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Jeff, Geoffrey, Untitled (Geoffrey) is just fine

Untitled (Geoffrey) Jef Kitagawa (2001) oil on panel

A few weeks ago while I was waiting for the elevator at the UIC Medical Center I saw this JK painting on display. There's a real treasure trove of Chicago artist's works throughout the 4th floor of this building. It just happens that JK is a painter that for a brief time lived at 1822 with us. I have a sort of broad stroke recollection that Don Baum helped organize this UIC collection. It made JK exceedingly proud to be included.
JK was living in a street level apartment over on Wood near 17th. We had been meeting to talk about his painting for several weeks. Mostly he got along just fine with his landlord, then one day he didn't. That's when JK asked if he could stay with us. I called KL and asked her for some help moving him out. Some of his things were in boxes. Some of them were in bags. A lot of them were in discrete piles stacked around the room. It took about an hour to load everything into her car. Eventually it arrived at 1822 where we got the bags, boxes, and stacks re-installed behind some pocket doors.
JK found it difficult living there on the first floor. Every 5 weeks we had an opening reception for a new program. It was loud during the week while we installed work and artists easily confused the public and private areas of the house. All of this led to discomfort for JK. Eventually he and I exchanged our rooms. This meant his studio was on the second floor beside our kitchen. This was a semi public area that would have been the master bedroom adjacent to the kitchen years earlier. Without the walls that defined the former layout it had since become a large painting space for me. For JK it was a much more personal painting space.
JK had this enormously dingy green chair that probably fell out of a broken window somewhere. He sat in it and smoked these tiny rolled cigarettes down to nubs. Then he would tamp, scrape and stab them into piles on a collection of secondhand tea saucers that were arranged around him. It occurs to me that when we talked about this painting from the medical center the central figure was always, Geoffrey. As in the Toy's 'R Us mascot.
I would squat down next to his little painting table say to him things like, "I like this moment here." Then I'd point at some brush stroke or other. Standing behind me with his arms crossed JK would hold onto his elbows. Rocking back and forth on his boot heels listening as he smoked. He'd be briefly animated, "Hmmm I, I, that's not too masochistic/fascist. I mean the order. Geoffrey, the way he's laid down. It's important being." Kind of stammering he’d be real slow like a pot smoker hiding behind a very thoughtful child might be. Then JK'd politely laugh by way of saying, HaHa Ha.
JK had an odd day job back then. A few times a week he locked himself into a tiny room where he would engrave very tiny brass or vinyl plates. These would later be affixed to trophies that said things like, Best Boss Ever, or 2001 League Champs. Before he moved out JK gave me a set of custom name tags that he devised in that room. There were 3 of them set on vinyl with a faux wood veneer. They said, Mikey Likes It, Mikey Doesn't Like it, and Mikey's Ambivalent.


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