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A rich harvest of art variety to be found in the Oak Park Arts District

Lisa Nordstrom, Trinity, found materials.
Lisa Nordstrom, Trinity, found materials.
courtesy of the artist

The arts are a community investment in the sweet little village that is Oak Park, Illinois. With regularly scheduled art walks each Third Friday and a variety of special events, Oak Park supports its own artists, invites residents to explore art and art making with a range of art classes, camps for children and adult workshops. Recently this author visited the Oak Park Arts District, located on Harrison Street between Austin Boulevard and Ridgeland Avenue, to test the waters and see what’s new. While many places were recovering from the previous weekend’s Art on Harrison event, these shops and galleries were open and eager to share their original works of art.

Steve Smith, of Flavor City Studio, creates large abstracts in acrylic paint. He began his romance with paint years ago, working with landscapes in oil. Of these early works, a fresh crisp study of trees caught this author’s eye in the display. The colors and clean brush strokes bring to life a small glade of saplings and the luminosity of the sunlight pouring through the canopy of leaves. Smith’s transition to abstraction was influenced by a trip to Phoenix Arizona and the works of Mardsen Hardley, the Taos Moderns, and Richard Debencorn. Smith’s mature works exhibit an organic line that occasionally suggests the figure. Smith uses a brush and palette knife to create rich layers of color and texture. He varies his paint density, using house paint straight or mixing it with water to create transparent areas with delicate drips.

Smith shares his studio space with Mike Bochner and Sharron Ott of Papillon Design. Flavor City Studios is located at 45 Harrison Street, in Oak Park, Illinois. Mike Bochner is also a painter. Bochner’s work is a geometric compliment to the organic forms of Smith’s work. Suggesting aerial maps and city scapes, these richly sculptural surfaces invite the eye to linger.

Sharron is a graduate of the School of the Art Institute. Ott is a long time member of the Oak Park Art League. Her business, Papillon Design, features a range of fine art, interior design and classes. She currently uses space at Flavor City Studio to host classes for adults and kids art camps during this last summer. Her dynamic painting, Butterfly, hanging in Flavor City Studio, suggests viscera, ligaments and muscles, with a rich indigo background and warm tones coming to the front. From her website, this author found the work Anoint, which shares a palette with the work hanging in the gallery space. Sharron may soon be moving to 19 Harrison, currently Art Gecko. She plans to share studio space with two other artists, one of whom will be exhibiting painted furniture.

Laurie Beasley of Ridge Art, formerly located at 21 Harrison Street, now exhibits selections from her collection of Haitian and West African art at Gallery Pink, 149 Harrison Street and on her website. For this month’s Third Friday Art Walk, I spoke to Laurie about the Haitian drum sculptures and sequin banners in the Fer Decoupe show. Laurie is enthusiastic about the minimalism of historical sculptures from the 1970’s and the beautiful natural patina of the metal. Laurie says: “The emphasis in these older pieces is on positive and negative space.” Crafted from round drum tops, cut in dynamic figural and landscape scenes, and textured with hammered detail, these works are lyrical and narrative. Contemporary Haitian artists working in this style have expanded their resources from drums to other found industrial metals, added layers of embellished hammered detail and glossy finishes that evolve a different texture and surface from their earlier counterparts.

The sequin banners or Vodou Flags explore a range of simple geometries in rich colors, while sequins bring flash and sparkle to the mostly square or rectangular forms. The geometries refer to characters of Vodou belief in the works of artist Clotaire Bazile. Maitre Carrefour translates to Master of the Crossroads and most often refers to the spirit called Legba. Erzulie Freda, is a manifestation of the female principle. Erzulie is generally described or depicted as a high-born beautiful Creole woman who is eternally childless and always heartbroken by her lovers. Both of these flags were created in the early 1980's by Clotaire Bazile.

Other works in the show include found material sculptures. Delpe is a contemporary metal sculptor working out of two studios. In one studio, with his assistants, Delpe produces conventional flat metal sculptures in the Croix-des-Bouquets style. At his other studio he produces what he calls his serious work. The found object fish comes from the latter studio. In this work, Delpe creates a monolithic fish which provokes quiet irony and humor.

With her transition from the corner location on Harrison Street, Laurie is taking Ridge Art online. Formerly her website was a counterpart to the store, now it will be expanding to provide access to the extensive collection of Haitian and West African art and more that is Ridge Art. Boasting the works she has collected over the last thirty plus years, the website and periodic shows in collaboration with Gallery Pink will now share this work with enthusiasts and art collectors.

Lisa Nordstrom at Art Gecko, located at 19 Harrison Street, continues her romance with found materials in a new series of jewelry crafted from tins. The beautiful bracelets and pendant necklaces sport pieces of consumer packaging as glittering objects d’art. By trimming pieces and cropping text, these colorful recyclables gain a new and gorgeous new life as jewelry with both history and mystery.

With her collaged wall sculpture, Trinity, Lisa explores the things that make life valuable. Above each shadow boxed jar, is a hammered plaque with a phrase. Inside each triangular enclosure a jar holds the richness of the moment. With its glossy green and antiqued text this is a must see piece by a talented repurposing artiste.

Early in October, Art Gecko will be moving to 21 Harrison Street, formerly Ridge Art. In the new space, her studio and window space will be expanded. Lisa hopes this will allow for expansion in both her production and exhibited works.

Elizabeth Gaylord, of Harrison Works, at 17 W. Harrison Street, is known for her inimitable paintings of polar bears. During the artist’s walk, Harrison Works featured the Baseball Show. This grouping of works looks at the upside and explores some of the darker elements of the sport. Gaylord’s own work included images of souveniers, a timeless image of the glove and ball, and a startling portrait of steroid use. A unique work, you can’t contain him, a painted box with hand written phrase, was also on display. Originally designed for an exhibit themed containment, this work salutes the energy of baseball as a sport. Guest artist, Mark Hadhazy is represented by samples of his black and white and color pen and ink drawings of players in action. Works in Hadhazy’s signature style have been licensed for calendars and collectors items.

In addition to the current exhibit, Harrison Works had on display a pair of panels of fish, and a red polar bear that are fresh samples of Gaylord’s signature painting style. Rich in hue and dynamic with the movement of her brush stroke these medium sized canvases glow with the artist’s affinity for nature and animals.

Harrison Works has two upcoming events, Artrageous! Oak Park will take place October 7th to 11th, and also beginning October 7th is the John Lennon 70th Birthday art show, a juried group exhibit running until November 28th, 2010. The opening for both events is Thursday, October 7th, from one to seven p.m.

The Oak Park Arts District is the length of Harrison Street between Austin and Ridgeland. The district includes over thirty shops and galleries catering to the arts and art patrons, students of art and art practitioners of all media and styles.

Steve Smith & Mike Bochner

Sharron Ott of Papillon Design

Ridge Art

Art Gecko

Harrison Works


Oak Park Arts District


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