So here we are, on the darkling plain of Jeffrey Kamberos’s painting The Beatnik Killers. An ominous horizon rises before us, a sliver moon hangs in a dangerous sky, and Kamberos races in our direction, a rocket-propelled, Spock-eared comic-book hero. He comes to a hovering, agitated stop directly in front of us.
“I hate beatnik poetry,” he blurts. “Ginsberg is a bullshitter, Burroughs too. Whatever comes out of them, they just put down. It’s the artistic theory of our time.”
Off in the distance there’s a miniature Allen Ginsberg, wearing an Uncle Sam hat and carrying a mother lode of bad beatnik karma. He’s headed straight for Kamberos’s wife, Bethann. Seemingly oblivious to the danger, she looks vulnerable, stripped down to her undies. When she catches us staring, she smiles, and leans forward, as if to take us into her confidence.
“He’s finally painting for himself,” she says. “It’s like entering another world. I call it Adorable Realism.”
“Pop Surrealism,” Kamberos shouts. “Hieronymus Bosch stuff. Gives me the creeps, but I can’t squelch it anymore. And it takes so fucking long to finish. It’s too hard. It’s driving me nuts.”
Just then a small, green doglike creature with a human face rushes up and begins barking at Kamberos in perfectly clear English: “You said you would paint it loose, you twerp, now just do it! This is all your fault.”
“I’m trying,” Kamberos protests, breaking into a sweat. “But I can’t. It doesn’t look finished. When it’s right, it resonates to me. It’s like the whole thing vibrates. I can hear the sound in my head when it comes together. And if it’s not right, it just lays there. I have to keep changing it. I can’t plan it. It’s not logical. I only recognize it when it appears. I don’t know how to get there.”
With that, he revs his motor for one more run through the icon-littered landscape, a final effort that might be too late. We already feel the spreading heat and the low, fuzzy rumble of the approaching Killer Beatnik. Bethann’s eyes are closing. It looks like she’s slipping into a trance.
“Watch out for the mantra,” Kamberos cries, roaring back stopping on a dime behind Bethann, clutching her shoulder.
Suddenly everything around us is getting sharper and sharper–the Kool-Aid pitcher, the dragon-mouthed head, the horrible human snake–all coming into superfocus, glossy and hard-edged as a decal. With Ginsberg a single step from his goal there’s a great, resonant chord, a huge, vibrating, clanging sound. Kamberos is jolted by it. We can see it reverberate behind his eyes. His hair snaps out behind him.
“That’s it,” he says, “It’s finished. Just in the nick of time.”
Jeff Kamberos’s completed paintings can be seen at his dealer, Ann Nathan Gallery, 210 W. Superior (664-6622).
Some older Kamberos work is on view at Sweet Spice restaurant, 1367 W. Erie (829-4514). And for a look at an atypically huge Kamberos triptych, stop in at Big Chicks bar, 5024 N. Sheridan Rd. (728-5511).
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Loren Santow.