Artist Philip Hartigan talks about art, interviews other artists, and more
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On the ghost of Charlie Chaplin
I’ve always loved the silent comedies of Charlie Chaplin, particulary the work he did between 1915 and 1920. When I was a child in England, one of the three TV channels showed all these early films on Saturday mornings, intercut with enthusiastic introductions and set-ups by a then-famous comedian called Bob Monkhouse. I remember watching these with my grandfather, who was in the first audiences for these short one and two-reelers when they were first released. When I grew up, I lost the child’s delight in the broader comedy—the ‘turn-around-when-carrying-a-plank-of-wood-and-slap-a-bystander-in-the-side-of-the-head’ style of humour. But I found, and still find, a depth to Charlie Chaplin’s films, a sharpness, a gleeful anarchy, and an incredible level of technical skill and inventiveness. Films like ‘One A.M.’, ‘The Pawnbroker’, Easy Street’, ‘The Immigrant’, ‘The Floorwalker’, and ‘The Kid’ should, in my opinion, be seen my everyone.
Along with my enduring love of his films, I came to learn about the studios he worked for. He was discovered by Mack Sennett and the Keystone studio, then worked for Essanay, and then in 1916 signed for the Mutual company in a deal which, if translated into 2010 dollars, would have been worth about $14 million. Imagine my delight and astonishment when, about a month after moving to the 1400 block of West Argyle Street, Chicago, in 2007, I discovered the Essanay studio buildings in the 1300 block of West Argyle Street. If I go into the sun room at the front of the apartment and look to the left, I can see the single storey brick buildings, occupying about half a city block, and the portico which still bears the ceramic heads of two Indians and the title ‘Essanay’ over the doorway. The studio took its name from the initial letters of its founders’ surnames, Spoor and Andersen. The Indian heads are there because for years the studio produced some of the earliest westerns, and produced one of the first western stars in Broncho Billy.
Chaplin with the Essanay owners in c. 1915
How strange life can be sometimes. There I am, in a mining village in the north-east of England in the 1960s, sitting in my grandfather’s living room as a six year old, watching fifty-year old silent comedies on a massive Rediffusion TV with bad reception. Thirty-eight years later, I’m living just steps away from where some of those films were made.
Artist Mary Ellen Croteau is showing these columns made from recycled plastic cartons and lids in the window of the Columbia College bookstore on Michigan Avenue. They are a playful homage to Brancusi's "Endless Columns", with a serious environmental message for our times:
Mary Ellen also runs a wonderful experimental art gallery in a window space in west Chicago, called Art on Armitage. I will be exhibiting a mixed media piece there during August 2012.
Linoleum as a material for printmaking has been used for nearly a hundred years now. Normally, you cut an image out using special gouges similar to woodcut tools, cutting away the lino around the image you want to print. This is called relief printmaking, because if you look at the block from the side, the material that remains stands up in relief from the backing material. You then roll ink with a brayer over the surface of the block, place paper over it, and either print by hand or run it through a press. You can do complex things this way (for example, reduction linocuts), but the beauty of the process is that it is quick, simple, and direct.
A few years ago, I saw some prints that were classified as coming from etched linoleum blocks, and I loved the textures I saw in them. In the last few months, I've been trying to use this technique in my own studio, learning about it as one does these days from websites and YouTube videos. I've also had email exchanges with several pr…
I am extremely pleased that poet and author Gerard Woodward agreed to be interviewed for this series. Gerard and my wife, Patty, were colleagues for a short while at the end of 2008, when Patty taught for one semester at Bath Spa University, where Gerard is a faculty member in the Creative Writing program. Gerard spent the spring semester of 2011 in Chicago on a reciprocal visit. Gerard has published poetry, short-stories, and novels. "Householder", his 1991 collection of poetry, won the Somerset Maugham Award in the UK, and his novel "I'll Go to bed at Noon" was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction. Of his most recent novel, "Nourishment", The Daily Telegraph reviewer wrote: "It is a novel to be savoured, and Woodward is a novelist to be treasured." It turns out that in addition to his success as a writer, Gerard started his adult life in art college, and still draws and paints when he can. So here, from a writer's point of view…