“Paintings for cheap” and “I can paint anything” splash the windows of this old Toyota Corolla that used to be red…or blue… or something, but now is under its fifth layer of paint.
Ike Edgerton, 23, didn’t want his car to look like any others, so he covered every last inch of it in his own designs.
Edgerton graduated from Fordham University in New York recently, studying urban design. His stint with the New York City Planning Commission, though, turned him off from it completely. It wasn’t what he truly wanted to do. He wanted to paint.
“My least favorite thing is to be told to stop painting,” he said.
After struggling with the high cost of living in New York, Edgerton moved back to Chicago, where his parents live around the corner of the XORO studio in Rogers Park. He lives in the apartment complex above and a family friend lets him borrow the studio, rent free.
For the past year, he has been making paintings non-stop. Since last January he has made around 150 paintings. He says he likes to work during the day using the natural light that comes in through the windows – he doesn’t trust the overhead lights. He suspects them, they flicker, he said.
Edgerton recently learned how to make his own paint. He’s spent hours in the last couple weeks grinding down powder and oil together to fill his paint tubes. It’ll be cheaper in the long run.
Edgerton takes a figure painting class on Fridays at the Evanston Art Center. I followed him up to Grosse Point Lighthouse where he walked down by the lake to do a water painting of the landscape. He scouted out a place on the packed snow and pulled out his materials.
When you speak to Edgerton, he seems like a simple guy. He doesn’t say much, and when he does, you know he means it. He said he tends to choose places to paint that aren’t trespasser friendly. Cops are always bothering him to move, interrupting his work.
He doesn’t get mad easily, unless it’s when he can’t paint. His interrupted painting of the lake, he immediately painted over with a profile of the officer who escorted him off the ice.
I asked him if that’s really what he looked like. “No, not at all. I was just mad.”
I realized as I was going through my photos Edgerton didn’t show much of his face. He always had his back turned toward me, either looking down at his work or back up at the landscape he was capturing. I tried to focus on his hands – paint-stricken and dirt underneath his nails. They’re as delicate as the strokes he takes with his brush, but tinted with colors he works with.
When he finished, we walked back to his car where he proceeded to clean all his brushes using Turpenoid. He used to just leave his brushes in a cup of linseed oil to clean overnight, but he quickly found that destroyed his valuable tools. He now takes the time to wash and dry each one of his 15-plus brushes. He says it’s meditative. The repetitive actions – dip, rinse, wipe, repeat – are calming.
Again, I was missing his face. But when he talked, he had this great laugh. He seemed like this genuinely happy person whenever he talked about painting or thought about paining. And I think I just really needed to capture that.
The brush ritual was complete. Though we only spoke for a couple hours over the course of two days, I felt a weird connection to him. This was a person I had been dying to meet for months, passing by his mysterious car parked on the street everyday on my way home. And now that I finally had seen the man behind the paint, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye.
I lingered a bit longer and watched him as he struggled to fit his paintings back into his car. He said he used to be quite attached to everything he painted. But now that he’s done so many, he’s willing to just abandon them if they don’t fit in his car.
Luckily, he found a long strap of cloth, felt around his trunk until he found a hole and in the most desperate attempt to close his trunk, he tied it shut and drove off. He had to get his car repaired before a long road-trip down to Louisiana.
This was my last photoj class projects for Medill. But that’s the thing about journalism. For me, it’s the best excuse to meet some of the most interesting, different, crazy, weird, smart, brilliant, talented people I will ever get to meet. If I didn’t get assigned this project, I don’t think I would have ever had a reason to put my number on Ike’s car and follow him for two days while he went about his life as a “struggling artist.”
This class really gave me the opportunity to force myself to “make photos” again and I appreciated the chance to poke at my creative side after putting down the camera for so long. Though the class is over and I sadly had to return my Nikon 60D back to Medill, I hope I still find a way to get out there to capture these moments and to see what I can see.
At least, I can stop cheating on my Canon now…