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Saturday, August 22, 2015

Illinois Art

Copyright, Jim Lane
Illinois' "lionized" art museum, the Art Institute of Chicago.
In my continuing series discovering the art of the various United States of America, today's stop is in the Prairie State of Illinois. For those not familiar with American geography, it's the state hanging from the tip of Lake Michigan, sort of attached to this "dangling" body of water by the city of Chicago. Beyond that, when one speaks of Illinois, almost inevitably it's Chicago that dominates the conversation. And likewise, when one speaks of art and the state of Illinois, the elephant in the room (or perhaps I should say, lion) is the Art Institute of Chicago. Founded almost two-hundred years ago (and refounded in the ashes of the 1871 fire) there's hardly an artist in any way connected to the state who isn't also someway connected with the AIC and its school of art. The school is, in fact, actually older than its iconic "lionized" lakefront museum (above). Unlike the 1893 relic of the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition, which today serves as little more than a façade for the museum, the school of art is housed in a stunning, convex high-rise of dark, reflective glass (below).

The Art Institute of Chicago's School of Art.
Pardon me for "playing favorites," but my favorite Illinois artist is a painter of the watercolor persuasion named David R. Becker. I've known Dave and admired his work for more than fifteen years now, yet I've never met the man in person. We both belong to an Internet group (which is only sporadically active these days). I can't think of a single Illinois artist today, working in any medium, who captures the robust power of the Windy City's dynamic presence better than Mr. Becker, as seen in his watercolor Lake Street Heading East (below). Besides painting, Dave has written two books on the subject: Watercolor Composition Made Easy, and How to Sketch with Watercolor. Moreover, if you like his work, he'll teach you how to paint like he does (he conducts workshops

Lake Street Heading East, David R. Becker
As with many cities of its size, Chicago is justly famous for its skyline. When we were in the city last year my wife and I got to know this skyline from the inside out, while visiting the city's two tallest "skyscrapers," seen below in an AIC Millennial Park installation.

Art Institute of Chicago Lurie Garden Millennium Park
Chicago's famous skyline hasn't always been quite so "uplifting." John R. Chapin's painting of Chicago in Flames--The Rush for Lives Over Randolph Street Bridge (below) first appeared in 1871 on the pages of Harper's Weekly. Before the fire, Chicago was a tinderbox city of wood. Afterwards, it became a proving ground for structural cast iron and steel as exemplified by the present day skyline above.

The Rush for Lives Over the Randolph Street Bridge, 1871, John R. Chapin.
Michael Jarecki, photographer for the CTA,
finds the painter, Anthony Paczos, making
the most of a controlled environment.
Art in Chicago is everywhere. AIC has no monopoly despite its enormous holdings and lavish facilities. Daley Plaza has, of course, it's Picasso sculpture (below center) and in Millennial Park is an even more outlandish piece of public art, Cloud Gate (better known by locals as "the silver bean") created by the Indian-born, British artist, Anish Kapoor (below, left), which is the centerpiece of AT&T Plaza at Millennium Park. Back inside, we find Ellen Lanyon's Ogden and Lake (below, right) from 1954, which celebrates Chicago's famed "loop." Meanwhile, even when the blustery wind off Lake Michigan makes painting on location difficult, uncomfortable, or even impossible, artists go "underground" to ply their trade (left), giving a whole new definition to "public art."

The city itself is often the inspiration for the art within it.
As much as I and others tend to paint Chicago as the beginning, middle, and end of art in Illinois, there is a whole, larger-than-most, state just to the south. Mostly following the Civil War, the railroads brought the green stuff, which fed the artists, which made the art stuff for which the city is proud. Lianne Schneider's painting The Illinois Central Railroad, 1882 (below) depicts how and why a trading post on the marshy Chicago River in 1800 grew, in just seventy-five years, to be one of the largest cities in the country, and a century later, one of the largest in the world.

Illinois Central Railroad 1882, Lianne Schneider
The capital of Illinois is not Chicago. It's Springfield, better known as the "Land of Lincoln" (Chicago can have the title "Land of Obama"). Robert Marshall Root gives us Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A Douglas Debating at Charleston, Illinois, on 18th September, 1858 (below), painted in 1918. I wonder what Lincoln would think of the modern version of what he and Douglas started some 150 years ago.

Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A Douglas-Debating at Charleston, Ill,
1918, Robert Marshall-Root.
Art in the rest of Illinois--Lincoln, Illinois' Arts in the Park.


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