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bert stabler & noah berlatsky
The Finch Gallery
2747 W. Armitage, Chicago, IL 60647
July 17, 2008 - August 16, 2008

BFF: Best Friends at Finch
by Thea Liberty Nichols

"Half-Assed Palimpsest," which closed this past weekend, was an ambitious exhibition filled to the brim with over fifteen years of work made by Bert Stabler and Noah Berlatsky. Reading as a retrospective of the relationship between Stabler and Berlatsky, it was fraught with all the encouragement, criticism, space and support that over a decade of friendship can be founded upon.

Stabler and Berlatsky’s fertile exchanges resulted in a floor to ceiling horror vaccui of graphite, marker and pen on paper, zines and comics, (namely The Gay Utopia and The New Graphics Revival among others) paintings, sculptural objects, and video. Although Stabler contributes art criticism to The Chicago Reader (along with teaching for Chicago public schools), Berlatsky (who also writes criticism for the Reader and Comics Journal) contributed the majority of the texts for the exhibition. Sometimes loosely narrating Stabler’s imagery, Berlatsky also authored narratives that inspired Stabler’s imagery.

Although over half the show featured collaborative pieces by the pair, the remaining rough gems showcased what Stabler and Berlatsky could do on their own. Stabler’s solo stuff featured the exquisitely warped needle points of frogs (a recurring image throughout the exhibition), beetles, doe and branches executed on infants' onesies. Berlatsky’s exclusive group of thoughtfully composed geometric abstractions, done in black ink on paper and displayed on the back wall of the gallery, read like a modular text of sorts.

If you missed the show, two exceptional series of work are available for view online at The recommended Nanonuts features densely populated ink and collage compositions on poster board, with a cast of mutated Peanuts comic strip characters navigating a psychedelic picture plane amidst a patchwork of ghostly, empty text blocks and other comic visual vocabulary, such as lighting bolts, music notes and exclamation points. Equally arresting, the full color Milton Mickle, a set of four, mixed-media-on-paper drawings by Stabler, narrate the fable of the titular Mickle, a boy with a “very enormous” penis. The ornamental renderings of said phallus unfurl and undulate like Jugendstil ironwork, and the lettering for the text is reminiscent of Paul Nudd’s germy amoebae’s. The seditious story, written by Berlatsky, features cameos of the president, God and Osama Bin Laden.

Although a goal of the Finch Gallery is to confer the first solo exhibitions in the careers of the artists they exhibit, "Half-Assed Palimpsest" was a perfect fit with the gallery’s mission, which is to support collaboration and dialogue between artists and their viewers.

The Finch Gallery itself, formerly located on the floor above the bowling lanes at the Fireside Bowl, now operates out of an accessible one-room storefront in Humboldt Park. Its namesake bird is etched, mid-flight, on its Armitage street side window, and a doormat made of sod greets visitors, neighborhood kids and curious passers-by alike. Finch's generosity and dedication to connecting with, and fostering, a community is palpable, and although they have an exhibition of color photography by Karen Hoyt opening in October, and hand painted red-clay amphorae by Finch's executive director Nicholas Freeman on tap for November, there are plans to take the show on the road, closing up shop at their current location and collaborating on an east coast tour modeled after "This is Not a Truck."

This is even more reason to partake in their special end-of-August two-night opening, scheduled for August 22nd & 23rd (and running through Sept. 20), which launches an exhibition of work by Mr. Fish, a Los Angeles based political cartoonist, and Peter Ha, a photographer from Chicago.

-- Thea Liberty Nichols

Posted by Thea Liberty Nichols on 8/18/08

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