A Charles White retrospective on the centenary of his birth in Chicago.

Gideon. Charles White.

It is not something we often see on Michigan Avenue.

Hanging over the entrance of the Art Institute of Chicago is a giant banner with a monumental image of Gideon, a Black portrait drawn in black and white, with glowing black skin, wide nose and wide lips.

It’s style is classical realism.

The banner announces the first Charles White retrospective in Chicago since 1982.

2018 is the centenary of White’s birth here in Chicago.

As a very young boy growing up I was familiar the names of any number of African American artists and performers.

Paul Robeson. Harry Belafonte. Ledbelly. Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee.

On our wall hung a reproduction of a Charles White print.

This one, if memory serves:


In the walls of the homes of the left-wing families, Black and white, that made up my parent’s circle of friends, we could always find a Charles White drawing. Maybe a framed copy of a torn off cover of Masses and Mainstream, if that’s all that their friends could afford.

White left Chicago for Los Angeles where he taught at the Otis Art Institute.

I took art classes there as a kid.

Unfortunately, not with Charles White.

White is quoted in the show as describing his work as having universal themes.  It is so clearly  and specifically about the African American experience, dark in more ways than just his color palette.

Yet you can find the influences of the Mexican muralists, Siqueiros and Rivera visible in the early work.

There are plenty of references to Socialist Realism too.

There are two Soviet farmers turned into Black Southern sharecroppers.

Then in the final ten years, his work is sharply influenced by the Black Power Movement of the sixties and seventies.

The exhibit will move on to New York and Los Angeles.

See it.

Remembering another Picasso creation. The dove of peace.

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Yesterday Chicago celebrated the 50th anniversary of Pablo Picasso’s gift to the city, a monumental sculpture known as the Chicago Picasso.

The celebration took place on the same day as President Trump threatened the world with fire and fury in his war of words with North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.

These are terrifying times.

Picasso created so many memorable images. The images and objects made him arguably the greatest artist of the 20th Century.

And always there were his images of peace and protest.

He painted Guernica to protest the fascist bombing of civilians in the Spanish Civil War.

In 1949 he painted his first version of his iconic peace doves, a poster for the first international peace congress held in Paris.


The “Dove of Peace”  that Picasso created for the 1949 Paris Peace Conference soon caught on world-wide. It become a symbol for the peace movement, the Communist Party (in those years Picasso was a communist), and other liberal groups.

In the years that followed, Picasso agreed to create other peace doves for conferences across Europe.

It seems it is time to display the peace dove again.

Now more than ever.

Searching for Richard Slowinski and the loss of Chicago’s industrial base.

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Egg and dart molding from the Stewart-Warner building, demolished in 1994.

I try to explain to people who weren’t here back then how Chicago has changed since I arrived in 1973.

What I want is to paint a picture of what it has meant for Chicago to lose its industrial base and our union jobs. Numbers don’t seem to be enough to do it justice.

Within a week of arriving here I was working at a job paying union wages at Stewart-Warner. I simply walked in the door of its fortress-like building at Wolcott and Diversey and I was hired. Within a couple of hours I was working on a line alongside a United Nations of employees, winding wire for automobile gauges.

Neighborhoods all across the city had their local factory along with a neighborhood school.

I don’t want to romanticize things. The politics of Richard Daley were corrupt. The neighborhoods were segregated. The police force engaged in the very racist brutality we witness today.

We just didn’t have the video.

It turns out that somebody did paint it.

Several months ago I was visiting friends who live in Oak Park. Hanging on their wall was a drawing of the Stewart-Warner building, the building  where I wound wire eight hours a day when I first came to town. It was signed by the artist, Richard Slowinski.


My friends had been given the drawing by a friend, but they had no idea who the artist was.

I went looking for Richard Slowinski. I even posted about it here.

A few weeks ago I received this note from an old girl friend of the artist:

Prolific oil painter with thousands of unseen paintings. (He did a term at Spring Green with Frank Lloyd Wright.) He is an unknown national treasure. He turned 80 in March. Always planned to let the world see his paintings when he was dead. Find him!!!

She included a phone number and an address. Richard Slowinski lives on a street near where the Stewart-Warner factory once stood and about a mile from my home.

I called the number and talked to Richard for a while, and then asked if I could come over.

And yesterday that’s what I did.


Richard’s wife Janet had warned me not to expect “neat.” So, I was prepared for what I encountered: Rooms with paintings and stuff stacked everywhere, redolent with the smell  of cigarettes. Richard (he says he is 78) smokes non-stop. A carton of Lucky Strikes was perched on the table where we sat.

Slowinski told me his story. He grew up in Albany Park. He has an older brother who is a painter of some note. He says he is illiterate although he graduated from Lane Tech.

“I only wanted to paint,” he said.

He told me he exhibited his work at Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights in San Francisco. He had a studio in New York in the late fifties. He hung out at a bar in lower Manhattan with Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning.

He said Mark Rothko hung out in the corner, drinking, but not talking to anybody.


An early work from around 1954. “Kline loved it,” Richard told me. “He gave me the money to rent a studio in New York.”


Slowinski admires one of his early works from when he painted in the abstract expressionist style in New York in the late fifties.

Richard and I share little in the way of political views. He showed me a painting he did in 2008 portraying Sarah Palin as the Virgin Mary. It is an abstract piece. I couldn’t recognize Palin, but the painting was really lovely.


St. Alphonsus on Southport and Wellington.

He says he has stopped painting large scale works – just small sketches of his wife and the Virgin Mary – until after the November election. He supports Trump. He is convinced we are all doomed if Hillary wins.


He says he is a blood relative of the Polish royal family.

But we found common ground through his paintings, in spite of his politics and religion.

“Are you Polish?” he asked me.

“With a Y,” I said.

“Ah. Russian Jew. That’s alright.”

“Thanks,” I said.

“When they started demolishing the building, I thought someone should archive it.”

And so he did the silkscreen of the Stewart-Warner building.


Richard added color to the acetate that he used to make the silkscreen and labeled what he knew about the building from asking around. He asked me if there were men’s bathrooms in the main tower, but I had no idea.

“They never let me off the floor that I worked on,” I said.

Then Richard showed me a painting he did of the Finkl steel plant that had just been torn down on Cortland.


“I thought somebody should paint it before it was gone,” Slowinski told me.

Slowinski had a few copies left of his Stewart-Warner drawing. He let me pick one out and I paid him.

Before I left he asked if I wanted to hear the first few bars of a symphony he was writing to the words of the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution.

“Sure,” I said.

I pushed some stuff off a nearby chair while Slowinski sat on a stool in front of a keyboard.

“I have several symphony orchestras who want to perform it.”

And then he took me into his backyard and gave me a brick from the Stewart-Warner building from when it was constructed in 1905.

And a section of the decorative egg and dart.


Final days.

IMG_4648While immigrants and working class folks in my neighborhood are selling their homes or are forced out by quickly escalating rents, the Mega Mall has sat empty on Milwaukee Avenue.

When we moved here 45 years ago the building was a home improvement center. This was long before there were three Home Depots within a mile or so.

Then for decades it was the Mega Mall which was kind of an incubator for small scale retail. It was made up of stalls that had as much of a feeling of a Mexico City street market as north side Chicago.

In recent years it has stood empty.

Now another multi-story rental and retail building is taking its place. Another giant construction crane will tower over the neighborhood. One of the developments that precedes it on Milwaukee will be charging $3900 a month rent.

Before the Mega Mall is torn down next week, artists have taken it over.

Photos: Fred Klonsky


Random thoughts. The Museum Community.


When I read the letter signed by the heads of Chicago museums in support of the Mayor’s Lucas Museum lakefront land grab  I immediately thought of the Guggenheim Museum being built in Abu Dhabi, designed by celebrity architect Frank Gehry.

Human rights violations are currently occurring on Saadiyat Island, the location of the new museum. In two extensive reports on the UAE, Human Rights Watch has documented a cycle of abuse that leaves migrant workers deeply indebted, poorly paid, and unable to defend their rights or even quit their jobs. The UAE authorities responsible for developing the island have failed to tackle the root causes of abuse: unlawful recruiting fees, broken promises of wages, and a sponsorship system that gives employers virtually unlimited power over workers.

There have been protests.

As far as I know Gary Johnson, President of Museums in the Park, Bridget Coughlin, President & CEO of the Shedd Aquarium, Perri Irmer, President & CEO of the DuSable Musuem of African American History,  Madeleine Grynsztejn, Pritzker Director Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Richard Lariviere, President & CEO of The Field Museum, Michelle B. Larson, President & CEO of the Adler Planetarium, Deborah Lahey. President & CEO of the Chicago Academy of Sciences/Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, David Mosena, President & CEO of the Museum of Science and Industry, Billy Ocasio, President, The National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture, James Rondeau, President and Eloise W. Martin, Director of  The Art Institute of Chicago nor Carlos Tortolero, President of the National Museum of Mexican Art have spoken out or signed the petition about this issue involving another member of their museum community.

But then, what is going on with the Guggenheim in Abu Dhabi is about human and labor conditions. That’s not the concern of the museum community.

“Drawing new tourists to Chicago translates to more visitors also discovering our City’s other attractions and planning return visits. This is the kind of economic boost that we need during these challenging times for our city and our state,” they wrote, sounding more like tourist marketing executives.

Really. That’s what they are. Hucksters. Carnival barkers.  And real estate agents.

In Brooklyn last year, anti-gentrification protestors set up camp at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

Hundreds of real estate developers and investors streamed into the Brooklyn Museum on Tuesday morning, past a 65-foot cloth banner proclaiming “Brooklyn Is Not For Sale!” Nearby, dozens of local artists and community activists shouted “Greedy! Greedy!”, protesting the institution’s decision to host the sixth annual Brooklyn Real Estate Summit.

“White dudes in fancy suits is all I see,” said Olivia Fox, a performance artist from Queens. Fox, who was holding up one end of the banner, is a member of the Brooklyn Anti-Gentrification Network (BAN). “The Brooklyn Museum is supposed to serve Brooklyn, and it should be serving its most vulnerable population first and foremost,” she added.

There’s a reason so many of those that signed the letter for the Lucas Museum have CEO as their title.



My art is available for sale.


The opening reception.

Ellen Gradman and I had a packed house for our opening reception at the Uri-Eichen Gallery a couple of weeks ago.

Copies of drawing and cartoons that have appeared on this blog where  exhibited and were for sale.

Available were large scale prints (18×22. The Three Civil Rights Workers is smaller), The response was great.

So I am offering the prints here until the end of March.

I am asking $100, which covers printing costs and shipping with the rest going to the International Dreamers Scholarship Fund. The Fund provides college scholarships to undocumented students.

Each print will be signed by me.

To order a print send me an email (fklonsky@mac.com) with a description of which print you want and a delivery address. I will tell you where to send the check. I must receive payment before the print is sent.

This offer is for my work only.

Art + Activism. Our exhibit opened last night.

A constant flow of friends and Chicago’s activists kept the Uri-Eichen Gallery packed to the gills most of the night for the opening of an exhibit of work by my friend Ellen Gradman and me.

Spoken word artist Jalen – he enters Whitney Young High School in the fall – shared his work to the appreciative crowd.

Four and 1/2 Seconds of Reverb rocked the house for most of the night.

They even allowed me to sing back-up on a few tunes.

I sold a number of my prints with all proceeds going to the International Dreamers fund which raises scholarship money for undocumented high school students to attend college. Funds from the sale of Ellen’s prints will go to art supplies for her continued art projects with underserved Chicago public school students. I will post at a later time a way to order the prints online.

Thanks to Kathy and Chris at Uri-Eichen for offering their space. Next month they will host an exhibit of posters from the justice movement in Chiapas, Mexico.

Thanks to all who came out on a very cold night to share our joy.