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Balance of Power, 1997
Ceramic, mixed media
29 1/2"x28"x14"
© Indira Freitas Johnson 1997

Contemporary Art of Chicago

May 25 - September 1, 2002
Wed-Fri: 11:00 AM-6:00 PM;
Sat-Sun: Noon-5:00 PM.
$3; $2 students and seniors.

Chicago Athenaeum at Schaumburg
190 South Roselle Road
Schaumburg, Illinois 60193
Tel: 847/ 895-3950

Part II

"Spectrum: Contemporary Art of Chicago" will be at the Chicago Athenaeum at Schaumburg from May 25 through September 1, 2002: thirty-two Chicago area artists represented by paintings, traditional and digital prints, and three-dimensional work. The art in this showing ranges as much in theme and content as it does in approach and technique. It offers a viewer a broad view of current Chicago art. There is much to enjoy.

San Galgano, 2002
Oil on canvas
© Herbert Murrie 2002

Categorizations of art -- Impressionism, Fauvism, Expressionism, and the like -- are only a general shorthand. While of some use, if pressed dogmatically, they obscure the fact that each artist of merit is unique. Herbert Murrie's oil on canvas, San Galgano, exemplifies that fact. This painting interprets an Italian palisade. In its use of color, there is a Fauvist approach -- the deepest shadows favor blues, lighter shades abound in greens, reflected sunlight lends rich subtle reds and orange... pure sky is a uniform light steel grey. But the walls and columns in this work are not clinically precise. San Galgano is a fleeting moment, a mood -- no one will reconstruct its building plan from the painting. San Galgano is, equally, 'Impressionist': particulars are reduced to color mass and effects of light -- sight distilled to evocative essence. Like a place recalled, however imprecisely, because of past enjoyment there, or as with a remembered scene of childhood, San Galgano lingers as image. Italy supplies the subjects for many of Murrie's paintings, and in Sundell's Art Scene: Chicago 2000, the artist explained that "part of my fascination with Italy and the Italian people had to do with the fact that they truly know they are going to die." Ray Bradbury, in his Martian Chronicles, saw a consequence of that awareness:

...in order to survive they would have to forgo asking that one question any longer: Why live? Life was its own answer. Life was the propagation of more life and the living of as good a life as possible.

Words fail. At that moment, art begins. Artists deal with the world through sight, and explore the consequence of what is seen. Eric Semelroth's art is the human face, close and frontal. This artist seeks out individuals for uncommissioned portraits, and the results are part psychology, part anthropology. Semelroth is represented in "Spectrum" by two pastels on paper: Buddha's Daughter and Supplicating Man. Each -- typical for Semelroth's art -- is a topographic map of human personality, an attempt to unveil by sight alone the human core within. Semelroth focuses and orchestrates visual particulars and a gallery visitor, like the artist, is compelled to investigate. Eric Semelroth is profiled in Art Scene: Chicago 2000, and was reviewed earlier in www.artscope.net ("Eric Semelroth":Oct:1998).

Purple and Blue, 2002
© Jozef Sumichrast 2002

Jozef Sumichrast's plaster sculpture, Purple and Blue, is a male form, headless and with its right lower leg gone at the knee. A sightless form, this male effigy, hands spread before its nether parts, nonetheless suggests a modesty before its examiner. Sumichrast's sculpture emanates cultic dignity and striking directness. His subject is clearly stated; salient features are prominent, often deliberately emphasized; component volumes and mass are restructured in a stylized balance, a harmony which is this artist's alone. Although there is a distinct, imaginative hand in Sumichrast's work, one feels that it would accord well if retrieved from the ancient Middle East, Assyria, or Neolithic Europe. The sculpted totem lingers in this art, and that presence endures in each viewing.

"In wondrous ways, do the gods make sport with men." The Latin writer, Plautus, declared that over twenty centuries ago. The digital prints of John Walte suggest that even in our scientific age such thoughts continue to stalk our dreams. Not Bound by Planck Time, the Gods Create Hydrogen for the Inflationary Epoch (2000) is one of two prints by Walte on display in "Spectrum: Contemporary Art of Chicago." In this work, Walte's gods seem ecumenical on a cosmic scale: a sublimation of Hindu, Aztec, Roman, Mesopotamian, and unnameable others -- a Pantheon of cultic imagery and ritual. In Walte's art there is as well the gleeful wit of a Rabelais or a Jonathan Swift; the touch of a quantum physicist like Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington who, ironic and nonetheless reverent, felt all the calculated equations of the scientist in the end reveal only that "Something unknown is doing we don't know what." The Spirit of Carnival applies to facts as well as faiths.

Not Bound by Planck Time,
the Gods Create Hydrogen
for the Inflationary Epoch (detail),
2000. Digital print
© John F. Walte 2000

The Consequence of Finding One's Creativity, or the Reality of a Summer Day, the second print by John Walte in this show, pits figurative surrealism against the creative act itself. Immediately, one sees a ring -- veins, tubes, genetic visualizations, the orbits of subatomic particles. A human figure reaching into this enigma captures immediate attention. A subtle element, a chain binding the ring to earth, then becomes evident. Finally, one notes a small and insignificant, heaven-sent mortality -- a meteor falling in the sky at left. A summer day... finding one's creativity.... Walte's image bridges both the intuitions of the ancient world, and the modern, mechanistic models of creativity: pagan religious urge confronts modern rationality.

The Consequence of Finding One's Creativity
or the Reality of a Summer Day
16"x20" One of an edition of 10.
Digital print
© John F. Walte 2001

What at first seems a graphic, 'commercial' idiom synthesizes High Art and the popular -- which is to say, elemental response. Human nature requires gods and heros, stories, myths. And as folklorists, Antti Aarne and Sith Thompson, once confirmed, the human mind conceives a limited repertoire which works out the purpose of imaginings and intuitions obscurely, deeply, shared by all humanity. In The Consequence of Finding One's Creativity..., Walte's focal, writhing ring -- a medusan nest of chimerical forms -- seems a Delphic oracle of creative urge. A contemporary popular expression needn't deny natural instincts or innate human wonder. Men create according to their needs and visions. (America, having no Hercules, nor stables of King Augeas, produced Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, and later a plethora of further Pop superheroes.) So many modern miracles of science first appeared in a Da Vinci sketch book, Swift's Gulliver's Travels, works by Jules Verne. Writer, Ray Bradbury saw here a common human wellspring, an all-too-human instinct akin to John Walte's themes:

He would go there often, stare straight into the sun until he could stare no more, then close his eyes and consider the burned spots, the fleeting scars left dancing on his eyelids; arranging, rearranging each fire and reflection until the pattern was clear....

Ray Bradbury in Dandelion Wine
(Bantam Edition:1976)

Patterns are always there.

Heating Up, 2002
Oil on canvas
© Ken Klopack 2002

However artists arrange and rearrange, interpret, it is their curiosity, a strong involvement with life which forms the individual and his art. Ken Klopack's Heating Up displays a considered balance of visual forms in composition, and the clear narrative content which has typified American Regionalism -- Klopack's art recalls a Thomas Hart Benton with an urban edge. The heightened moment, specific locale -- music and dance -- strong human energies in familiar acts underlie the best Regionalism, whether rural or urban. In his preference for urban life, Klopack shows affinities with another American artist, Archibald Motley. Ken Klopack is featured in Art Scene: Chicago 2000, and was earlier noted in www.artscope.net ("Rogers Park Artists at Excalibur":Oct:1999).

Gary Dobry's Heaven Above (acrylic, collage on canvas) also centers on urban scenes. Dobry is an ex-boxer, trainer, artist and writer who often melds boxing themes with Latin-American religious imagery. In this work, the title constitutes part of text directly incorporated in the painting: "Heaven Above, Fallen Angel Below." A touch of sympathetic irony resides in the knocked-out boxer who looks up at a heaven of brightly colored stars and the faces of past pugilists. The fallen fighter sports a peace symbol on his boxing shorts.

Homage to Picasso at the Turn of the Century and In Memory of My Mother's African Spirit, two mixed media paintings by Mario Castillo, offer a very different approach to homage. Both pieces exhibit strong, curved and flowing line which divides and reconstitutes their subject. In a style which harmonizes both Cubist and Futurist traits, Castillo's works here analyze image through overlapping contours, and contrasts in the colors contained therein, to endow a poised image with a visual dynamic. Both works mark an individual evolution for innovations begun by artists such as Gino Severini, Giacomo Balla, and Carlo Carra -- Italian Futurists. A mosaic or fresco-like technique, here transposed to easel art, may suggest a fundamental manner of seeing. Like Severini, Castillo is noted for a number of public murals. Mario Castillo was profiled in Art in Chicago: 1945-1995 (1996).

Belarus-born Anatole Upart is represented in "Spectrum" by Two Monks in the Forest (Oil, gold leaf on linen). Much of Upart's paintings build upon achievements of the Russian avant-garde, particularly artists such as Pavel Filonov and Mikhail Larionov, but Two Monks in the Forest signals a new direction for this artist. In its mobile-like deployment of trapezoidal elements of uniform black, white, or deeper oxblood brown, Upart harkens to an aesthetic at once both Minimalist and Constructivist. The image ground, dominated by gold leaf, echoes the decorative iconography of Byzantine and Slavonic art, where it is used to symbolize the divine light of heaven. In what could otherwise be a fine painting by Kasimir Malevich, Upart inserts two reduced, but still figurative human forms, wandering a forest seemingly suffused by Holy Presence. Here, the terse delineation of the human eremites lends mortal presence in a strongly geometric composition. Two Monks in the Forest reconciles the uneasiness that has often resulted where decorative and figurative approaches meet.

Rubin Steinberg's assemblage bas-relief, The Quad (mixed media), utilizes cord and incorporated materials on wooden panel to capture organized patterns reminiscent of cellular growth, the inevitable logic of man-made circuitry, an order in which free play of force and opposing force finds rest. The Quad's use of hue as tone, played out in red on purple, concentrates the eye on the work's relief. Steinberg appears in Art Scene: Chicago 2000 and was noted in www.artscope.net ("Art Scene, Chicago 2000":Oct:2000). JB Daniel entered a mixed media work. Within a shadowbox frame, a sequence of images is presented. Each advancing image adds lines, ending in a semiotic outline of bird form. This is an art which reduces symbols to the barest communicative elements. John Rozelle's two entries, é over time and his Omission, also focus on a terse visual presentation. Collages of affixed paper squares form a focus centered on chromosome-patterned paper sheets. Bert Menco's Soup was inspired by the discovery of a childhood drawing of the artist among his grandmother's papers. This original juvenalia is displayed together with Menco's artistic response to that youthful memento today -- a colored pencil drawing. A second work, Partners, accompanies this ensemble. Bert Menco is featured in Art Scene: Chicago 2000, and was noted in www.artscope.net ("Art Scene Chicago 2000 at Chicago Athenaeum":Feb:2000) as well as in "Chicago Printmakers Collaborative...":Dec:1999). Stephen Horan offers a cityscape, City Dressed in Lights (acrylic on canvas). Here, an urban panorama is stylized in strongly geometrical contours of almost uniform color. Earlier work by this artist appears in Sundell's Art Scene: Chicago 2000. In Oscar Romero's Vide de Perro (oil, mixed media on canvas), nine square pigeon holes sport images of dogs, while a human face forms the center focus. At the base of the image, a snake is entwined. Alejandro Romero's Mirage (acrylic on canvas) depicts an ensemble of cavorting angels, nudes, and knights. Michael Miller adds two pieces to "Spectrum": Garden Variety and Fouled Nest (The latter is reproduced on the exhibition card). These are dimensional collages in shadow boxes.

Nicole Aimee Macaluso is represented by two sculptural pieces: Summer Time and Equinox II . In her earlier work, Macaluso pursued an approach in which separate watercolor paintings were sliced and interwoven into a single, mounted image. That work held strong affinities with the interposed fragmentation of images developed by Czech-born artist, Jiri Kolar. This artist has extended her approach into three dimensions. The two exhibited works here collage a variety of small image pieces onto a molded metal mesh which has been fleshed out with paper mache over a wooden armature. These current works approach Eileen Agar's often surprising, surreal interplay of solid volume with flat surface painting. Nicole Aimiee Macaluso was earlier reviewed in www.artscope.net ("Life Patterns at Yello":Sept:1999, a show which she curated.)

"Spectrum: Contemporary Art of Chicago" includes several installations. Mark Nelson has constructed an installation with recycled materials, My Own Private Nightclub. A copy of the U.S. Conference of Mayors' Hunger and Homeless Report 2001 rests on an accompanying bookstand. This work begins with the architectural impulse of artists such as Red Grooms and Mimi Gross, and, here, is applied toward social commentary. Vivian Nunley's mixed media installation, To Dust, consists of a seatless rocking chair surrounded by styroform fragments, sporadically punctuated with dried roses and other flowers.

A range of approaches, subject matter, and media offer the visitor an afternoon of pleasure and stimulation. Each artist's merit arises from individual vision. The Chicago Athenaeum in Schaumburg, among numerous fine international exhibitions, has revealed a commitment to showcase a wide spectrum of contemporary Chicago art. "Spectrum: Contemporary Art of Chicago," at the Chicago Athenaeum in Schaumburg again confirms just such support.

"Spectrum: Contemporary Art of Chicago" will be at the Chicago Athenaeum at Schaumburg through September 1, 2002: thirty-two Chicago area artists represented by paintings, traditional and digital prints, and three-dimensional work. The exhibition is sponsored in part by the Illinois Art Council and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Exhibiting artists are: Mario Castillo, Grace Cole, JB Daniel, Rita Dianni Kaleel, Gary Dobry, Indira Freitas Johnson, Maria Gedroc, Judith Geichman, Stephen Horan, Yumiko Irei-Gokce, Jill King, Kathleen King, Ken Klopack, Roland Kulla, Nicole Aimiee Macaluso, Bert Menco, Michael Miller, Herbert Murrie, Mark Nelson, Vivian Nunley, Mark Pelnar, Frank Piatek, Joanna Pinsky, Alejandro Romero, Oscar Romero, Sallie Gilmore Roniss, John Rozelle, Eric Semelroth, Rubin Steinberg, Jozef Sumichrast, Anatole Upart, and John Walte.


--G. Jurek Polanski

Jurek Polanski has previously written or art edited for American Spectator, Anonym, Artful Dodge, Nit&Wit:Chicago's Art Magazine, Strong Coffee, and numerous others. Graphic artist and designer, he's also well known and respected among the Chicago museums and galleries. Jurek Polanski is a Visual Arts Correspondent for ArtScope.net.

Editorial Note: Books mentioned in www.artscope.net are often in print and may be purchased through this site's Amazon.com link. Ivy Sundell's Art Scene, Chicago 2000, and her earlier volume, The Chicago Art Scene (1998), are published by Crow Woods Publishing, Evanston, Illinois. Of additional interest is Art in Chicago: 1945-1995 (Thames and Hudson/Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago: 1996); and Les Krantz's now sought-after Chicago Art Review (American References, Inc.:1989). Antti Aarne and Sith Thompson catalogued a compendium of folk tales, described and numbered: The Types of the Folktale: A Classification and Bibliography (2nd rev. Helsinki:1973). Archibald Motley is documented in The American Art Book (Phaidon Press:1999), while Jiri Kolar and Eileen Agar are included in The 20th Century Art Book (Phaidon Press:2000).

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