Co-Prosperity Sphere (C-PS) presents
A Tom Palazzolo Retrospective: Film, Photographs, Paintings, Watercolors & Sculpture
Opening party Friday, July 12 – 7PM – 11PM, continuing through Sunday, July 21
3219-21 South Morgan Street, Chicago Illinois, 60608 http://coprosperity.org/
” My work is influenced by the so-called street-documentary photography, theater of the absurd, surrealism, the history of the art, cartoons, and God knows what else.” – 2012 interview, “Tom Palazzolo’s Chicago” – Facets Cine-Notes
From its earliest development, film/cinema was not strictly bound by the studio structured system that predominates presently but was pioneered also by a disparate group technicians and showmen who documented the everyday that surrounded them. Leading the way was the Lumière brothers, Auguste and Louis, who on 22nd March 1895 at 44 Rue de Rennes in Paris screened to the public a short document of their workers leaving the Lumière factory and other “actuality” films.
This historical screening was quickly followed by in 1896 by Robert William Paul, a successful British electrical engineer who developed his own working camera and Theatrograph projector. In June of 1896 he attended the Epson Derby and filmed the finish and the Prince of Wales’ Horse “Persimmon” winning, processed the film overnight and projected it to an enthusiastic Alhambra audience the next day – becoming one of the first news films.
By 1899 the Mitchell & Kenyon film company, also based United Kingdom, travelled the towns and countryside taking short films during the day that were shown on the same evening in fairground tents or local meeting halls and music halls. With their slogans of “Local Films For Local People” and “We take them and make them” Mitchell & Kenyon shot the street scene of the passing crowd, the parades, marches and fairgrounds of the working class and other processions include carnivals with participants blacking up and doing ‘golliwog’ dance routines, and men dressed as both Dutch men and women doing a clog dance.
These ideas of “hands-on” documentation of the everyday where later developed by other emerging filmmakers worldwide including Russia’s Dziga Vertov’s Kino-Pravda theory, England’s 1950′s Free Cinema movement (Lindsay Anderson, Tony Richardson), the observational mode of direct cinema, and the cinema verite style of French practitioners like Jean Roach who saw the camera as a means to unveil the truth or highlight subjects hidden behind crude reality. This idea of “reality’ to unmask truth was used by the Italian Neo-realists ( Roberto Rossellini, Vittorio De Sica, Luchino Visconti) to depict the everyday life of post-WWII Europe, including its poverty, oppression, injustice and desperation.
Within the U.S., the documentary movement drew its inspiration from these disparate sources besides creating its own identity. Films like Edward S. Curtis’ “In the Land of the Head Hunters” (1914) and Robert Flaherty’s “Nanook of the North” (1922) embraced primitivism and exoticism in a staged setting while socially driven New Deal films like Pare Lorentz’s “The Plow That Broke the Plains” (1936) and “The River” (1938) and Willard Van Dyke’s “The City” (1939) presented an unflinching look at the post-depression economic downturn. By the fifties and sixties American filmmakers like Robert Drew, Richard Leacock, Frederick Wiseman and Albert and David Maysles took a more personal involvement toward their subjects. As Wiseman stated, ” My view is that these films are biased, prejudiced, condensed, compressed but fair. I think what I do is make movies that are not accurate in any objective sense, but accurate in the sense that I think they’re a fair account of the experience I’ve had in making the movie.”
Here in Chicago during the sixties, a young St. Louis transplant named Tom Palazzolo was attending the School of the Art Institute of Chicago studying painting and rubbing shoulders with the then emerging group of now legendary artists collectively known as the Hairy Who (Jim Nutt, Gladys Nilsson, Karl Wirsum and Ed Paschke). With his interests changing from painting to photography and filmmaking, Palazzolo with a camera in hand began making underground films.
Unlike his film brethren from both coasts (Kenneth Anger, the Kuchar Brothers, Andy Warhol and Stan Brakhage) who were able to work in a more supportive artistic and social climate, Palazzolo met resistance from the restrictive policies of the Chicago Censor Board who previewed any films shown locally, the local police who often raided screenings of experimental films and the basic lack of viable alternative venues.
Influenced by the European surrealists (who even had its local chapter in Chicago, The Chicago Surrealist Group, founded in 1966 by Franklin and Penelope Rosemont), Palazzolo made one of his first 16mm films “O”, a homage to Rene Clair’s Dadaist “Entr’acte”. The film won the Grand Prize at the Belleview Film Festival, a showcase for experimental films but was confiscated by the police because it was not submitted to the reactionary Chicago Censor Board.
Yet, Palazzolo was equally driven by his Midwestern roots and his connection to the everyday culture of his working class neighbors, the city landscape and the marginalized. Like the Weimar period novelist and journalist Joseph Roth who chronicled the lives of Berlins forgotten inhabitants – the war cripples, the Jewish immigrants, the criminals, the bathhouse denizens, Palazzolo scoured the city streets, dusty alleyways and the carnival sideshows for the world’s often forgotten denizens with an empathetic and non-judgmental eye.
With a strategy of personally financed low budgeted filmmaking, Palazzolo recruited students from his classes at the SAIC plus collaborated with co-directors Jeff Kreines and Mark Rance in a group of guerilla-style films like “At Maxwell Street”. These penny-pinching productions were filmed in immediate one take moments and later shaped in the editing process where these uncontrollable conditions were harmonized utilizing often disparate shots into a coherent whole. In his “I Married a Munchkin” Palazzolo combines three types of footage; a local Wizard of Oz festival (L. Frank Baum wrote and published his children’s classic here in Chicago), an interview with little person and performer Mary Ellen St. Aubin who appeared in the Munchkin sequence for the 1939 film and archival footage of the Midget Village from the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair (where Mary also performed in the colony of Lilliputians).
These slice of life portraits let the individuals speak for themselves and their humanity is heightened by the naturalness of Palazzolo’s improvisational style. Whether one is viewing Palazzolo’s more politically charged “Marquette Park”, a 1976 documentary on the Nazi Party demonstration in Chicago’s racial divided south side, “Ricky and Rocky” a close-up view of a 1972 Italian-American and Polish-American backyard wedding shower in suburban Chicago or 1978′s “I Was a Contestant at Mother’s Wet T-Shirt Contest” (co-directed with Mark Rance) the viewer never feels that the subject matter is either belittled or poked fun at. And although the films retain a light hearted manner, the viewer always walks away with a closer appreciation of subjects often trivialized
or sadly forgotten.
Callie Angel, Assistant Curator, Whitney Museum of Modern Art stated her impression of Palazzolo’s approach to film documentary:
“Palazzolo resides comfortably in his own sphere of reference, a domain that includes a rich heritage of art history and film as well as his own personal memories. His familiar and gleeful attitude toward these weighty traditions allows him to draw from them freely while indulging in a virtuoso display of visual an verbal puns, sexual innuendo and obscure references.”
While pursuing his cinematic muse over these many years, Palazzolo continued his work in photography, painting and sculpture. His bold richly hued paintings like “C.E.O’s in Hell” and “Kong Gone Wrong” bring to mind the immediate wondrous sensation of crowds mesmerized by the eye-catching sideshow banners of sword swallowers and freak shows that beckoned them along carnival midways at the turn of the 20th century. Other paintings like “My First Confession” combine a satirical social commentary with the influence both of comic books and Mexican devotional retablos and ex-votos. Not bound by any style, Palazzolo moves easily from the social realism of NRA art of the Depression to explosive sixties Pop Art and from expressionism, both American and European, to the imaginative portrait heads of of Italian painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo.
Also working with sculpture and assemblage, Palazzolo creates much of his work through found objects and the discarded emphera that seem to have no lasting meaning but often register as barometers of our collective culture. With the use of verbal wordplay, puns and innuendo, Palazzolo draws on the inspiration of his Dadaist and Surrealist forefathers.
Palazzolo’s photography, like his films, document the shifting landscape of the cityscape populated by fascinating figures and the common coming and going of daily life that is often overlooked by the casual observer. A modern day flaneur, Palazzolo perceives the world as an artist/poet of the modern metropolis. Or in the words of noted decadent French poet/critic Charles Baudelaire:
“The crowd is his element, as the air is that of birds and water of fishes. His passion and his profession are to become one flesh with the crowd. For the perfect flâneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite. To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; to see the world, to be at the centre of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world – impartial natures which the tongue can but clumsily define.”
With these thoughts in mind the Co-Prosperity Sphere (3219-21 South Morgan Street) will be holding a retrospective of Palazzolo’s work from the 1960s through the present. Featuring video instillation, photographs, paintings, sculpture and previously printed material documenting his trajectory over the decades the show will be a great opportunity to immerse oneself into the mind of this engaging artist and commentator of our world.
We will be screening on monitors Palazzolo’s At Maxwell Street, Labor Day and I Married A Munchkin.
The opening is on Friday, July 12 (7PM -11PM) and the show continues through Sunday, July 21
Palazzolo will be interviewed that Friday night by noted Sun-Times staff writer and cultural observer Dave Hoekstra. Hoekstra has contributed pieces to Chicago Magazine, the Chicago Reader and Playboy magazine. He has written books about the Farm Aid movement, travel, and minor league baseball. His new book is about the culture of Midwest supper clubs:http://thesupperclubbook.com/
MFA School of the Art Institute, 1965. Studied with Ken Josephson.
Represented by: Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago, Il.
Recent Work has been shown at:
Betsy Rymer Gallery (Chicago),
Carl Hammer Gallery (Chicago),
Block Museum (Evanston, Il.),
Metal Works Gallery (Chicago),
Stephen Daiter Gallery (Chicago)
MOMA (NY), Film Center (Chicago), Chicago Historical Society
Tom has received grants from the NEA, the Illinois Arts Council, the USIA and the Andy Warhol Foundation. Wicker Park Press published his and his wife Marcia’s photographic book “At Maxwell Street” about the fabled market in 2008. He is currently represented by the Corbett vs Dempsey gallery.
Palazzolo will be interviewed that Friday night by noted Sun-Times staff writer and cultural observer Dave Hoekstra.