This article is a part of Chicago Art Magazine’s “40 over 40” series.
In our “40 over 40” series, we’ve been highlighting artists over 40, most of whom occupy the “emerging” or “mid-career” status. However, a lot of more established artists have been continually nominated by you, our readers, so we thought it would be fit to briefly mention those renown practicing artists in our city who have set a precedent for how we make art in Chicago today. So here are the “Heavy-Hitters over 40,” who’ve had so much written about them throughout their careers, that I don’t think I could possibly add any more to what’s already out there:
In the local news recently, world-famous artist Kay Rosen will be the next artist to install in the Chicago Loop Alliance’s Pritzker Park. Rosen is known for her large-scale works which manipulate words both formally, and in their connotation. More recently, Rosen has been exhibiting a range of smaller works which employ found materials, prints and video.
The subtle, two-dimensional works of Julia Fish are delicate renderings of pattern and the domestic space. Using the home as a realm for exploring the formal aspects of our everyday lives, Fish’s works avoid being overly feminine (as is the case with much work about the domestic), while striking an expert balance between form and meaning.
Fish’s husband, Richard Rezac, is another master of the aesthetics of the everyday, and his largely three-dimensional works are as visually pleasing as they are elusive. Challenging the machismo of the Minimalism of art history, Rezac’s works hint at the forms of familiar objects, while at the same time impeccably crafted.
Gaylen Gerber’s highly conceptual practice is one that is unlike any other in that the artist so frequently departs from the sole authorship of his works. In Gerber’s most well-known works, he often cooperates with other artists to finish his own pieces, and even provides wall-like installations on which other art is exhibited.
As a painter, a Chicago Imagist and a top-notch educator, Barbara Rossi continues to keep the tradition alive. Rossi’s paintings contain the vernacular of the cartoon, like her contemporaries, but adopt a clean but playful aesthetic.
Fellow and prominent Imagist Jim Nutt will always have the contemporary art community in Chicago torn. Whether you’re exhausted by the relentless coverage of his works, or whether you feel his oeuvre always warrants revisiting, Nutt’s contribution to Chicago’s place in the national art scene is undeniable.
Almost always spoken about in the same breath as Nutt is his spouse, Gladys Nilsson, whose Imagist practice has continued to evolve, pushing narratives, compositions and palettes to even more complex places than they had been in the 60s.
There’s also no getting around the impact of Karl Wirsum. The straightforward figure-ground relationships of his works and the cowboys, aliens and machine monsters that are ceaselessly his subjects help define the signature style of the Imagist painter.
Ted Halkin of the “Monster Roster” has a vast multimedia practice, which in recent years has led to a body of work that combines the bold lines and pictorial flatness of the Imagist tradition, with subtle neutral palettes and delicate reliefs in his investigations that range from the narrative to the abstract and formal.
Frank Piatek, of the same generation, early on distinguished himself with the ambiguous territory his works traverse. With a practice dedicated to refined representations of knots, Piatek’s works evoke a range of interpretations, from the spiritual to the abstract to the biological.
Phyllis Bramson pushes the figurative tradition in Chicago, making her mark as both an active exhibiting painter and a dedicated educator. Her complex pictorial scenes are able to incite feelings of delight and uncomfortable-ness in her viewers, combining notions of innocence and decadence, fantasy and sexuality.
Philip Hanson’s practice embraces not the gritty, the pedestrian or the grotesque of many of his contemporaries, but an encompassing romanticism illustrated through both style and subject. The floral and architectural imagery in his works are often joined with carefully selected text, seamlessly supplementing both composition and meaning.
The abstract paintings of Richard Hull are exceptional examples of the ways in which content, gesture and genre can parallel one another, all within the same picture. Hull’s more recent paintings engage the notion of boundaries within the rectangle of the canvas and within self-referential visual language, even nodding to the boundaries of physics.
In 2010, Jim Lutes was included in the Whitney Biennial…for the second time; the first, in 1987. Lutes is known for exquisite tempera washes, layering transparent colors upon one another, obscuring hints of representational imagery with this accumulation of gestures and marks.
Another abstract painter on the Chicago scene is Judith Geichman, whose works are evidence of the tactile, physical qualities of paint as a medium. With drips, splotches, daubs and pools, Geichman’s paintings revel in the natural qualities of paint, while culminating in grand and sophisticated end products, which always seem to evoke a multitude of interpretations.
As intensely a dedicated educator as she is a painter, Michiko Itatani successfully traverses a multitude of narratives in paintings which, though often executed at a monumental scale, are inviting and meditative both in mark-making and in palette.