I didn't see this when I compiled the music calendar, so add it on. (I
wonder if he's bringing his tombstones this time? Those things are heavy!)
Here's an article from City Paper.
Even Cowboys Get the Blues
Jon Langford's paintings explore the roots of his music
Writer: Steve May
Leeds by way of Wales doesn't sound like the pedigree of a true country
gentleman, but Jon Langford -- one half of the heart, brain and soul of the
pioneering post-punks Mekons -- does things his own way. Fresh out of art
school he cut his chops in Mekons, a group known for turning punk rock on
its head several years before it was fashionable. But in 1985, Langford and
partner Tom Greenhalgh took a sharp musical detour toward postmodern Hank
Williams with their album, Fear and Whiskey -- and Langford was the better
for it. In the decade-and-a-half since, he relocated to Chicago, home of
the old WLS Barn Dance, and started painting modern cowboys.
When he shows his latest collection of folk art, New Blue Paintings, at
Garfield Artworks, it will be the second time that he's brought his artwork
to the area: Garfield's curator Lauri Mancuso first saw Langford's
paintings at Wilkinsburg's late Turmoil Room, where he sold 100 percent of
the work he exhibited there. (That's a feat to which few in town can lay
Langford starts with publicity shots of old country & western icons, which
he recreates in acrylics and pastels on plywood, faithfully but with a
blindfold here and a skull-in-place-of-a-face there, then goes medieval on
the piece, scraping, layering and tattooing it with many of the less
conventional, if more mundane, weapons in his arsenal -- Sharpies, felt
pens, pencils, White Out and anything else he happens to have lying around.
Then he covers the whole thing over with a coat of lacquer.
The result is something like classic country gone old. A young Elvis, for
example, is bleached out and faded, with a dollar sign hanging in the air
above his right shoulder and two musical notes lingering around him. Just
next to his head, a crude skull -- ubiquitous in Langford's work -- looks
the audience straight in the eye. It is ultimately impossible, in the years
since Presley succumbed on his toilet, to separate the man from his fate:
famous first for what he could do, then for his exploited product. Finally
he was dead, bloated weight, famous as much for his end as his beginning.
As much as he is life, Elvis is also lonely, empty death.
Langford traces a good bit of his works' sadness and regret to his home in
coastal Wales -- a place Big Steel and Big Coal made prosperous for much of
the 20th century, then largely left to rot, leaving him figuratively
homeless, not unlike the rhinestone cowboys that have become his obsession.
"Like rabbits frozen in history?s headlights," Langford says. "They are
trapped beneath layers of nicotine and neglect."
In his exploration of exploitation and loss, Langford has found a career
capable of sustaining himself, his wife and two children -- something
Mekons, despite their international audience, never could and still can't
do. Each of Langford's paintings, some as small as 12" x 9", others as
large as 36" x 24", can bring roughly $1,500; he sells larger etchings of
the work on genuine headstones at a higher cost.
Punk rock isn't gone from Langford's veins; Mekons, who have a new album
due out Aug. 20, could never settle on a single genre. But country music is
clearly in his heart now, a point underscored by his most prominent side
projects: the alt-country Waco Brothers and the Johnny Cash-obsessed Jon
Langford & the Pine Valley Cosmonauts. And though his accent would indicate
otherwise, his love of the genre and of the corresponding life, for all its
timeless merits and obvious flaws, is genuine and pure -- and, in his
paintings, oddly affecting.
New Blue Paintings kicks off with an opening reception, featuring music by
Jon Langford and the Johnsons Big Band, Aug. 16. It runs through Sept. 3,
with a closing reception Aug. 30.