Brightly colored oil paintings and glimmering glass mosaics have popped up this week on the walls of the downtown.
For the “Gallery, Now!” art show, seven local artists have transformed the vacant store at 1700 Maple Ave. into a pop-up art gallery, open through Monday, June 25.
“It’s an opportunity to see high quality local artwork in a location that’s easily accessible,” says Evanston artist Mark Collins, who organized the show with the help of his fellow artists.
A high school teacher in Oak Park who's been painting since he was a teenager, Collins said he had the idea for “Gallery, Now!” about a month ago. He wanted to hold it in downtown Evanston, so he started walking around calling the numbers on empty storefronts. Then Carolyn Dellutri, executive director of the business group, suggested the artists check out the Borders space.
“What I liked about it is it’s very industrial,” Collins said. "They said yes right away."
With high ceilings, the cavernous space feels more like a warehouse than a former bookstore. Collins’ oil paintings hang beneath a gaping hole in the ceiling where the staircase once was, while other artists have hung their work on floor-to-ceiling columns positioned throughout the space.
Evanston artist and show participant Ann Petrus Baker says the building’s downtown location and visibility to passersby doesn’t hurt. When Collins called to ask her if she wanted to participate, she was energized at the concept as well as the space.
“I loved the idea of artists coming together and saying, ‘We can do this,’” Baker said.
Baker’s paintings are mostly still lifes of flowers and other objects she finds around the house. As a mother of 3, she says, she tries to paint small so she can finish in one sitting. Sometimes, inspiration comes from her kids: one painting pairs a cluster of vibrant magenta radishes with a bright pink shoebox.
“My daughter is 14, and she has been buying shoes like crazy,” notes Baker.
Fellow artist Larry Geni, who recently retired from teaching physics at , finds his inspiration in travel. He started painting oil on canvas within the last 10 to 12 years, using photos from trips to the Arctic, Brooklyn and California, among other places.
“When I was raising kids, I didn’t have time,” Geni says.
Several of the paintings Geni has on display are based on a raft trip to the Brooks Range in Alaska, which spurred 15 to 20 paintings altogether, he estimates. One depicts the gentle slopes of the last foothills of the Brooks Range, seen from the raft at 2 a.m. in the constant Arctic daylight.
“There’s foothills and then it just slopes off and then there’s nothing,” says Geni, explaining that he was trying to capture “the sense of tranquility and the light.”
Artist Heather Hancock is inspired by place, too, but she focuses her work on the sights of Evanston. Hancock is displaying two series of glass mosaics at the pop-up gallery, one inspired by graffiti and the other based on photographs of Lake Michigan.
For that series, Hancock took hundreds of photographs of the lake from the park at the end of Main Street, trying to figure out what she wanted to create. Finally, she realized that she was interested in the contrast between the cement blocks and the blue of the sky.
“It’s almost more about the sky and what happens at the edges,” says Hancock. Her mosaics combine shining blue glass pieces with blacks and grays in an undulating pattern. The whole design is framed with gray cement—a nod to the urban context of Evanston’s lakefront.
In addition to seven local artists organized by Collins, the gallery also includes works by artists who belong to HangItUp Chicago. Owned and curated by Evanston resident Amanda Bryant, the company offers artworks for rent to offices and individuals, created by mid-career and established artists around the area.
“It’s a great use of this space, and for a gallery, the focus should be on the art and not the walls,” she says.
Looking around at the space packed with artists and patrons on opening night last week, Bryant says she often wishes there were a full-time gallery in Evanston. Many artists live and work in studios here, she says, but there aren't a lot of places where they can display their work.
She has an idea, however: what about the former Borders space?
“This would be a wonderful full-time gallery,” she says.
Gallery, Now! Runs through Monday, June 25, at 1700 Maple Ave. in Evanston. Hours are noon to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and noon to 10 p.m. Fridy through Sunday.