This piece is about art, poverty, classism, compassion, curiosity, commitment, reinvention, re-purposing, racism and rage, community and individualism, craftsmanship and capitalism, ritual and habit and some of how they all intersect:
If you walk along Dorchester Avenue it looks, as Gates says, like a decent street “but sometimes bad things happen. I have to say to my friends, violent things sometimes happen in this neighbourhood, and all the cleaning and sweeping in the world is not going to change the fact that among certain groups of young men and women here, rage is an entirely sensible reaction to their world. I get that. It is not always pretty, it is not always square.”
Gates says there has been no hostility to his efforts to revitalise some formerly “no-go area” blocks. “Well,” he qualifies, “the windows of my studio have been shot out four times by kids – you know, target practice. But I think part of that is a desire to know what is happening on the inside and there being no obvious way to ask. Part of me wants to just catch these brothers to invite them in. In general I’m a co-worker with my neighbours here. And though maybe they don’t have the platform of the Observer to talk about it, they have stuck with this place through many more dire moments than me. My hat’s off to them. They got on with it. They had no leveraging mechanism but they stayed here, and most tried to do the right things.”
There is always a part beyond what man owes man. It’s like: some decisions, most decisions I make, are not the right smart market decisions, but they are important to me.”
Lately, along with a determined return to his potter’s wheel, Gates has been making – the headline act of the White Cube show – large-scale “tar paintings”, which are as they sound, canvases coated with whorls and geometries of viscous black. He made some of them with his father, now 80, who bequeathed him his tar kettle.
“I could make another kind of work,” he says. “But how about I just really lean into my dad’s tar kettle?”
He believes art, if it matters, has to have roots in autobiography.
“This is the thing about the art market. If a young kid isn’t invited to know what they have inside them, and how to unlock that, then what they have is just devices. And you pretty quickly run out of devices. I had a life before all this. The lights were off for me, I was out in the shed, but that was a really useful way into this world.”
From Tim Adams’ “Chicago artist Theaster Gates: ‘I’m hoping Swiss bankers will bail out my flooded South Side bank in the name of art” in The Guardian.