Artist captures live jazz performances on canvas
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Artist Lewis Achenbach captures live free jazz performances in an style of art he refers to as "documentary painting."
His collection of paintings, titled "Prestissimo, Preciosismo," is on display Thursday, May 2, to Friday, May 31, at Gallery 200, 200 Main St., West Chicago. An opening reception is 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, May 3, at the gallery.
If you go
What: "Prestissimo, Preciosismo" art exhibit inspired by live jazz performances
When: Noon to 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, May 2-31; opening reception from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, May 3
Where: Gallery 200, 200 Main St., West Chicago
Info: (630) 293-9550 or gallery200.org
What began a year ago as a visit to hear musician Vincent Davis at Multikulti, a multicultural community arts center in Chicago, has turned into a series of paintings that capture the essence of live free jazz performances in intimate settings throughout Chicago. These paintings freeze a "musical moment" in time.
To better understand the scenes Achenbach portrays, one must understand the genre of music he attempts to capture. "Free jazz" is an approach to jazz music in which the musicians break down the traditional conventions of the music and often alter tempos or traditional chord changes.
The result is an emphasis on collective improvisation. Achenbach refers to his paintings as a sort of "contained chaos," in which he captures the call and response, or back and forth, between the musicians in the room.
The title of the exhibit expresses Achenbach's thoughts about how he incorporates a barrage of sensory details into his paintings. "Prestissimo" is an Italian word relating to rapid tempo and is often associated with music. "Preciosismo" is a preoccupation with glittering surfaces, a Spanish term he found in a Picasso biography by John Richardson.
According to Achenbach, the two words together "describe the high-energy, rapid execution of painterly lines combined with the high art elevation of preciousness or high gloss value I tend to put in my works. A shiny surface makes the gritty Chicago jazz club documentation seem more legit."
Achenbach chooses to work with charcoals and acrylic paints, as they are media that lend themselves to rapid drawing and can be immediately portable after the performances. Some of the paintings are colorful and large and some are small and black-and-white, depending on the venue and the musicians' comfort levels with the amount of space Achenbach occupies in the audience during their performances.
He then goes one step further, bridging the gap between the intimacy of a live performance and the immediacy of the Internet. After documenting the live performance, he photographs the painting and posts it directly to Facebook before leaving the venue.
"It's 2013. I want people to know what it's like to be in Chicago at midnight on a Thursday night," Achenbach said.
Previously, Achenbach has worked as an illustrator for an independent animation studio, a muralist painting children's images in private homes, and alongside his father during a return to his home in Pennsylvania in the behavioral health field using art as therapy.
He works as a painting contractor by day but views his efforts to document the Chicago jazz scene as time well-spent. Referencing his artwork posted online, Achenbach said, "I think this will pay off. I've been asked if there are prints available and I hope that it leads to further commissioned work."
Achenbach is a Wheaton resident, but he feels very connected to West Chicago. He previously had an art studio in West Chicago and is a member of Gallery 200, a local artists' co-op supported by the city of West Chicago. In January 2013, he was appointed to the West Chicago Cultural Arts Commission.
"Serving on the cultural arts commission is a way to get your finger on the pulse of the community and see where your skills fit in," Achenbach said.
The artist will be available during a series of events in West Chicago throughout the month of May. At the opening reception on Friday, May 3, the public is invited to meet the artist and witness a live, documentary painting of musicians Kelsey Schmidt and Rachel Schuldt, along with vocalist Kate Reeder, as they provide entertainment. La Sirenuse, as the group is called, will perform both as soloists and collectively throughout the evening.
During West Chicago's Blooming Fest Saturday, May 18, the artist will be available from 9 to 11 a.m. at Gallery 200 to discuss his exhibit in conjunction with demonstrations by other member artists.
Additionally, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., he will be part of a large scale "project piece" of a live drawing of performances on the entertainment stage during the event. This painting and other art installations positioned throughout the fest are part of artXposium, an interactive and multimedia art experience made possible by People Made Visible.
A closing reception scheduled for 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, May 31, will be a formal showcase for the works created at Blooming Fest and any additional documentary paintings completed during May.
Gallery 200 is open noon to 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. For information, including a complete list of art classes, contact (630) 293-9550 or gallery200.org.
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