Springman Interview

by Vittorio Carli

(conducted in February, 2005)

Alan Bolle aka The Springman has been a fixture in the Chicago art scene for several decades. He was a regular attendee at Around the Coyote. He would park his car on Milwaukee and wave at people in his elegant spring covered hat. One day when we went to the movies in his car, and as we parked, several kids materialized out of nowhere to touch the springs on his car. They acted as if Santa Clause had just arrived.

Alan received some positive press when he was featured on several television shows such as "Wild Chicago,Ē and "Ben About Town." He also received some press when he was arrested for trespassing at the Art Expo. The story along with his picture appeared on the second page of the ďChicago Sun-Times.Ē His car was also featured in the classic book, ďArt Cars: The Cars, The Obsessions, The Craft,Ē which was written by Harrod Blank, the son of film maker, Les Blank.

In addition, he also participated in the Chicago Cow exhibit, and he had countless shows at his own studio. Many of them included musical performances. His spring bikinis were featured on TV and in some fashion shows. He also played music dressed while like a vegetable at an anti-war protest, and he has been working with the terrific music/dance/multimedia performance group, Environmental Encroachment (see encroach.net.) which will be performing at the Version 05 Festival .

But I knew him best from his work in the Ever So Secret Order of the Lamprey, and he even helped me out with one of my crazy performance art pieces called the Ultimate Monkey dance.

Sadly, Alan decided to leave Chicago, to seek his fame and fortune in New York. I caught up with him at the famous Springman studio which was located on Kinzie near State and Lake for a going away interview on the day before his big movie.

He was listening to a great mix of music on WFMU a station (itís far superior to any Chicago stations) that he gets on his computer. It comes out of East Orange New Jersey, and Alan says itís the best station in the country. Last time I was there, the station played Negativeland.

Can you tell me about your background and how you got interested in art?"

I took courses as a student in junior high and high school. I did some figure painting from a model at an experimental school in the 3rd grade. An instructor brought in a model for a day, and we did drawings and ceramics using the model. We brought out the three dimensional qualities of the figure in a two dimensional perspective. How did you decide to become an artist?

(In a little kidís voice) My mom made me do it! I donít know if I ever decided. It was something I did all along, and an 11-year-old I decided that I liked the romantic vision of the artist working on the landscape.

The romantic vision included the paintings, the landscapes and the beautiful women. I took many college level courses in high school on drawing and painting, and I went down a classical path. I learned painting and anatomy. I studied Rembrandt, and Ruebens, and Delaquoix. The impressionists taught me how to do color and the abstract expressionists taught me how to put my guts into a work of art. From there I went at it from more of a craftsman perspective and I developed my art muscle.

Did you have any important influences or mentors when you were just starting out?

When I was a kid, it was just the classical artists like Gauguin and Delaqoix. German expressionism was also great to look at. In the mid 1970s, there was a boom in rockín roll, and college radio became very important. I listened to college radio and the post punk movement was very important at art school. The punky idiom of expressing yourself and getting it all out right away with whatever tools you have at hand was exhilarating. It fed into to the whole abstract expressionist view of painting that you would paint your emotions, the gesture of your experience] rather than being so literal. I still studied lots of traditional methods in college such as figure painting, grinding paint, priming canvasses, and making lithographs and etchings.

Where did you go to school?

The Maryland Institute in Baltimore.

Were there any outstanding teachers?

Raw Middleman was an expressionistic figure painter in a narrative style. Sharon Yeats taught me how to draw using black ink with charcoal using lights and darks.

Can you tell me about your fascination with springs and why you use springs so much in your art?

Itís an extension of that whole putting springs on the object denies the solidity of the object to get that whole secondary movement of the springs on it. Maybe as the car goes down the road when the springs move, in such a fashion that it makes it look like itís disintegrating. Springs on a bikini make the spring goddess look like she is fluctuating in massy directions.

Are you going to take the spring car with you to Baltimore?

Yes I am going to take it out east. I think itíll be a great calling card and hopefully bring a little enthusiasm to anyone who would see it (He coughs.) Sorry my landlord got sawdust al over my apartment when he sandblasted the place. All my works are totally covered in dust. Vito it looks like you have dust on your brow.

Well I have been working from dawn to dust.


Can you talk about the exhibit about getting parking tickets and getting the boot?

It wasnít just an exhibit just on the tickets; it was one revolving around the spring car. I wanted to poke fun at the fact that the city was so upset with my car that month after month they would give me tickets.

What were the tickets for?

They said there was no front plate but it was displayed in the windshield, or I had expired registration. Officer Kelly kept coming after me. I got 27 tickets in one month. Officer Kelly if youíre out there, I want to say "hi."

Was it some kind of personal vendetta?

He or she was just irritated by my car. He didnít have a flexible nature (pun intended.)

Can you discuss the glove pieces?

I like the fact that any time of the year, you will find lost gloves in the street. They take on a gesture of shaking your hand. In many classes, when the screen goes blank, students use their hands to make shadow puppets, and the gloves can look like that. And when you put lots of gloves together it looks like a flock of birds. I coated a bunch of them into resin and I did a mobile for them. I did a large installation with Katherine Chronis . It was wonderful to see the gloves hovering around her like flies while she was performing. I think it was around 6 years ago while I was living in Rogers Park, and she took the installation out with her in New York. They had it in a gallery on the Lower East Side. I donít know which one. Youíll have to ask Katherine about it.

You lived in art communities in Wicker Park, Rogers Park, and you also know the Pilsen and Baltimore art scene. How do the various scenes differ?

Chicago seems somewhat disjointed. There are all these small groups of artists, but they rarely intermingle. The artists in Pilsen and Wicker Park do get together on occasion, but they mostly stay in their studios. Artists are mostly lonely, solitary figures that occasionally collaborate. Being alone is a huge part of the creative element.

I saw you play some spring covered instruments before, and you were also were also with environmental encroachment at a protest. Can you talk about your musical performances?

I was very lucky to be adopted by environmental encroachment. I found a tuba in a friendís closet and I started playing it. Mike Smith invited me to come out and audition for the band. They invited me in with open arms. We did a bunch of performances together for around 8 months. Then I found out I was playing an e flat tuba with b fingerings so I had to relearn what I had been playing during the first eight months. It was a great experience. They were such a joyous band and great friends.

Did Rachel Thiel from the lampreys also do some stuff with them?

Oh yes, she is a great bass player. But I think now sheís doing percussion with them. I hope she picks up the bass again.

What about the band I saw you in at the anti Iraq War protest?

Thatís another band. Itís an even larger one. Theyíre called All American Anti War marching Band. They are out there to show love and joy and community. They would play these marching songs. Not specific tones but rhythms and spontaneous combustion. It was a joyous cacophony of sound. They would act up against the war.

What did you think of the Iraq War?

Itís very sad. Weíre exporting a system of hate, which will last for years. I donít know if weíll ever get out of Iraq. America wants to continually dominate things. Itís all for plastic appliances and throwaway items. Weíre going to eventually have to change our lifestyles.

Can you tell me about the whole Navy Pier experience?

(Sarcastically) The lovely Tom Blackman and his show. Before Tom Blackman ran the show, John Wilson ran it. The last year that John Wilson ran the show, I drove the first spring car, out to the pier. The cop said I could just park it in front. All these people came and saw this strange car. Everyone had a nice time. This is before I had fully developed the persona of the springman, the mock superhero. /artist/great deity. Then Black man took it over. In 1998, I had finished the persona. I took the second spring car, and I had dressed in a white jacket and pin striped pants, and I carried a bouquet made of springs. I marched around the fair, providing amusement, celebrating spring, and telling everyone to keep a spring in his or her step. A great piece of art is breathing and growing. There might be space to add to it. Each year I would arrive and add to the performance. Then one year my car got towed from the south side of the pier to the north side. You would think they would take it to the pound. The next year I was about to leave after two hours of wishing everyone a happy spring. For the third time, the guard asked me where my badge was. They hustled me to the guard tower well above the pavilion of exhibiting booths, and they decided they would arrest me. I thought, ďThis is absurd.Ē I attempted to escape three times. The first two were no good. They were spoiled. I didnít try to fight them off. I was waiting for my third chance, and I finally got a break. Everyone was up in the booth, and I was wearing my spring hat, my spring flowers, and my spring tie. I was feeling very silly and all the guards laughed so I thought, "Hereís my chance. I dashed down the stairs at the bottom of the stairs so I did a massive stage dive over them. One guard wanted to show how tough he was. He grabbed me and carried me like a sack of potatoes. He wrestled me to the floor, and gave me a rug burn on my eyebrow. He put me back to the chair and threatened to handcuff me. They escorted me to the paddy wagon. The sculptor, Ray Bemis saw the whole thing. She was so upset she stuffed a hundred-dollar bill into my pocket. She was the wife of the guy who ran Tough Gallery. Sheís a great lady and a great sculptor. The department of cultural affairs would know how to get a hold of me. So they took me away in the paddy wagon, and they locked me to a bar and you canít see out of the interior. I arrived in this garage. It was antiseptically clean. They brought me to a brand new police station on Loomis. They put me in a cell, and I had to spend the night. The best part was when the officer had to get my spring tie off and it got caught in my fly. She didnít want to touch me there, so she had to get another officer to pull it out of my fly. She started to pull on it , , , and it kept getting longer. She asked, "What is this, a joke?"

So I guess itís safe to say that the police didnít get your work.

They didnít get it at all. She had no sense of humor. One police officer looked at the spring flowers. She said, "These look like weapons. What are they?" But the case was dismissed.

Did you get a lot of notoriety and attention from it?

Well the ďChicago Sun-TimesĒ ran the story on the 2nd page. ďBen Around TownĒ did a great interview with me and the lovely spring goddesses in the spring bikinis. Ben is a great interviewer.

Can you tell me about your other collaborations?

Well there was the Mucky Three Plus One. There were three of us working with a fourth person, a poet. We made multimedia pieces such as collages that employed different elements such as fabric, paper and charcoal. The poet would draw into the he works of art. We did that for ten years, and we invited other people, to participate. We met every week then every three weeks and eventually every month than it petered out. It went from 1989 to 1986. Then I met the Ever So Secret Order of the Lamprey, another great family of artistic collaborators. They made a meal every Sunday night, and encouraged people to make apiece involving a certain word. Then they would discuss the works while downing vast quantities of beer and other inebriants. Around 20 or 30 people came. I participated in that for around five years. Then everything came to a roaring halt sometime after the big disaster in 2001. Everything kind of slowed down then. Thatís the year after I got involved actually.

How did the lampreys compare with the mucky three? Well the muckey three would get a lot more specific things done. We would make objects spontaneously, and all four of us would work on the same pieces of paper. Up to seven people could participate.

Did you go see the exhibit we did in Rogers Park?

I donít think I was aware of it. Joe Roarty and Katherine Chronis were in the one in Rogerís Park.

Who was in the group?

Lisa Stavinsky, Don Stalky, Paul Ryan, and myself originally. The crescendo was on Rogers Park in 2000 where we used 7 or 8 people. I did some early Link Halls musicians at Links Hall in 85 and 85.

I got here in 84 and did scenic artist work for designers. I came from Pennsylvania. I lived in Rogers Park from 96 to 2000.

Why did you move to Rogers Park?

The lure of the big studio. Now Iím moving to Nee York to a smaller studio. I need to get a bite out of the big apple.

What are you working on now? Moving. Well I recently did some pieces with springs, tiles, and found objects. Itís called Self-Portrait of the artist as an 8-year-old Man with a cup of Coffee. It combines a mosaic of a cup of coffee on a flat red tile the springs support different flat pieces of metal, which combine to make a crude portrait with eyes. Nose, lips, and hair.

Youíve had a lot of artistic training. What do you think of outsider artists?

I think they are great. Weíre all trying to get to that intuitive state of making art regardless of how much youíre trained. Weíre all trying to get that moment of forgetfulness or true knowing. Youíre on a conduit of that great magnet.

Do you like Henry Dargerís work?

Yes, Iíve seen tons of his work, but I donít want to see the movie because I donít want to corrupt my vision. I even hung his work and stored it in private collections.

What did you think of the cow exhibit?

It was the demise of real art in Chicago. When I heard about it I was really sad. I thought weíre going you have a bunch of stupid cows in the city. It was just embellishing not creating. I thought you should have one cow you can interact with so I made a spring cow. You can pluck the springs. It took around a month to make it. I transferred photos of the springs and map pieces of areas that were less served well in the city along with photo images of the spring car, then I glued on springs with different sound objects on the springs. The spring cow went from being. I had to get a little political statement in there. The cow went from being sprung out to being de sprung. Itís interesting. That the color went from a brownish reddish warm tome to a green tone. I think the acid from the fiberglass ate through it. Everything went to auction and mine sold for $7.700 dollars and I only got $1,000.

What are you going to miss about Chicago?

Well thereís a great jazz scene and all of my friends of course. Maybe Iíll even come back and taunt Tom Blackman at Art Chicago.


Art | Cinema | Music | Miscellaneous | Contact

© artinterviews.com 2010

Photography by Richard Wilson