BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
Chicago curator Kathryn Gauthier asked 75 of our city’s artists, working in multiple media with astonishingly beautiful results, to contribute to the current exhibition at the Bridgeport Art Center, CHICAGO: INsideOUT, through October 19.
“The artists looked at the city not only as architectural landscape but also as a place of residence and experience. Chicago, like any city, may be considered a microcosm of the global community. It is also a reflection of who we are as a society with an emphasis on the people and how they interact.
“Chicago may be considered a stage upon which its visitors and residents act out the drama of their lives. It dazzles with lofty skyscrapers, sensuous waterways, lavish parks, and world-class museums—a fantastic playground where cultures connect and fresh ideas abound! Up close, among its neighborhoods and residential streets, Chicago presents an intricate network of cultural enclaves and economic milieus in which the psyche of its inhabitants develops.
“Chicago struggles with all the problems associated with reinventing itself: urban blight, crumbling infrastructure, increased violence, and political corruption, but it revels in the beauties of its parks and lakefront as well as its architectural and cultural heritage.”
Sculptor Eric Steele, whose abstract conceptions we’ve admired along the lakefront and in Lincoln Park, and at shows at the Merchandise Mart and the Garfield Park and Lincoln Park conservatories, describes the exhibition: “It is fun to be in a show like this where everybody looks at the same thing, Chicago, but sees it so differently. It could be compared to a rainbow where you can pull out different colors, but the central thing is that it is still the same city.”
A third-generation Chicagoan, he has, except for a few years he spent out of town, lived no further than a mile from Barry Avenue where he grew up. Now retired from a career as a lawyer and computer consultant, Eric calls being a sculptor a “family business”: “My mother worked mainly in terra cotta, although she cast some figures in bronze. Some of her abstract human figures were influenced by Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. I loved working with her in her basement studio. So, you could say that I started being an artist at age 8 but not full-time until I retired.”
Today, Eric’s studio is in the Ravenswood’s Cornelia Arts Building with 40 other artists as neighbors. He works mainly in steel and occasionally wood, often photographing trees, roots, and rocks that might inspire his sculptures:
“Like dreams, my work doesn’t come out of nowhere, but I don’t always fully know its sources. Sometime I will get an image when walking in the city or among trees or mountains. The activity of making sculpture is an experience of ‘flow’ (as described in the book Flow). My full consciousness is focused on capturing an image in my head with the concrete materials before me. I tend momentarily to lose track of everything else around me except that the 2500-degree hot steel forces me back to reality.”
He continues: “I look at the Bridgeport show as a way the participating artists understand our urban environment. Our streets and buildings become symbols for the values and communities we create, just as trees and animals did for our ancestors. I love Chicago and its diversity of people, interests and places.”
Kathryn says the current show evolved out of a determined effort to expand a previous show she curated for the Beverly Arts Center called “Painting The Town”:
“Contrast, action, motion, rhythm, light—these are some of the adjectives and attributes used by the artists who are drawn here to create. To quote artist Nick Bridge: ‘The value of the urban environment is that it constantly reminds us of the possibility of “re-creating” ourselves.’ We see evolution and we evolve. We view the landscape and our place in it through the lens of our own personal mythologies and strivings, hopefully increasing our understanding of our own role in the whole.”
Artist and assisting curator Gregorio Mejia added:
“It seems there has been a void in Chicago, ever since the ‘Vicinity’ show was discontinued almost 30 years ago. This is a chance to showcase regional artists in a large exhibit. When I looked at this show, I saw the artist’s interpretations of what they experience in Chicago. Some artists may be coming from a satirical or emotional reactionary place. In my own case, it’s a meditation on its beauty.”
The Bridgeport Art Center is located at 1200 West 35th Street. For more information about the exhibition, visit bridgeportart.com.