On Saturday, September 2, a memorial reception was held at the Art Institute’s Terzo Piano restaurant for Andrew Natale (BFA ‘94), who passed away last month at age 49 from complications from cancer. He is survived by his wife and daughter.
While the occasion for the gathering was somber, a spirit of community and warmth was strong among the more than 200 guests in attendance as they remembered Natale, who, aside from being an artist who crossed many mediums, worked for many years in the School of the Art Institute’s (SAIC)’s IT department. Andrew, or “Drew”, as his friends called him, also served as News Editor of F Newsmagazine in the early 90s.
A number of photo albums and mementos from Andrew’s life were on display for guests to peruse as they mingled and spoke with family and friends. The images showed what many attendees would say: that Andrew was a vivacious, curious, and deeply loved person within the many communities to which he belonged.
Chicagoans David Kelpsas and Laura Pager rented the first floor of their home in Ukrainian Village to Andrew and Colleen for a period of years and fondly remember their time as landlords to the newly married couple and their dog, Biscuit. (Pager noted that after Andrew and Colleen moved to Humboldt Park, they got their second dog: Gravy.)
“Andrew loved grilling out,” Kelpsas said. “I think he had two Smokey Joe [home smokers] out there on the porch. And grilling was less of a ‘manly-man meat’ thing for Drew; It was more about the artisan aspect of the process.”
When a yard sale was planned, Kelpsas discovered both men shared an interest in photography after Andrew set out for sale an Argus C3 35mm camera. By that point, Andrew had been pursuing his photography work for some time; years later, he would take pictures for Pager’s company website.
“I get compliments to this day on those photos,” Pager said.
Andrew’s path to an artistic practice was atypical, said Mike Thomas, a close friend to and longtime collaborator of Andrew’s.
“Drew picked up a camera while he was at the University of Texas getting a degree in American Literature,” Thomas said. When his friend landed at SAIC to study photography, he was a master at fudging his way, with charm and humor, through early critiques and presentations because, as Thomas said, “Drew was the first person I ever met who was pursuing a career in art but had basically no prior experience.”
Several years after two twentysomethings graduated and moved away, they landed back in Chicago, living above a music studio in Wicker Park where bands like the Smashing Pumpkins came through to make records. It was in this era in the 1990s that Andrew and began to create the art that would bond him and his friends for life.
Nationally-recognized author, artist, and publisher Paul Chan (BFA ‘96) remembered where he met Andrew: in a men’s room at SAIC. “It was actually F [News] that sort of brought us together,” Chan said. “He told me he had read this article I had written and that he liked it. That was how I met him.” Chan remembered also Andrew’s days at Dogmatic Gallery, an art space run out of the house in Pilsen where Andrew and three other artists were living.
“When Drew and Mike [Thomas] and Aviv [Kruglanski] moved in there after SAIC, the place smelled like crap,” Chan said. “And when four guys are living in the same place, it’s gonna smell — but it turned out there was actually an open sewer in the basement. But they decided to clean it up and started a gallery space down there. That was Dogmatic.”
Karen Craig, a friend of Andrew’s who attended many shows at Dogmatic and was a presence on the Chicago alt-art scene at that time, which, she said, says definitely had its wild side. Of all the artistic forays and the fringe experimentations Natale and his friends engaged, Craig said “The Meat Show” was, at least for her, particularly memorable.
“There was a huge sign at Moo & Oink, the butcher shop out on Armitage,” Craig said. “The guys asked if they could exhibit the painting at Dogmatic.”
“And the people at Moo & Oink actually said yes,” said Chan.
“The meat for the art show was donated by Moo & Oink,” Craig said. “They donated pounds of all types of meat and sausages, and Andrew grilled. All the artwork in the show was related to meat, but was intended to address vegetarianism.”
Craig said that artists such as Siebren Versteeg, Frank Pollard, Melissa Oresky, Steph Halpern, Amanda Ross-Ho, and Stefanie Fedor (along with Chan and Thomas) all participated.
And at the 1996 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Andrew and Mike were able to wrangle space on a stage for what could be called an “unconventional” performance: Dressed in suits and ties, they danced as the Male Exotic Dancers In Coalition Against Right-Wing Extremism (MEDICARE). The rabble-rousers made a short film about the incident which was shown at the Harold Washington Library and written up in this item in the Chicago Reader.
Andrew’s art practice included publishing, as well; Goodlookin magazine, founded in the late ’90s and described by the Chicago Reader in 2001 as “a grunge journal”, had the motto, “We Look Good So You Don’t Have To.” The so-called “unclassable lifestyle magazine” mixed fashion and politics and held events such as the “CTA Rider Beautification Project” and “Fashion Bootcamp.”
Chan noted at the reception that it made him happy to see so many different people representing the many paths Andrew took in his life. The stories that came so easily from the attendees about his time at SAIC and his life with the people he met here and worked with as a result were a testament to his vitality and the power of a community of active, engaged artists.
Chan summed up what was evident at the reception: “We miss him dearly.”