Friday, February 1, 2008

Chicago gets its Popsicle

January 31, 2008

It looked like an easy finish ahead. At Intelligentsia, only River showed up: the rest were still in bed, recovering from a midnight ‘wrap’ - a film term for ‘it’s time to go home’.

Except (the original) Katie, and Tim. The wall looked beautiful, though still tarped. There was a lot of cleaning up to do.

Gord had decided it was close to done: a few more pieces at the top.

There is a moment when every painting is made, where the artist must stand back and decide: enough.

Enough brush strokes. Enough color. Enough elements. He must give the composition space - so that it has movement and sweep. Gord had arrived at that moment in the morning.

My first glance told me that the ‘painting’ wasn’t yet 12 feet high, if you wanted to be literal about it. And I thought: we promised 12 feet, didn't we? So I told him, ‘maybe you should have a couple pieces at the top.” Me, armchair artist, shotgun-seat driver, the expert, reflecting imagined mainstream concerns.

And he said, “It’s a painting, that’s how it looks. I don’t have to fill up every inch of it to be able to say that the painting is 12 feet tall. I like the space.”

Still, there had been a lot of focus on the numbers, on 'the biggest and best ever'. I wasn’t sure his audience, fed so much about the project through the media, would understand. But I left. My last art class was in high school. Who am I to question a work such as this?

Several hours later I couldn’t reach him. Tim told me Gord was having a time out and his phone was turned off. I knew he was feeling some kind of pressure - this morning he had been so light, so confident.

He arrived back at the suite with maybe an hour left until opening and headed straight for the bath. We dressed, met the crew in the lobby, realizing we had about five minutes to get to the site before the mayor did. We walked the streets together, proud, excited, almost late.

Afterwards, after the speeches and cameras popping,

after the hundreds of people crowded into the tent,

after the walk through visit with the mayor,

after celebratory toasts at Bin 36, I learned in bits and pieces what happened in the afternoon just before opening.

Valentine, who has shepherded us through the entire project, who has shielded us from the issues, while finding solutions to solve them. Who broke her leg last week and who was at work the whole week, because she was needed. Valentine had visited the site, worried that the painting wasn't finished at the top, speaking passionately about her concerns.

One thing I know about Gord, he responds to passion. He loves it, respects it, trusts it. And this process of creating this painting had been made under intense scrutiny - daily interest and much attention from the press. It is a public piece of art. One thing I've heard about Chicago is: they embrace art, and once they do, it's theirs.

The other thing about Gord is -- he goes with what's in front him. What's in front of him has been part of the process of making these paintings from the get-go. He makes it his own, but he says, "Yes" before he considers saying "No" ... and after he says "Yes", he says ... "and?" He asks himself, "What is my opportunity here?"

The wonderful thing is - the 'artist's cut' and 'the final artist's cut' both turned out beautifully, after all.

But not without a bit of tension first.

After Valentine left the site, River, who is King of the Lift, pressed a button he shouldn’t have and the lift, a couple of inches from the wall, crashed into the north end of the painting, shattering a few pieces on both sides in the process. Treasured, saved-until-that-moment pieces, gone in seconds.

It was as if River pressed the gas when he should have pressed brake. It wasn't a huge deal, except that this happened to be the afternoon before opening. The truss structure -- and the wall -- held up well against the impact. Shaken, River descended the lift. Gord turned off his phone and went on a break.

Then it was All Hands On Deck -- as two hours worth of work had been destroyed in those few seconds.

As to the rest of the evening:

The Mayor was eloquent:

speaking about how art brings people together, across race, religion, income level, job, status.

Dot Coyle said things like"a bright spot this winter." Jim Foote, CN's V.P of Marketing for North America,(CN is our presenting sponsor) said the work was"truly breathtaking", and their sponsorship had been an excellent fit for their company.

Gord remembered everyone -- and spoke inspirationally about the work itself. I would have thanked some people by name at The Chicago Cultural Center - but if I had mentioned one name, I know I would have left out another.

We, all of us who worked on or contributed to this project - from the most recent intern (the 3rd Katie) to sponsors to crew to Christine Carrino in Communications -

to Joseph Zambrano in Finance - to Nathan Mason, to Laura Chmielewski, Jason Moy, Lauren Gentile -- to Michael Vasilevich, the Zamboni driver -- there are so many more -- had ownership in what we were celebrating.

It is Gord's art, . . . "and" . . . it was our project.

Each of us contributed a personal best. And last night, we all celebrated what we shared: Our Popsicle. Chicago's Popsicle.

PHOTO CREDITS: Patrick Pyzska, Adrian Goldberg and Caitlin Hicks


Bernadette said...

Congratulations!!!! Your work is beautiful (said warmly from our California home in front of a fire!!!) Hugs!

Joao Carlos said...

Hey Gord,



Wish I could have been there with you.

I will drink a toast to you all!!!



paulie said...

seeing these pics and i am not an art lover by no means makes me want to go and see this work of art live and tell all who are like me that there is no shame into liking this