow in the winter. No, here in rural Illinois, they have a different use for their empty space.

DeKalb has a lot of corn. As a matter of fact, saying that they have a lot of corn is an understatement. They have corn like Steve Carell has body hair. They grow it in fields, amongst trees and on the sides of hills. You can get fresh corn at the grocery store, in restaurants, at the farmers market and on the side of pot-holed roads. By fresh, I mean it was picked that very day and delivered straight to you by the local farmer who grew it. They worship corn here like we worship good queso or home-made tortillas in Texas. To them it is a way of life. They even have an annual festival celebrating its sweet golden kernels, affectionately dubbed, Corn Fest.

While you can't go a day here without seeing a fresh ear of corn there is one thing that is lacking (besides parking lots). There aren't a whole lot of art galleries here in little ol' DeKalb. As a matter of fact, other than the galleries run by the University I know of only one. Bad Dog Gallery is an alternative art space cleverly situated within a two-car garage that is nestled behind the residence of a Northern Illinois University (NIU) drawing professor. At the time of this posting, I don't know what her name is. I tried to find it online, but this is the type of place that is so obscure, it doesn't even have a website. Folks in Austin would kill to hang out at a place so hidden from the mainstream. Yet here it exists in DeKalb, charming and full of character, but relatively unknown. Despite it's speak easy charm, it is not a place that is hidden from the general public. It is not a secret club. On the contrary, I'm sure the folks at Bad Dog along with the artists who exhibit there would like as many people as possible to come out to their parties. There just aren't that many people here.

My first venture to Bad Dog was a refreshing experience. As I walked up the driveway to the backyard, I felt like I had stumbled upon a really good house party. In essence, that's exactly what it was. I was reminded of countless backyard bar-b-q's and keg stands (What? You don't keep your keg in the back yard?) in Texas, except there was a certain sophistication about the place. This was a real gallery. The inside of the garage had the distinct concrete floors and white walls one would find in any commercial gallery. They even had track lighting, and I'm not talking about clamp lights either. This was the real deal. If it weren't for the two garage doors at the front of the building, you would never know it was a garage. I was a bit tickled by the fact that the gallery could still function as a garage. For all I know, maybe it is used as a garage between exhibitions. The group exhibition, entitled "The Dog and Pony Show" consisted of two and three-dimensional work by graduate students, alumni and professors of NIU. I imagine most, if not all of the people who make up the local art scene fall within this category.

The great thing about Bad Dog is that it's not merely an art space, it's a social event. The artwork was great, but what I enjoyed most was the opportunity to network and talk with others about everything from football to carpet samples (don't ask). Bad Dog's success lies in its ability to provide a forum for those of us who actually like talking about art. They provide free beer and food and the conversations flourish around a crackling fire pit. There's a new exhibition about every two weeks or so which is exciting in a town with so little to do. I enjoy the artwork just fine, but to be honest right now I am more concerned with meeting other creative people, learning about their creative processes and generating ideas. You might think that this sort of dialogue is an obvious function of any gallery or museum, but I disagree. Alternative art spaces like Bad Dog are much more organic and participatory. The mere fact that the space exists within a garage is a testament to the type of eccentricity that in turn fosters creativity, originality and innovation. I can't wait for the next opening!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Texas Tornado

I moved to Dekalb, Illinois from Austin, Texas in August of 2009. While in Austin, I was the lead singer for a band called Black Market Revival, I made artwork in the bedroom of my apartment which I exhibited modestly around Texas and I worked for a little company called Apple, designing and troubleshooting wireless networks. ;)

I was born and raised in Texas. As any pure bred Texan will tell you, there is no place like it on Earth. Texans have a sense of pride that runs deep within our veins. It makes us do crazy things like get into bar fights with foreigners (eg. folks from Oklahoma) and tattoo our bodies with Texas flags and "Don't Mess With Texas" slogans. Every respectable Texan has a good pair of boots and a gigantic belt buckle. We love our guns and our football. We wear ten gallon hats and ride horses to work. Twenty foot jackelopes roam freely through our vast ranch lands and oil fields. We warm up our breakfast taquitos on an electric chair, that is, when it's not in use, which means we usually have to use the microwave instead.

The truth is, Texas is not like that at all. Well, for the most part it isn't. I love the folklore and stereotypes associated with being Texan though, except for the one about George Dubbya actually being from there (He was born in New Haven, Connecticut. Blame those guys!). Since moving to Illinois, sometimes I use the stereotypes to my advantage. For example, a couple of drunk guys who tried to crash a house party thrown by me and my room mate (also a texan) were scared off under the pretense that we had guns in the house just because we are from Texas! Sometimes the stereotypes work against me. For instance, people automatically assume that I would know the scores of the last 7 Cowboys games off the top of my head. It's fine, I don't mind that so much.

For all the things that Texas is and for all it represents, nothing is more significant to me than the fact that it was my home. Up until 2 months ago it was the only home I ever knew. I grew up on Tex-mex and real Texas Bar-b-q. In school we studied Texas history and by age ten I'd been on field trips to The Alamo, The San Jacinto Monument and King Ranch. I've drank beer in Luchenbach, strummed my guitar on the stage of Gruene Hall and two stepped at John T Floore's. I've eaten some strange tacos in El Paso, drank margaritas on South Padre and met my idol (Dan Auerbach) at South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin. I witessed first hand the great flood of 2002 in San Antonio and also the devastation of Hurricane Ike in Galveston. I've had girlfriends from Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and Corpus Christi, just to name a few. I've even been out to Marfa to see Donald Judd and to sit out on the observatory to see the mystery lights.

I was FROM there, man! I really was. So imagine my predicament when I found out I had been accepted to grad school at Northern Illinois University on a full ride. I thought "Holy shit, I just got a full ride to grad school!" Then reality crept in as I realized that going to grad school meant leaving the place I loved most. I mean, I literally have a tattoo on my arm of the State of Texas with a banner that says, "Till Death Do Us Part." I never imagined I would ever leave. My whole family and all of my best friends were in Texas. My home was in Texas. How could I possibly leave it all behind?

I applied to grad school because somewhere down the line I'd like to be a professor. I came to Northern Illinois because I wanted to learn art here. I wanted to be in a place that was so different than what I was used to that it could quite possibly change me. The rural quality of DeKalb, means less distraction from school, but also means I've gotta look for more creative ways to get in trouble. The best part is, even though I'm living in a little farm town, downtown Chicago is only a quick train ride away which gives me access to world class museums and art galleries not to mention countless legendary restaurants and entertainment venues. One minute I could be throwing beer bottles at crop dusters and the next I could be hanging out with Oprah, playing The Grand Prize Game on the Bozo Show.

So the bottom line is I'll be here in Illinois for a while, studying, making art, meeting new people, and seeing things I've never seen before. This blog will be where I will document my experience as a Texas transplant and artist living in the rural city of DeKalb. I'll tell you right now, it's already proving to be much different than what I am used to. This should be interesting.