« Slow Burn

Decoder Ring: The Sign Painter

2021-07-22

Decoder Ring is Slate's show about cracking cultural mysteries. In each episode, host Willa Paskin takes a cultural question, object, or habit, examines its history, and tries to figure out what it means and why it matters.

This episode introduces you to Ilona Granet, who was a New York art-scene fixture who won the praise of the art world when she put up anti-harassment street signs in lower Manhattan in the mid- 1980s. Her career seemed like a sure thing, but three decades on, and so much more art later, it still hasn’t materialized, even as her contemporaries are now hanging in museums. This episode is not about the familiar myth of making it, but the mystery of not making it. What happens, to an artist—to anyone—when they’re good enough, but that’s not enough?

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Hey, slow burn listeners, Troll Anderson here, we're working hard on our next season of slobber about the Ellie rights which will be preparing in November. But in the in time we wanted to share with you in episode from one slates other documentary, Podcast Dakota Ring Dakota ring is like slow burn, but for culture. Each of us Dakota Ring tackles a different cultural mystery like what the left becomes so uncool? Where did the care and come from and why tabloid so obsessed with Jennifer Afghanistan right now, there in the middle of a brand new season, a shows, including the episode we ve got for you today. This is Personal investigation for Dakota rings House will pass beyond it story of an artist who was once that, to the New York ART World in take it in an almost cosmic mystery. What happened? when you're good enough, but that's not good enough funny it's emotional and it's good things. I'm not sharp ever heard in a podcast before, if you like, episode. We hope you'll go, subscribed,
Dakota Decoder ring in its own feed. Dozens more episodes there'd been joint after this one. So without further ado, this is the sign before we sorry, I won't let you know. This episode contains multiple descriptions of sexual assault and a reference to suicide. Area, you do wrong doing. Ok, I very words hurry. I'm sorry are you nuts? artist alone, a granite she's greeting and then to Quarterings producer, as we arrive that her studio in New York, EAST Village, back in two thousand and nineteen Are you taking your idea, apparently a rule of recording as you're supposed to tape Laurie Way had the whole thing alone is lived and worked here since nineteen. Eighty two would you
moved in. She was in her thirties, a performance, artist, assign painter and a part of whatever one called. The downtown clean, by moisten singer back is there and the chocolate lays long cigars and, like you gotta, I wasn't. I think if you saw her today, a very petite when strolling down Second avenue in blue? swayed booties, her white hair, piled atop, our heads walking her very slight italian, greyhound you'd. Think New York, character and you'd be right. No, no. My whole life she's one of my mother's oldest friends, so yeah I thought I'd go like an order of the signs that her studio is jammed with decades of work in stacks and piles. Milk crates. There's a bank of windows on one wall and a huge pale blue painting, with small ghostly figures on it on another. Of alone, as work is not paintings on canvas, it signs graphic
It is painted onto metal. But this one is from Syria men who were acting poorly towards women, so they were actually about sexual her. That's right. Now she showing us a light paying their square street crime with black tram and black letters, and three figures on our first on the left is in credibly, strong silhouette of a very powerful man, and he is pulling back as hard as he can. Arnold on a leash believe is restraining a humanoid, wild animal and he's got, like wild hair coming out he's got the enormous like Dracula Hands Tom. And his tongue is sort of like drawing out. He is grabbing for advice, very happy. Sexy beautiful woman, though ethically he's like the id and the man.
And the man holding back is the super ill and she's the prey above and below these three figures in english and Spanish. Is the text curb your animal instinct? design, is made of baked enamel aluminum, exactly the material and thickness of a New York City Street sign, and that's because Nineteen. Eighty eight, it was a New York City Street time there signs everywhere in New York City, most of them warning you not to do things like parking littering and horn blowing, and so on. Now as the loans granted is going to answer new signs warning men not to be wolves, who are various other species of animal and in general to stop bothering man on the street, the curb your animal instincts sign and another darker pink sign. Reading no catcalls were hung by the Department of Transportation all over lower Manhattan by the Cambridge and Staten Island fairy, the World Trade Center and City Hall morning. Why
to do this it was it was time for a man to start thing you themselves as part of the human race? and then finally, animal raising, Treating women with a sense of dignity decide there are highly visible public art about the street harassment of women and that made them provocative, especially thirty five years ago, as you just they made the local news, but they also CNN and the International NEWS there up in mainstream publications in our world journals in York magazine and the AP in Australia in ITALY, Germany and Japan ahead this moment of unbelievable success, in getting an image out into the world image. Up to that, alone I had been a performance artist, a feminist artist and a part of various artist drawn collectives and bands she formed and shown her work. I galleries squats artist, run spaces in art centres like PS, won her career, crude and organic momentum. One
piece of work have led to another and another, and now the signs had really struck a nerve it seemed like a loner was on her way, not necessarily to fame and fortune, but to a kind of our world stability involving recognition, public engagement, the ability to show her work to make a living, but that kind upward trajectory. That's not what this episode is about Sometimes you have a moment and then there are all the moments. After I think the only thing we could talk about the elephant in my horror room is like if the elephant Hiram is, I have a lot to do and I'm gettin up there in the years I have all this of that, I want to show its or so what's the elephant in the room, while the other,
and even death or six has its success. This is decoding a show about cracking cultural mysteries. I will pass in today's. So it is about an artist that most people have never heard of and what happened to her as such is a little for an than usual it's not about a cold, mystery that you or anyone else has been wondering about just me but I've been wondering about Ilona four years so back into thousand nineteen. I interviewed her a number of times for an episode and then I chickened out of making it not because I didn't There was anything there, because I was worried about talking about what was there and what there is the flip of a story, we all know the story of making it of struggling following your muse, finding
her voice and then success. That's story that miss it's the primary one. We hear about artists because hearing about them chances Are these succeeded even after years of trying, even if it's after they died, so that we're looking at today, not the familiar mess of making it whether MR of not making it one to an artist to anyone when their good enough? But that's not enough. They under quartering that question, and in reduction of sorts Don't you know the artist alone, a granite.
So I said I ve been wondering about alone for years, specifically I've been wondering about her. Since I was nine before She was just one of my mom's friends. Sometimes we'd visit, her downtown or she'd visit us uptown away. With her long, haired miniature docks and whose name dainty my sister play with dainty what alone I talk to my mom and sometimes drew for us should make Us Delhi it little pictures of people uncloud riding horses. That was pretty much the extent of thought about alone, up the dog and the drawings and then do you remember when I made you cry when little. Oh yeah. What happened comes? It comes close to them. Like all of us you and your sister. Where leg I made, I made this issue and we were on the porch. It turns out. In quite remember what had happened, but I did like said. I was about nine, maybe ten. She was sleeping over with dainty alone. Oh, oh
ways has a dog, but dainty was the first and what happened, her beloved Dainty sat on my beloved blanqui. Ah, yes, vaguely and you are mad at her for do our lad and use said dot oh yeah eyes. She was like my daughter, tat time right out of a bigger, Lovelady diluted in detail, and I due to get a life. Ah, ah yes, told me to get a life that, with the most horrible things, say to somebody me without a family. So. I am mortified by this story now, because I cannot believe how rude I was scruciatingly road blocks was being extremely obnoxious. I was not being pointed. I was mad at her and I reached for an insult, though probably got from some tv character, but it no something when I said get a life alone. I thought that I did, though, that somehow I could
see, some lack in her and I was going straight for her weak spot and she ran into the bathroom and sat on the drier and cried here get a life. What a horrible thing is that really the terrible when it is like it's funny, because I just really I didn't mean I gotta know ends, but you took it in a like he thought I knew secret things always always just this thing: As I said, and I thought you certainly must know that were, however- into view that my life was with an eye to enough life at the time felt really bad, but I also felt unconscious I hadn't wanted her dog on my blanket and it had somehow spiraled into this highly fraud. Interaction with an adult one who was so vulnerable. She had. Let me hurt her like. I was a grown up when I was just us not, and this is marked her for me a meter stand out from the other adults in my life initially not in such a good way,
alone up might not have remembered, but I did, and through middle school in high school in college, just made me feel away about her like too much I got in this peak into the laxity of adulthood. Three did not want but as an adult myself, I've come to see her differently. When did you start doing our? When I was born? I was always in love with letters. I liked the shape of letters and I liked the there different variations that they get a curve. Rounded they were jag if they were complicated. The M Are they why? Why do you love something? You know? Where do you love something I loved it? It was weird alone, who was born in sheep's, had bay in Brooklyn and moved out along island when she was sex,
Father was a design engineer for nuclear projects and her mother was a bookkeeper. She was an energetic kid performer. She danced she sang she design clothes for her dolls. She loved horses and forced back riding. She wanted to be an artist. An actress ballerina occur girl. There was no sadness in my house, we were jolly family, so I mean you they have been intensely depressed, but nobody would have had words for it or talked about it or acknowledged it. I thought happy child underwent its fabulous summer camp. I headed gazillion boyfriend. I went through them all Yoda gazillion, boyfriends yeah. It sent a well. I think, with my early childhood in development Became very interested in boys alone, referring to something that happened her soon after Family moved out to Long Island where I was little girl they somewhere between six and eight, an extra, nay the EU is like fourteen. He was that of a tough guy. He decided to play strip poker, which credit card game
he put himself on the bed and then he had me top of him said of air, you know like masturbating him. I had. Idea what was going on. It happened a couple times and alone. I never told anybody about it. She try. To put it out of her own mind as she said, She thought she had a happy childhood and she thinks of herself or wants to think of herself as a happy person. One of the ways that manifest isn't how she talks about even really horrible things with lightness, silliness laughter like the time she was in seventh grade and went back to her neighbours room when she thought he wasn't there to borrow the encyclopedia that was kept over his bed and then he came in there and he attacked mainstream, ripping my clothes off. I started like punt. King and kicking, and he finally, he stopped, and then he took my closet
depart and what went downstairs any so them back gather in his sewing machine. I stood there behind away it's up, Then they went back home, never to be ever to say a word to anybody about that is kind of funny. You deny me, obviously it took a lot to get through his head that I really was an interested, and I accept that he's, gonna go down there and so them, which is cute that he knew how to so. You know this big bully, I never thought it was a big deal and you know it was a sort of my neighbour. It happened. It was over. I didn't think it had anything to do with my life. You know about that I think, had enormous amount to do with my life she didn't know that, and now she box upward. Happened and thought it worked. She liked Highschool. She was popular. Yet a lot of friends. Kitticut by the time she was ready for college. She knew she wanted to be an artist Jean role,
Tyler School of ART a part of ample university, those outside of Philadelphia. I remember Thinking I have become much more than I am because I have just been a plague. I thought now amounts guy, I'm paying attention. She arrived It's cool with a lot of skill and talent for someone her age, she could read we draw up, she understood shading and perspective. She had a b the full line she was also intense about her work and a perfectionist and tie or in the late nineteenth sixties, demanding and intends to, but also cold and quiet alone with brimming with theoretical and technical questions, she didn't feel you could ask For her junior year, she studied abroad in ITALY, where, among her things she met my mom PAMELA heart? She sitting cross from me at the table, I really didn't know anyone they really found of my friend or the person who isn't. She across the way, and she was hilarious and charming and I just thought
she's, the one, I'm gonna be friends with a founder and even as alone I was having adventurers and a love affair. Listening to the news about Vietnam in the studio and dancing around in her room to the doors she increasingly anxious consumed by formal questions about some of her first adult paintings She was so worked up than in her words. She started disintegrating. Even more so after she returned to the states but I am actually had spent half of my junior year thing about how to kill myself. State of mind boggling. You know it's really sad, though. I've never really express this like this. I couldn't tell anybody, because I was to isolated. In my mind, I just took me pills. I can find my mother was Actually visiting the weekend right before this happened, I thought delightful weekend emits when she made her Suzette attempt right after I left, which freaked me after they had no idea
Did she was suicidal? It was, scary and I was very I mean it. I'm getting career was really paying flow that I didn't know really exciting. I wasn't reading or despair correctly I mean I just saw as this power is charming. Appealing talented. It was terrible. Ilona was hospitalized briefly and then went home for the rest of the school year. She went to therapy, she joined a group. She took them art, classes or people shouted. She started singing to herself on the street late at night like she had when she was a kid and all These things helped her depression. Abated she slipped back into a beer version of herself after underground school and stuff. I became sort of like a cheerful person and- and you know I was having fun and played with played with the the artwork
It was now the nineteen seventy years and, as alone is twenties unfolded. Three events in particular would set the course of her life and work. The first is that she became assignment or road after college. She went up to Boston where my mom was to live for a bed. She got her own studio, space, any very unstable boyfriend and to make money she got a gig ETA, Marina Hand, lettering the name on the back and sides of boats. Often yachts should go onto do some. America's cup boats could be exhausting hanging off both every day, sunrise to sunset in all whether it in a lot of technique and skill like drawing intricate letters, free hand on open water By doing it, she told herself a trade sign painting that she liked She was her own boss and it turned her love of letters into a living
good thing. That happened is that she found her voice as a performance artist after Boston. She enrolled in graduate school at the prestigious school of the ART Institute of Chicago her time in ITALY, had made her wary of painting, so she started doing installation are, which is when you create an environment, Villa room with objects made or found, and people walk in an experience for one of her projects. You put together a five story: installation peace at a graduate school building. Friends of hers had been supposed to perform in it, but they bail, at the last minute, and you decide to do it yourself. Kay Ilona we're going to either of a nervous breakdown or we're gonna, be we're to be an artist, then we're gonna be really for real we're gonna be in our body. I started. Through the hall five floors like reading, seeing making things up whenever it was like. I was free You know where you hear of artists where they do not. They spend their their adult life, imagining their Picasso whenever there and then, if they're, very
fortunate they break into their own. But this happened when I was like twenty one. It was such a miracle to me. If you're a business owner whose hiring you probably face a lot of challenges when it comes to finding the right person for your role, hiring can feel like to a needle. In a haystack sure you post your job, to some job board. But then all you can do is hope. The right person comes along which is why you should try zip recruiter for free at zip, recruiter, dot com, slash decoder when you a job on zip recruiter, get sent out over a hundred top jobs sites with one click and then zebra Voters matching technology, finds people with the right skills and experience for your job and actively invites them to apply. In fact, zip recruiter is so effective that four out of five employer soup Most unzip recruiter, get a quality candidate within the first day is no wonder overtime.
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entering cartooning politics pop culture, s, the thing was integrated in these little apparatus really weird one of the most careers matic performers I have ever seen- picks related audiences, just sort of through fairy dust on people and suddenly the let's serve chasm, would open and you'd be with, think very magical, but something very post, something had a chaos. True it most of her performance is warrant recorded is a clip from one of the rare ones that was I just wish you would have thought it was even worth of a lowlife more time, Warner That's my peace alone. Oh calls her rate performance, which brings us to the third thing, the determined the course of alone as life and work in a few short years after graduate school when alone
moved to New York, part of a cohort of artists and musicians settling in the rough old industrial neighbourhoods of so how tried back up and the lower side alone, was raped for separate times It was at night it winter. There is on the subway. I walked a couple. A few blocks to my house, so I was up, the gate and there was this voice. From being mind and we he's real gun on me in my back. My first, when I thought well being things happen to people all the time. This is my first bad thing, so grow up, Ilona remembers each of these experiences and she talks about them all in her way. She laughed sometimes would not down. What happened to her and the second time, am I had with lettering boats by this time in the Edison, Marina in Boston and this one person had not paid me, I had to hit their cause. I didn't have any money into.
From New York to Boston to get the money, so there was of course nobody was stopping and, finally, a truck. Stop. Stop too. I thought. Well, ok, he raped me. He took out a knife and I thought oh with the knife it's finally arrived. This is intolerable, so I pretended that I had an epileptic fit of each he really by it and it was really rough to like you know service. Pretend you're having seizure. You know, while you're sort of terrified you know the third time somebody came in through my window, I went to sleep and I woke up screaming Now I know I do. I was screaming with this hearing this man say: if you don't stop screaming, I'm gonna kill you that he had a mask on and steal pipe, when, in the finale than minded due to date, me what he asked me. If
we'd go out with him, I think I started laughing Venice. The last one was them. It was during the day on Sunday I was wearing a raincoat. I was four apartments or loves her something in Brooklyn, and I and I went to the park to think about it and her there were very there. Aren't there many people in the park and this young so cute, boy man came over, he was wearing a tendency, is carrying a tennis racket and he was wearing like a green and white stripe. T shirt near the perfectly here for directions and m. Then pulled out a gun, and he told me to keep working set, something like. I don't know. Is there like a group?
where are you all meat and find out like where you gonna go next, because this is was like two weeks later? With totally freakish yeah, I was totally I mean it was surreal. You know that twenty with surreal in a really this is this is really nutty. In the years immediately after this Ilona was needless to say, totally destabilized. She was full of fear, but also of a strange kind of fearlessness scared to down the street petrified. It would happen again, but also, in her words, a little wild full of the perverse invincibility that comes when the worst things have already happened to you. Her experience is immediately entered her work by my manager was lucky, I'm not the rapists, because how How terrible to be that person? Who is that disturbed in that
ugly inside you know that angrier just twisted. I had been through my own horrors already. I thought that I know in certain ways by might be the childhood experiences I was a fighter. I will. I wasn't gonna be turned into a puddle now psych, so awful. I thought that it was actually kind of like my responsibility to do a performance about it. Although My performance is booth before worm were kind of fun and entertaining and when they were had some depth to them, but they weren't terrifying so that this would became a terrifying one mine, the merchant also part of her re performance talking about one of the nurses who treated her
dad he then went into my air and cries in and that's what happened to time before it's like you're in is white empty room with his personal doesn't even talking about what they hear. You judge when you start crying told me to shut up told Ilona. There would have up into alone. I would never have happened to her alone. Remember thinking yeah, you have the money, to take cabs everywhere. We have a totally different life. Will you now? Ilona began performing this piece in the nineteen seventies and kept doing so into the early nineteen eighties, at which point our exports. He began to make their way into her signs, but in order for that to happen alone had to come to see her signs as art, for a long time she didn't they were a job a craft, but that started to change with a number of collaboration, basically spontaneous outgrowth.
For being fully enmeshed in downtown art, seen one were ever one was doing everything making movies, making art starting bands alone a joint disband, a no wave feminist outfit. A female artists who could play instruments started the artist Martha Wilson. You know we were political, we were doing songs about nuclear power nuclear radiation poisoning and about being accosted on the street ass, a woman, but she was this guy fly, who brought relief. Somehow they heaviness went away, one of the other members of Disband was angry decision was then the wonder, kinda editor of art you go. To edit Andy Warhol Interview magazine for twenty years. She
alone. To do some signs for show she was putting together means alone was also loosely connected to co, lab downtown activist artist. Collective She participated informed in their group exhibitions, some of which staged in squats no matter what they told me no matter there was. Nobody told me nothing out there in the in the land of nothingness. What could I think I put my love and the hopes of the future? We are Jenny. Holter was also affiliated with coal lab and she asked alone to collaborate with her on some pieces time, she would go from lettering yachts of one of our other occupations and then come to me to work on these paintings. Halters work in of slogans and aphorisms and in one collaboration alone, a letter to halters text under images by the graffiti artist. Lady pink phrases: like I M not free, because I can be exploded any time and don't shoot civilians.
Moments we would choose sand. Sarah very matter of fact, letters other time. She would do her patented wonderful, fluid script. Things started Snowball alone is work with a number of gallery shows, including one it p s one. She was getting more requests to make signs for other artists, including a set of signs for an avant garde feeder. There were so large there's more to think about than just the letters I thought this is like paintings so interesting, this fund for the first time since college. She really wanted to make aesthetic decisions about what she calls her flat are again so she began making signs to go in her own performance pieces spirit quickly one called is at work or is it war or are we all just waiting for the good fairy about global stability, nuclear war, economic injustice in this version made specific,
Luckily, for video she's wearing a black shirt and skinny tie and sitting at a desk when she pulls out erect, hang Miller, sign it's all black with three lucky white figures on it: one adult and two children, all folding up, missiles area, missiles from minors. To keep these little sign that I make that's, not gonna pay dollar, so I can get upon me in a pay about dollar surviving. Had a car, it's not gonna pay for anything. It's mechanism paper more missiles. It's not gonna pay for more big business neck. It could pay for more signs. That's true! She would The signs out at the end of her shows as well as handing them out in midtown, so people could display them in public on buses and subways and then alone and noticed a sign on the subway herself in what for the nineteen anyone James Bond movie for your eyes. Only all you see these long legs with nothing on them and may be high heels and die
and maybe devil of, seven is somewhere. I don't know I just remember that in thinking it was so we so provocative and it was so set in a bunch of legs. The vagina she found it so disturbing. She brought it up at the end of one of the re performances essence, If anybody was a designer out there with they, please make some signs that addressed rape to design something like that with it just seemed way above my my ability and then I saw then I finally realise that I really wanted to figure this out, that it was the challenge to me and it was healing- and it felt really important so nice Maybe too she started. Try to make signs that addressed. Rape herself it totally hostile Vienna things stay away with men flying in the air and attacking and then the next one will stay, eight feet away and the third one was basically like fuck, you
I thought I should take a vacation who still point was wanted to be out in the street for alone up the signs being out in the street, where everyone could see them where they could change. Things was fundamental. They were activism, Eve before they were art, but that They needed to be polite enough for public officials to agree to hang them so over the next six years. She honed that making them clearer and funnier the phrase Kirby Animal instinct in particular was a rift on then mayor, add catches, pooper scooper signs which asked people to curb their dog. Alone was asking meant to curb their verbal excrement, a cheeky way of giving the signs authority making them look They belonged Strategy worked better than she could have hoped. The department of TAT rotation agree to hang alone assigns in neighborhoods where the local community boards, ok, that not all of them did one board member in Greenwich Village told the newspaper there was a few, that it was reversed sexism showing men as animals
But the lower Manhattan Community Board, though divided on the signs, ultimately approved them. Not everyone was thrilled when we put them up in Wall Street. It was lunchtime traffic jam on Wall Street. They slip my tyres and my beautiful old mercury. My clear some like man in his suit his screws screaming out there. We should just go to the kitchen, if young, why, right and tat he was like all these caricatures and then This little guy rip sit down steel society, then runs into the walls, rebuilding that their building and hold it up like you one he's holding the sign up, be so proud and every is cheering. You know it is demanded, Wendy us off a co founder, of the gallery. P p, o W remembers the hostility to there was anger from the man on the street scene signs going up where all scary ex scary, threatening anger, Pv O W, which was then located in the EAST village, had just begun
represent alone around the time. The signs were going up. What she was doing for in his arm was way of her time and it means and it really resounded. She gently had an arab and there was a success since she got class and we saw them, they went inexpensive like seven under fifty dollars about still she had so she had tress. She was making political actions and meaning she had something to held on four shore and over them, couple of years she did Ilona was in group, chose at the Museum of Modern ART and the Whitney she got commissions to make a set of signs and a series of billboards in nineteen eighty nine, these worked or featured at alone as first solo shout and p p, o W, which at the time was a grab a newcomer that represented a number of political artists. The show was well reviewed in places like art forum and the village voice. Wasn't making much money at this time. In fact, she was still painting boats to make a living
things, were going well. She was known in the our world. She even at a PAMELA Cooper Union, about what it's like to be a famous artist and moral Her work was out there alone Priorities are right there in her medium. She makes signs, they are for people to see, and people were see them for alone. At getting to this point had happened. Naturally, she'd really hard, but without thinking about having a gallery based career, but now she slipped into one It seems reasonable to imagine that going forward her. Professional life would continue to ascend that there would be growing interest in her work that you'd show in more places get more ground. Have more collectors, more name, recognition, more money, maybe even enough to make a living just from her art. But that's not what happened, If this would have ended earlier, I would have been happy with my life. I would have been.
Abby where would have been proud, but I dine I would have enjoyed. I would have thought I did you know good enough job. You know and I should count my lucky stars that I was fortunate. And now I don't feel that way this What sort of de quartering is brought to you by bushes beans? Finally, glorious summer is upon us, and that means flip flop, sunglasses short shorts and good, all summer time, fun and now summer meal is really complete without the classic taste of bushes baked beans, there, the sweet, slow, cooked centre of the barbecue universe with sweet taste, bushes, baked beans. By their side, the savory flavors of burgers and hot dogs can reach delicious new heights. Bushes, big beans are a secret the recipe of Navy being slow coped with real bacon, fine brown, sugar and our signature blend of spices. There sure to make your cook or family, get together beautiful.
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all these years. I've always thought that when I said that, to her hand meant anything by it, you heard me talking about it with her really thought. I'd, just as easily could have said, eat my short sort me with a spoon but working on this piece I started to wonder if that can really be true. I definitely didn't know. I knew something but kids pick up, unlocked, things I don't understand. And I was a little picture with big ears. When I was a kid there was nothing. Liked more than sitting under the kitchen table and being quiet, and seeing what my mom and her friends would get into a half regard that I was there Maybe I heard something a conversation, a tone of voice. The reason I wonder about this is because too much of a coincidence. Otherwise one
told alone to get a life. Was the early ninety nineties right around a transitional moment in her career when things started to get harder? That's why what I said provoked such a reaction, why she couldn't just brush off as the bad behaviour of a mouth. He kid me for the first time the life she was starting to see stretching out ahead of her work going in the direction she wanted. After her first p, p, O W Show Ilona worked on a number of other sign projects, one about Stick and child abuse one for an imagined all female park, another inspired by the first Iraq WAR of gas mask figures. Dancing, eating lounging, underneath falling missiles, and you could have kept going in this vein.
Other artist might have the signs After all, we're what she was known for battle found she didn't want to hop from hot, but an issue hot button issue making signs all the while they wanted me to continued to make these political signs base Really, I think in some ways I got of my track jerry Salts again, she could go into production and just pay an endless series of each one of these came from a deeply rob. Third place in her. A lot of them dealt with a grin male aggression, hostility, abuse, nuclear war than a real fear so wonderful things exacted a lot from her and that generally from a big sir he's like
I'll. Do another show of men yelling at women. It just doesn't work that way for an art like that, plus she had a craft level it was extremely unusual that she was a king, her own work, painting around signs doing every their self, and this took time, and I thought it was like being applied. The just like making energy is doing it at coming up with that. Like the next subject, you know for the moment you know so. Instead, just making more signs alone, I decided to do something totally different. She started making Wedgwood. Wedgwood is a neoclassical style of ceramics, inspired, by ancient antiques there was created in the MID seventeen hundreds, it's the first. Modern mass produce, tableware and you'd probably recognize it. The most Miss examples of our cups and plates in a soft periwinkle blue called Wedgwood blew. It has why figurative ceramic freezes along the edges.
And they have a visual clarity. That's almost sign, like alone it was always been interested in the accessories of the rich and the habits of the regular became fascinated by Wedgwood, and so she said, out to make Wedgwood, earns and visas from scratch. These two foot tall, race or ceramic sculptures. Tailed with her own iconography fighter. And realistic, looking muscular women, lifting bar bells and soldiers with their arms and legs blown off, There's some of my favorite of her pieces, but they were time. Consuming even more so because she had to take time away from them to paint both and signs to make a living I say financially, it's never felt really good assigned to a really hard to make, and I worked really hard for it. So with ways really hard in Ireland. A few months to do anything in so here she is she's been,
working hard on good work. But it's been over a decade since her big splash in that I'm New York has gotten more expensive and the art world has gotten more professional. She seen peers, get fate, ass. Our relationship has fallen apart and she's a woman of middle age whose worried about money. All of this The context of her next gallery show at PPM w in late ninety. Ninety eight of her wedgwood earned a number of related ambitious paintings is the culmination of almost a decade of work and she needed it to go well and instead nothing much happens. It doesn't get a lot of attention. Theirs sales. Alone is getting frantic feeling frustrated contact with her gallery and she starts. Try to drum up, oppressed herself He calls one of her galleries. Wendy we heard from earlier today
talk about why in image, hadn't been sent the listing section of the New Yorker an escalates from there, so I called Apple Wendy upset and then she got very angry at me and So now you know you, don't you can't tell us anything, we know our business in and she said I M going to put with my children. She hung up the phone. I asked The four her perspective on what happened. There were eight. We had a fight. I remember there is a fight which is not typical. I have to say if our artists, but with a longer there was a lot of anger- and I would say in alone is case and she had experienced psychological trauma in her life. I am delighted triggers the capping of trauma and I think, moving from the signs to the bosses to bigger pieces. There was a struggle she couldn't the help she needed, maybe for financial reasons, and maybe we were too young time to provide and didn't have the money ourselves worldwide that umbrella and you have someone,
very, very angry, no matter why and we have no support at that point. For that artists speak less. The same thing was five years ago by ten years ago, and really no one knows who you are now and there's not a lot for us to do hate to say it seems so cruel. But you know there's a queerest art thing going on the art world and it's not the family, We are saying we think you can be crazy and you can be Vincent Van Gogh, so to speak, so. He beheld w dumped her and I sat on the bench but with the phone thinking. Well, that's the end of it that send me. I guess that certainly ended his career they die. You know it was. I was felt disgraced getting dumped by your gallery. It's getting dumped either no it's business, it feels personal and especially for an artist who's, not so young anymore. If gossip. If people
say, you're a handful. Maybe no one gives you another chance there are so many factors that they got a loner to displace timing money, the market, our world trends, psychology, sexism, bad luck, the end Annabelle, but once she was in this position, it was like a bamboo finger trap the harder he tried to get out the more so she was alone. It's not some smooth operator and she couldn't suddenly effectively become a strategic fifteen men who could sell themselves, but it didn't work for her. Our world keep her seemed put off by her and that only made her more off, putting more desperate, more vulnerable and the thing about Ilona. She can't always help Reveal her vulnerability, the people she to a nine year old and people don't always like that. Jerry Salts again
believe and radical vulnerability and alone are granted, is the embodiment of radical vulnerability, and that is a great plus that I think it hasn't side, unfortunately, the working day. Our world. There have been a lot of very hard things about the last two decades for alone up many of them financial. She never had health insurance until she qualified for Medicare, she has to room a changing cast of twenty and thirty something's off Craigslist she sells who work for less than its worth, both art the sign painting, because she knew income, and that was before the sign painting itself started to dry up in the two thousands as technology, she made it easier to use less skilful replacements alone. Calls her financial circumstances a nightmare, but as difficult as they are as an
is about money, as she is all the time. The more painful part is her work not being seen. A lot of artists say? Well, it's done week. If I like it, it's done. You know that it's, We, mostly it's the artists, engagement with the work. Will you don't feel that way? no, I don't and people would say them say these. He should be they should be everywhere, like they would say all the time you know, as I give it their nowhere there in my house, I can't you're not being able to to get through the, nor to get things going to fix things. You know to move it along, you feel so like not being a human being it dislike of failures. Human being that you can't you can't get. What you need is like being a doctor like with your you're, a great doctor, but you sick, somehow Cancun a patients. Compounding this is that she seen friends. Colleagues, pier from the seventies and eighties thrive have the kind of career.
That once seemed possible for her Jerry SALT it's a surprise for art criticism, Jenny, there is one of the rare artist whose almost a household name since the two intends Martha. Wilson has been represented by people represented w alone as former gallery, and that's just the people you mentioned in this episode. There are plenty more PAMELA heart. My mom again, I think ass. She aged As far as your career didn't happen, it's one to be struggling artist. Thirty eight is another thing to be struggling artist. Fifty eight, friends who she knew made it She was alone, you know, I think God harder as she aged in as her career did happen and in its its people, its painful for Ilona Is there anything that's a good about getting older? Not that I know of.
I know a lot of people seem to like it alot they feel like they ve they made. There is their comfortable, they feel proud of themselves. No, I start weeping now. I can feel with tears right behind it, but I don't really cry much anymore. I had started on this episode, knowing that alone, as life hadn't turned out, how she hoped and also know. That she was brave, but I hadn't full He considered how exploring the first two show the second might actually make her feel you ve been thinking. But there's a lot plague too much but like what. So? What do you think about your life is depressed me? I have never used, though, as I told PAMELA I I've never used the word depressed with me. I raise to be this happy girl. My mother was, and they sent me down when I was three years old to entertain the lady down the hallway and that's that's me personality, but at this point
It's like. I guess I've you know knocked against Walt for so long with that. You know. Without getting being able to get through that, it just seems like say And I really sad this is about. When I chickened out of doing this peace back in two thousand nineteen, not because the story, a sad but because it seemed like he was making her sad thirty years? I've tried done it the first time I was making her cry again. Do you really didn't want to do that? So I backed out shoots gracious about it and then I just kept thinking about it. About her about how being an artist is like a more high stakes, version of being a person where what it's all for and what you have to and what you leave behind our front and centre. Was how completely out of your control at all. Is artists don't get to decide if there were,
valuable. If it's a meaningful, if it moves people all they get to Do is make it in the face of so many material and psychological constraints and hardships. Most of us do everything we can to get whatever scrap of control we can make age we give up our dreams and callings. We change jobs, careers. We find other things partners, children interests can matter too Ass Barcelona hasn't done that she said with her lack of control for decades and that's been painful and disappointing, but that's not all it's been as hard as it is to make it, as rare, it seems to me just as hard just as rare to keep trying so single mindedly when you don't, because Ilona is still crying. I mean I'm not stuck in, though in this world, where I dont know what to do
You know like I'm, not I'm embarrassed. I don't want to do later. I'm trying to hide- and I can't do it- might mean. Oh my studios and clean. I don't have enough money, whatever kind of excuse. I live a you know like I'm, not there. I have work. You know I have more than enough for the last twenty years, despite everything, she's been working Among other things. She made a piece inspired by Donald Trump and she's all no finishing up the series of five beautiful signs ripping on little in writing HU in a different way approaching the theme of danger and safety for women and girls. The text on one of science has wander and giggle at the fantasy of freedom and discovery and meanwhile her work is out there. The Whitney bought the two original street signs for its permanent collection in two thousand feet. Team on official Non, sanctioned anti cat. Calling signs went up in New York City in Philadelphia they weren't alone us, but once fall, ring in her footsteps.
Showing how ahead of her time she was- and this is thing about alone. Oh that's always been there all along, not just the difficulties, but the perseverance she's struggling She is also in a struggle ever each day to get her work into the world. And we don't really know how to value that, how to think about that had a look at that we prefer to avoid it altogether by talking about people like Vincent Van Gogh, mango came up so much when I was talking about people usually meant it in a kind way he wasn't famous, Lifetime and look, we all know his work now, if you look at it, closely at the weird thing to say he was a miserable. He killed himself heat and enjoy any of his success. But does not really meant to be looked at closely is just our culture, way of thinking about people who don't make it really, our way of not thinking about them. It's
To imagine that alone, as work might be discovered before or after her death, but the The person who gets to be Van Gogh is Van Gogh for the rest of us there has to be meaning in something less eternal and how actually live our lives. My art dealer basically said you're dead. I'm supposed to be. But I'm not here. I am talking to you and I don't I still wish to be alive because I still have wake ideas, energy and it has a it hasn't work and I'm not finished, I'm still my finished. I'm going to finish whether anybody wants to know whether unfinished unit- and it's like this childish, hope there, till I will be. You know one of these hundred
twelve year old Ladys it they say here. She is look at this great work. I don't like it better there with his money, because the rules you gonna go to a prom now with a delightful money and buyers elbow, maybe a monopoly on, because what else am I gonna be able to buy? You know, because. I'm still hoping that this will go down a garbage. Can I also really hope it doesn't go down. The garbage can, but have to insist, that's not all matters because almost everything goes down. The garbage can eventually art fame money. None of it is forever. The myth of success is really powerful. Failing in little ways and big ones. That's the fact. Figuring out how to sit without figuring out how to try in the face of that, that's, not nothing, but the life I'm still trying here now. Hey, I'm still alive,
Edward being alive. This is Dakota Rank and, while a task- and if you'd like to see alone is, are you can find it add, Ilona hyphen, granite dot com? That's I l, oh and a hyphen g are a an e t. Dot com. You can also find me on twitter at will pass skin and you have any cultural mysteries. You want us to decode, you can email, I sat decoder ring at sleet got com if you haven't yet subscribe and re our feet and apple podcast or wherever you get your podcast even better
Tell your friends this podcast was written by will pass skin. It was edited by Benjamin, fresh and Gabriel Roth decoding ring is produced by will have Hoskin and Benjamin fresh Cleo Levin is our research assistant Special thanks through Jared Hold Alisha Montgomery June, Thomas Lucy Le Part Marian manicure.
Everyone else to give us help feedback on the way. If you are already a slate plus member. Thank you. You can listen to the entire season of decoder ring right now. You are not a slate plus member. We would love your support. Please sign up for slate plus at slate dot com, decoder plus, it means a lot, and I will give you access to this whole season of decoder ring otherwise, we'll see you next week.
Transcript generated on 2021-08-04.