by Joseph R. Lewis
- “Vignette” by Tristan Meinecke was exhibited at the Art Institute in 1963
“My father’s last words were, ‘Tell your mom I never cheated on her!’ But before that he looked right at me and said, ‘Take care of my paintings.’”
Brad Meinecke pauses briefly. For a loquacious Midwestern Mid-Lifin’ Lothario like Brad, even brief pauses seem long. His father’s building will be gone soon. He’s worried. You can tell. But he’s Chicago. It ain’t over.
Tristan Meinecke, Brad’s father, passed away in 2004 at 88 gruff years of age widowing his wife of nearly six decades. She had been the darling of Chicago radio and television back in the fifties, back when everything was produced local. Angel Casey was the star of early Chicago children’s show The Playhouse as well as the world’s first wave of soap operas, a marketing gimmick invented right here in the Windy City. Brad once heard a Chicago policeman bark about his father- “That guy’s trouble! His wife is famous and he’s crazy!”
Tristan Meinecke and Lorraine “Angel” Casey had raised their family in a building down on North Cleveland street in present-day posh Lincoln Park. Back then, though, it was less posh and more piss and spit. Oz Park was Little Vietnam and soon the Great Daley would raze the whole damn thing and be done with it. I imagine Tristan didn’t like the idea of urban renewal much. He seems the sort to see the gold in dirt. He saw the thresh swinging, though, and faired quite well.
Interior of the Meinecke’s early Lincoln Park home
He wanted to build an X-shaped home for his family so he took a year and taught himself how to be an architect. He partnered up with his friend Robert Bruce Tague and together they were instrumental in the design and construction of the new Lincoln Park. Nobody ever let him build that X-shaped building, though.
City-building…Just the kind of project a manic creative mind would need to stay focused. And this was the sixties, after all. No SIMS yet.
The Meinecke’s left Lincoln Park. They settled in West Rogers Park, in this building Brad inherited from his parents. Tristan’s art studio dominated an adjoining ex-saloon space with accompanying creepy basement.
Tristan toiled and tinkered endlessly. He would be up for weeks at a time before passing out for days of deep mental and emotional hibernation. By the seventies he’d long abandoned active exhibition of his art. His career as a prominent visual artist in 1950s Chicago was defined by the surrounding community’s inability to keep up with him.
By the time the public came around to liking what he was doing, he was doing something else and staunchly refused to do commissioned work. Galleries struggled to put together “coherently-themed” shows. The Surrealists adopted him for a time, but no label stuck for long. He was always changing.
It also didn’t help that curators were afraid of getting punched and thrown down a flight of stairs. These were legitimate concerns. He stopped showing, but he never stopped working.
But his work sold well for a time. His family estimates he created over 800 pieces in his life. Around 500 sold…the rest are in the basement.
After Tristan passed away the family moved to the basement all the remnant relics of the patriarch’s massive collection. It is the life’s work of an artist dedicated to the exploration of the deepest depths of this stream called time. Fittingly, he loved to fish. His rods are still in the basement, too. But not for much longer.
Burning with Awareness by Tristan Meinecke. 72″x48″x8″
The rods, along with the 200-plus paintings, collages, sculptures, the large-scale split-level shadow boxes, the hand-written string quartet arrangement, the 300-page hand-typed autobiography, the tractor bag Tristan fashioned into a huge face, the hand-rendered architectural plans of Meinecke-Tague Architectural studios, the sound recordings of he and his drummer brother Phil playing jazz dives back in the 40s, the pictures of Angel…all of it has to go somewhere else. Brad doesn’t know where. Neither does his brother Scott. They sit together in their father’s old office. They’re worried. You can tell. But this is Chicago. It ain’t over.
The Current Excavation of Tristan Meinecke
THE RESURRECTION OF TRISTAN MEINECKE
Visit the excavated studio of lunatic genius Tristan Meinecke in it’s final days of existence…
Exclusive Gallery Hours coming this February in Chicago, Illinois.
Stay tuned to follow the adventure at The Underground Multiplex and the official Tristan Meinecke portal.