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Gold Star Bar Art Returns in Wicker Park

By Alisa Hauser | March 22, 2013 10:53am

WICKER PARK — When Susan Stursberg passed away in December at the age of 45, the dive bar she co-owned lost more than its beloved bartender.

Gold Star at 1755 W. Division St. in Wicker Park lost the eclectic artwork by local artists that Stursberg "curated" and was proud to showcase on the bar's walls.

A Gold Star regular — who'd noticed the blank walls in recent months — slipped bartender Ryan Suma a note with a phone number about a week ago.

The note simply said, "Extensive art collection...  please call!"

Though Wicker Park artist Kevin Fair didn't know it, his roommate, Sandra Bergmann, was tired of seeing hundreds of paintings stacked all over their apartment (and in the stairway) and was hoping to find a way to reduce the piles of canvases and give Fair some exposure.

Just a day or two after Bergmann handed the note to Suma, Fair said he got a phone call from Mary Ann Reid, Stursberg's mother and Gold Star's owner, who asked to see his work.

"[Reid] looked at my work and called me an outsider artist. I was like, 'Yeah, um, I guess you can say that?'" Fair said.

The 39-year-old artist works full-time as a waiter at downtown's Miller Pub's where he draws as he waits tables, using the familiar green and white "guest check" bills as his canvas.

Over the past few years, Fair has accumulated hundreds of guest checks, which until recently were displayed at a West Coast gallery and listed for $250 each.

While Fair was unsure if the tiny guest checks would be a good fit for the bar's tall walls and dark lighting, his oil paintings are much larger and brighter and he's creating them at a fast clip.

"I'm churning out paintings in a day, where it used to take me months," Fair said.

The eclectic collection of 43 paintings by Fair were installed in Gold Star by Fair Thursday after five  trips using a borrowed car, the artist said. 

Fair's richly textured oil paintings feature everything from a literal "can of whoop ass" to iconic characters from the Charles Schulz "Peanuts" strip, Star Wars and "South Park" as well as figments of imagination like a "Devil Burger," armed with a pitchfork.

"It's very unique, I like it much better than the last stuff that was here a while back," said one bar regular, referring to "Sharks, Dicks and Drugs," an April 2012 showcase highlighting the work of Gold Star regulars Geoffrey Todd Smith and Mike Rea.

Though Stursberg passed away in December, the "Sharks, Dicks and Drugs" exhibit, which closed in August, was the last official show curated by Stursberg, Suma said.

"Art was a big thing with Susan. She loved art. We were just talking the other day about how we should bring it back and then I got that note," Suma said.

Though pieces in previous Gold Star art shows have had price tags beneath them, Fair, who admitted to be somewhat of "a hoarder,"  said that he is unsure if he will be selling all of the pieces, or just displaying them.

"More so than having a show or trying to make money, I'm just happy my paintings are in a place where more people besides me and my roommate can see them," Fair said.