I hope that you will allow ample space for this reply as I will need it. There is no subject in Chicago that is bigger in my world than that of the topic of Wesley Kimler [June 26]. This is by no means intentional but more a matter of some weird karmic fate. My mission with this letter is to confirm the accuracy of the article, while at the same time filling in the cracks and missing pieces to satiate the rage that has existed in me with all of the raw nerves that you touched in me with this article.
I would first like to thank Jeff Huebner for really getting the details and accurately portraying that part and time period in Chicago art history. I know that he attempted to acquire as much information and quotes from the "lineup" of Chicago "greats," but you missed this silent witness. (If I had known the article was being composed, I gladly would have volunteered as I am the unauthorized Kimler aficionado.) My life was directly affected by Wesley's work as well as his antics. My first impression of Wesley was him at Frumkin & Struve Gallery during his fall 1985 exhibit, and I admired him because he was at the door slugging down beer in green bottles. I thought that his drunken, doormanlike appearance was entertaining as well as unusual to see on such an important night. I liked Wesley because I could relate to his drinking and painting as well as his luxury to skateboard in his studio on Laflin.
The overall picture painted by Wesley is correct in spirit, but lacking the real balance that he purports to be attaining within his new sober life. It will never be drinking that will kill Wesley, but moreover his resentments. I have been told by the Chicago wise sage named Jimmy Hodges that "hate will kill the hater." I am not sitting in judgment of Wesley as much as paralleling his sentiments. There were dozens of us who had drinking problems and most of it happened in the Rainbo Club. (I think Wesley occasionally plays pinball there to this day.) Wesley's mouth has always been as much a part of his painting as his brushwork, and when he tries to minimize that fact he opens himself up for more bashing. I used to bash him for a much bigger reason, which led to many of my past resentments and personal drinking binges. It was a Monday night, February 24, 1986. I lived in Oak Park with my now ex-partner, and she and I were racing to go to the Limelight nightclub to see the work of Wesley Kimler. I was fanatical about getting down there on time to see him to the point where I was barking out commands at my driver, and as we were poised to turn off of the Eisenhower onto Dearborn, I screamed at my ex, who was the driver, saying, "Stop! What are you doing!?" At that exact second, an old Checker taxicab hit us at 60-plus mph, thus sending me to my only near-death experience. I was in intensive care at Rush-Saint Luke's fighting for my life. I did not get to meet Wesley that evening, and in hindsight, I know that on that specific day in my life I survived, but my fork in the road towards being any sort of an important Chicago painter dimmed following those moments of fate. I still don't think I am really alive with my artwork, the way I was back in the 80s. I used to blame all of that on Wesley Kimler, but I now see it was always me--me and my own big mouth. Wesley should count his blessings that such good fortune, painting, and press have fallen his way. To this day I am able to intuitively feel a Wesley Kimler painting within 60 yards. I have this weird affinity to his work, or as he refers to them, "wrecks."
Enough on past history. I was stuck on my resentment of Wesley for a number of years and I was also in on the silent, back-stabbing, well-wishing, good-bye parties when he left town. We all thought he was gone for good and that he left to dry out with his tail between his legs in California. He did the next right thing; he got sober. The painters that "reigned supreme" during his hiatus did a lot of drinking to make up for Wesley's absence. Some of those people are dead via cocaine overdose, heroin overdose, and just the general drinking yourself to death. It is said, "There are two kinds of people, my friend: those who drink until they die and those who find a program." Wesley found his "own program." What he expounds upon are not true principles, but rather those that serve his anger and his stream of endless resentments towards issues and people that will end up taking care of themselves without any help from him. Joel Lieb only gains power from Wesley every single time that Wesley refers to him. Don't worry about him, Wesley, I've never been in Ten in One (or any of the Uncomfortable Spaces) and all of the real painters and artists never will. It's only a matter of time before his fifteen minutes are up, so live and let live, Wesley. Remember this: "Principles before personalities." I'm really surprised you haven't learned this by now. You eventually have to stop your railing at the universe, otherwise you'll end up in that bitter barrel with the likes of Stan Edwards, Tony Fitzpatrick, and the other folk that think the "bus has passed them up." You see, I have this slicing tongue as well, and I work on tempering that every day. I need to know myself, I don't need to concern myself with all of the issues that were brought up in this article, but I could not hold back this time. I held back when the Terra had its 15 minutes, I held back when the Lynne Warren show darkened the skyline (aka "Art in Chicago: 1945-1995"), but I will not sit by and listen to just part of this story. In the bitter tradition of Stan Edwards's branding, "I was there," I have to say that I was in attendance at the final panel of drinkers, or I mean artists, at those "moveable rap sessions" that were hosted at the only real Chicago gallery, Feature (which incidentally had moved from Chicago for lack of interest). Robbin Lockett was the bartender. Wesley saunteered up to the esteemed panel last with a beer in hand, swilling and talking at the same time. Brenda Barnum was chain-smoking in the audience, and Jessica Swift was booing every time Wesley would bark something out. Mitchell Kane made constant yet unsuccessful attempts at sounding like an intellectual. This is the point where I object to the article's reference, via James Yood saying that he witnessed this and said, "Kimler creates enemies and conspiracies, he sees vendettas where I don't think they exist. Yes, some people support some artists, and some powerful people supported the neoconceptualist group. But that doesn't mean they hated the other group." This, in my firsthand, eye-witness opinion, is where Mr. James Yood is talking out of his bum! Mitchell Kane had the venom of a snake for any good painters, and most of what we discussed at Rainbo Club cannot be transmitted because of their soiled and slanderous content--he had a trash mouth, as many of the artists did. Tony Tasset groomed with the right folk at all of the "right" parties; he even brought his girlfriend Judy along to become part of the conceptualist conspiracy. I know because I catered almost all of Rhona Hoffman's parties. They groomed and built Tony like a machine and he did his homework. Robbin Lockett used to treat her shoebox gallery as if it were the conceptualist Camelot. (In her dreams!) That is where Wesley was never present and I was, when all the deals were going down and people were being slotted as commodities. I challenge any of those aforementioned parties to come forward and argue those truths. The caterers always witnessed everything when it came to the MCA, the Chicago Collectors, and all of their shenanigans.
The major damage that occurred in Chicago art history will be the moments we gave as much power and control to three of the most dangerous women in influential places: Judith Russi Kirshner, Lynne Warren, the biggest of the "bandwagon-jumpers," Victoria Lautman (WBEZ). And if Lynne Warren is one of the only "champions" in this city for Wesley, then maybe Wesley should think about leaving the city. (It's called a "city," not a "town," Wesley; you were born in "town.") Those three women have done more damage with their decisions in art than we need to go into, and it is such a pity for all that we have lost in their selfish, egocentric, and ignorant wakes. Wesley is correct about this conspiracy, and his work is beautiful. It still won't change the movers and shakers or their politics. Become content, let those narrow people wither and die; fuel them no longer. You are very gifted and talented; now start appreciating it and acting your role as one of Chicago's finest painters, because that is truly the fact. And stop hanging out with bloodsuckers like Tony Fitzpatrick and anyone else that will keep you in resentment purgatory. Fitzpatrick's antics, regrets, machismo-bravado are something out of a dime novel; he has nothing to do with aesthetics as he wouldn't know a great work of art (as you would say) "if it bit him on the ass!" Be thankful that you are able to flourish and live two lifestyles in one lifetime.
In the meantime, Wesley, hold true with your real direction of serious painting and fine art in Chicago, as your time will come. Jeff Huebner is the first real critic that I have witnessed who has captured a very pivotal moment in Chicago art history, and we should be forever grateful for his valuable contribution in going to the lengths that he did to substantiate all that you have said. You must work on the words that come from your mouth and with all of the reading you have done in your years as a painter, it should begin to be a part of your daily wisdom.
On a lighter note I would like to mention that Evanston is neutral territory and the DMZ between the urban jungle and the North Shore, and that is where my wife, Holly, and I have set up camp with a small yet vibrant art gallery. We cordially invite you to our "art rap" sessions at Dramaticus Fine Art. I personally hope to see you again, as it was one of my goals back in 1986. I also would like to mention that you failed to give credit to one of your biggest collectors and a true champion of who you are and what you stand for, Mr. James Guth. Jim and I had many a conversation about your work and why we thought you to be a genius. You also failed to give credit for the real artistic, painterly rivalry of "Wesley Kimler versus the Brabbee brothers." Tony Fitzpatrick is a mere footnote in art history for Chicago, and the Brabbee brothers were works of art in and of themselves, very much akin to you. Print magazine was kind enough to let you and the Brabbee brothers "have it out" in their letters to the editor section of that publication. Those were the days of true dialogue in the Chicago art world. As I have told you before, I am the unofficial, nonappointed Wesley Kimler aficionado. I wish you peace and prosperity in your new work and life.
Rick Edward Smith