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40 x 40: Keeping With Tradition – Contemporary Representational Painters

This article is part of Chicago Art Magazine’s “40 over 40” series.

Though the canon of painting hasn’t been dominated by the representational figurative tradition in oh, I don’t know, at least a hundred years, there are still many artists who choose to pursue that path in their work. A quick flip through recent issues of New American Painting, or a trip through River North, informs that they are no small population either. Representational figurative painters are still, however, most often outside the limelight of contemporary discourse, so we’ve chosen to highlight a few Chicagoans working adamantly within the tradition.

David Abed

David Abed

David Abed:

David Abed (b. 1967) is working to uphold the tradition of figurative realism. The School of Representational Art in Chicago, of which Abed is a noted artist, states their goal as such: “The School of Representational Art (SORA), founded by artist and instructor Bruno Surdo, is located in the heart of Chicago’s artistic River North area. The school was established to bring the great painting traditions of the Old Masters to a new generation of artists. SORA exists as a viable and traditional training ground for artists wishing to achieve excellence in drawing and painting. The instructors at SORA are the newest legacy in the atelier system of art instruction. SORA’s link to this heritage is through Richard Lack and his School of Classical Realism which stretches back to the great academic and impressionistic painting schools ofthe 18th and 19th centuries.” Abed’s work deals primarily with the nude and the still life, building narratives through traditional approaches.

Meredith Dytch:

Meredith Dytch takes the tradition of plein air to the streets of Chicago, revealing vignettes of the city through subtle colors and soft lines. In describing her practice, Dytch states, “I am interested in how our built environment co-exists, often uneasily, with the natural world. In my art, I often explore the way in which we seem embedded within our structures, leading our lives surrounded by looming steel and concrete. Other times I often focus on how, with the passage of time, man-made structures start to become congruent with the nature around them. I like to explore themes of impermanence, loneliness and mystery as expressed by the forgotten and crumbling structures around us.” Dytch earned her BA in Architecture in 1976 at the Illinois Institute of Technology, and has shown recently in Chicago at the Art Loop Open, the Chicago Cultural Center, and the Irish American Heritage Center.


Timothy Vermeulen:

Timothy Vermeulen’s narrative paintings use the framework of famous pieces of literature to explore deeper issues around the self, the spiritual, and socioeconomic conflicts. Vermeulen’s theatrical vignettes “symbolize internal states, social conflicts, and past traumas…unsettling, disquieting circumstances that speak to the mysterious and contradictory nature of existence.” His most recent exhibition, at Packer Schopf in 2010, explored these personal narratives through the literal and symbolic world of Herman Melville’s 1851 classic, Moby Dick. Vermeulen earned his MFA from the University of Illinois: Champaign in 1986, and is currently represented in Chicago by Packer Schopf Gallery.

Renee McGinnis

Renee McGinnis

Renee McGinnis:

Renee McGinnis’s epic landscapes take the viewer’s breath away, with sweeping vistas and impossible environs: Eden meets Gotham. Her recent works explore the industrial  landscape through juxtaposition and decay. Her work is described as, “beautiful warnings to us all, speaking visually about humanity, triumph, and tragedy and how these dualities co-exist.” McGinnis’s robust exhibition history includes shows in Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, and Germany. She is currently represented by Packer Schopf and is a long time member of the ARC collective in Chicago.

Charles Moesch:

Chicago-born artist Charles E. Moesch Jr. has been painting nearly his entire life. Though he did a temporary stint as a graphic designer, Moesch now dedicates his full artistic practice toward “hyper-realism,” combining aspects of photo realism, surrealism, fantasy illustration. In describing his own work, Moesch states, “Never being satisfied with the ordinary allows me to continue to grow and experiment with color, light, shadow, and the individuality of every-day people.” Moesch has shown extensively at Cornerstone Gallery (Blue Island, IL) and his works have been featured as a cover illustration and in the pages of Better Homes and Gardens.

Mary Lou Zelazny

Mary Lou Zelazny

Mary Lou Zelazny:

Mary Lou Zelazny (b. 1956) is a native Chicagoian, and her work shares much of the humor often associated with Chicago painters, especially the Imagists. Her own work explores, “improvisations and…where my humor, discomfort, incomprehension, and pleasure can coexist. This indirect method appeals to [Zelazny] because of the unpredictability and technical demands that it presents. The fusion of photographic images and paint generates tensions within the vocabulary of picture-making, which in turn becomes a further source of motivation and inspiration.” Zelazny shows throughout the US, is represented by Carl Hammer Gallery here in Chicago, and is a professor at SAIC, a position she’s held since 1990.