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Chicago in Visual Vocabulary

By SIGALIT ZETOUNI
   In 1976, Chicago artist Ellen Lanyon (b. 1926) journeyed to Florida’s Everglades, a trip that marked a turning point in her artistic development. Since that point, Lanyon has been producing distinctive imagery of magical and mysterious fantasy in paintings, drawings, murals and prints. Her creations combine everyday objects that symbolize humanity and its stains, along with a surreal and spectacular signature portrayal of nature. Valerie Carberry Gallery, in the John Hancock Center, is currently exhibiting a selection of work from Lanyon’s Magic series, closing on October 25.
   The canvas that Lanyon entitled “Palm Thumb Thimble” (1979) reveals a crimson background with a haunted cabinet painted at the center, animated through an open drawer and finger-like threads that project out in every direction. Inside the drawer, Lanyon depicted giant thumb thimbles, and from one corner, viewers are confronted with an arm that is aiming to touch the cabinet. The human palm is wearing a pointing thimble on its index finger, and strangely the objects, crafted by mankind, are energized by their creators, evoking the spirit of Pinocchio and the fingers of God and Adam in Michelangelo’s fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
   The work entitled “Alchemist Transposition” (2006) has the old Lanyon magic, but allows for wholeness in its composition. “‘Alchemist Transposition’ is a transitional work,” Lanyon wrote via email. “It is the seventh and the last of a series, all being the same size and all focusing on the effects made by human invention on the natural world. While the other six in the series utilized mechanical devices versus botanical imagery to set the stage for an interaction, this last work introduces the alchemist, who creates a cornucopia of botanical energy. Much of my work has been inspired by magic and the notion that the artist, as the magician, can offer up a narrative that will capture the imagination of an audience.”
   October is celebrated as Chicago Artists Month, and the city has dedicated a multitude of events and exhibits for the occasion. This year’s theme, “artists and issues that matter,” explores an array of concerns expressed in the visual arts community, including political, environmental, moral, social, global and personal issues. Lanyon is one of the spotlight artists of 2008, and one can view her political work at the DePaul University Museum’s 1968: Art and Politics in Chicago, scheduled to run through November 23.
   Chicago artist Gabriel Bizen Akagawa (b. 1977) is another spotlight artist this year. His exceptional work is thought-provoking, and his method and process of performance and installation deal with social response to nature and health. “My spouse, Anne, and I recently bought a 100-year-old house in Bridgeport, Chicago,” Akagawa wrote in an email. “In its renovation, we have decided to take out its drop ceilings. With all my processes of art creation and life activities, I am committed to reusing as many materials as possible. When I started my art career as a woodworker, I used found wood and wood products as opposed to purchasing new ones. Now I am using ceiling tiles, made in part of wood pulp, to form my work. I am transforming the 130 ceiling tiles into a honeycomb structure and installing them in public space ceilings such as the Beverly Arts Center. I cut the tiles and form the sides into hexagonal boxes. I glue these boxes together and attach them to another tile. The remodeled tiles are hung in place of a tile in a ceiling grid. The physical product and process reference our strange relationship with the natural world.”
   The Beverly Arts Center is featuring Faketure and Art Speaks through October 26. A
Reeception and film festival will take place on October 25 at 6 p.m.

Published: October 11, 2008
Issue: November 2008 Investing In Chicago