Camille Iemmolo and Jon Langford, artists with different styles, backgrounds and working in different media team up to create and "populate" The Lonely Stage. The Lonely Stage is a ten foot high installation that continues a theme in Iemmolo's work--her compulsion to listen to music and the visual manifestations she sees as she listens. Langford's paintings fill and inhabit this micro-world of Iemmolo's imagining.
"It is just like we are existing in the same self-created universe." says Langford. "We are not painting pictures together."
Iemmolo laughs and says she did lobby that they do that but settled for a joined concept and a different sort of artistic meeting of the minds. How did they work together while not directly working in the same place, at the same time?
"You know I kind of liken it to jazz there is a specific set frame but then it is organic at the same time it is kind of how we both work I think structured but loose." says Iemmolo.
Langford, known as a musician in bands such as Mekons and Waco Brothers, sees more than the metaphorical musical connection.
"There is a verbal connection as well; The Lonely Stage--like the lonely squirrel over there (gestures toward taxidermied squirrel)," says Langford. "There is lots of crossover and lots of differences in the way Camille approaches making objects and in my work."
The Lonely Stage September 9 To 23, 2016 At Thomas Masters Gallery (245 W. North Ave. Chicago ) Opening 6 to 9 p.m. Friday September 9.
"My initial impetus for making the paintings I make in the style I make them (comes from) going into a bar in Nashville called Tootsies Orchid Lounge, back in the late 80s, and seeing what looked to me as a graveyard for the whole culture," says Langford. "There were pictures, publicity photographs, covering the entire walls of the place but they are all drib drab. You couldn't recognize who they were anymore but they all had this one thing in common--this moment of like great optimism, smiling out and looking their best. It is a big moment. They are looking into the future from the past in this place but they are covered with this terrible gunky nicotine snot because they've been on the walls so long."
Langford tries to keep this "gunky nicotine snot" patina in his paintings. He also tries to maintain this in how he hangs the work.
"When I show my work I try to hang stuff close together I always kind of feared the white gallery walls," he says "When we started talking Camille wanted to make a stage but a backstage and a wardrobe department kind of place."
Langford adds that he finds the "gunky business" magical.
"It was magical going into that environment, thinking about painting again. I had been a musician for years and hadn’t done much visual art that kind of forced me to think about the environment and how it completely faded. Country music as a sort of microcosm of a bigger issue." he says.
"When I first became really familiar Jon's work, I was overtaken with, not to sound too weird, the spirituality of it." says Iemmolo."The old spirits hanging on the wall, people we loved, adored or animals there was this sense of loss that everyone has that everyone carries whether it is for mother, lover, brother, sister or favorite country musician."
"...Or a whole culture," says Langford. "For me this is something that this country should be cherishing but by the 80s had passed away"
The piece and all its components are designed for an audience to come in and interact with it on a level beyond the normal art exhibit or even art installation.
And the reaction, this participation, is Iemmolo's raison d'etre.
"That's my driving force I am all about the big bang, exciting other-worldly magical environment feeling," says Iemmolo. "That's what I like to do--surprise people. Not necessarily surprise but delight them in strange ways."
There is a slightly surreal "lose yourself" vibe in Iemmolo's work in general and in this work specifically.
"Like going to a funhouse." says Langford.
"My other work is like that too a mix of funhouse slash funeral home..." interjects Iemmolo with a laugh. Her funhouses are collections with a purpose beyond amusement, however.
"I like to save old objects because I feel like the spirit of the object needs to be...I mean since I was a kid I have this thing for this odd cool stuff and saving it," she says. "(They are) like a person because I can't save certain people that I want to save. Basically I try to save things and hopefully connect that to that to the human spirit in unusual ways. The spirit of the people Jon paints and the spirit of the objects I work with have this natural dialog."
Langford and guests will be performing at the opening.
"The Chicago Barn Dance was first, the WLS Barn Dance. Nashville hired the producer to come down to Nashville to come produce the show there." says Iemmolo.
The show was a success in Nashville but its origins were obscured. People just do not think "Chicago" and "country music" together often.
The Barn Dance was actually hosted at a place still open in Chicago, the California Clipper.
"My wheels started turning with that the connection between Chicago and Nashville," she says. "I find it interesting a lot of people don’t know about the connection."
Langford himself didn't know about this connection when he came to the Windy City.
"When I moved to chicago I thought: Chicago blues-Nashville country. That is sort of how it is written, the generic little history you pick up." he says.
It was only when he started working with Bloodshot Records in Chicago with his country music band, Waco Brothers, that he looked into it. He found out about The Sundowners and the Chicago connection to country. It was the great migration. The era of African-Americans moving to the North also saw white Southerners relocating, albeit in smaller numbers.
"I'm directly tied to that. My grandparents migrated to Michigan from Arkansas during the Depression and had a small orchard. My aunt was a singer in Vaudeville," says Iemmolo. "I have pictures of them in the Dust Bowl by the side of a Ford like Bonnie and Clyde."
Revisit this past via The Lonely Stage from 6 to 9 p.m. at Thomas Masters Gallery (Chicago).