Art in unusual places

Artbeat

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By Michelle Dybal

Contributing Reporter

Art surrounds us. Though we may seek it out at Harrison Street galleries and Oak Park Art League (OPAL) shows or stumble across it during the Sculpture Walk in the warm months, it also shows up in places we may not expect.

There are gallery spaces in the community, courtesy of businesses and the art entities that partner with them, which showcase the creations of local artists on a rotating basis. One place with a sizeable exhibition space is West Suburban Medical Center, which partners with OPAL.

According to Stasia Thompson, director of marketing and public relations at West Suburban, having gallery space integrates art into the fabric of the community while supporting local artists.

"We are a community hospital — more than just a place to come when people are not well," Thompson said. "They come for information and education and the art is there on display for everyone."

Accessible during main hospital hours, the audience also includes patients and employees.

"It reaches someone in a vulnerable place in their life as well as our employees," Thompson said. "It creates an artful environment and can influence their healing process."

Opening Friday is "Fleeting Fragrances," acrylic works by Bala Thiagarajan, influenced by her Indian heritage and henna art. Vivid colors reference the saris worn in South India and mandalas with a central mirror represent centering oneself and regaining balance.

A different gallery space, this one run by the Oak Park Area Arts Council (OPAAC), can be found at Oak Park Village Hall. Currently on display is "Women of Quiet Confidence," composed of charcoal and acrylic mixed-media drawings of African American females by Jesse Howard, who grew up in Austin and teaches at OPAL.

Howard sees his audience as the village employees and the people coming in for code enforcement or getting a ticket, i.e. "the people who are trying to make it out there."

His art keeps things real, reflecting a population he didn't see when going to galleries — disenfranchised African Americans.

"I am depicting the rawness of what I see," he said. "My series at village hall shows the African American women who made me who I am today. They are the backbone of the community."

Another OPAAC gallery space is the Oak Park Township Senior Services Dining Room on the 100 block of South Oak Park Avenue. Painter and illustrator Jack Stockman has been exhibiting there for the past two months.

His pieces include art designed for a children's book, one of 20 he has illustrated in his career, and paintings he has done for family and friends. Stockman, who also has six paintings along the Metra train track embankment, believes OPAAC is putting "wonderful artwork" into different venues.

"I enjoy putting [my art] in a different context," Stockman said, "and I enjoy the fact that people viewing it don't always have opportunities to see artwork."

While everyone is welcome in the Senior Services Dining Room during open hours, a low-cost lunch is served weekdays to those over 60, bringing in another audience for artistic viewing. Passersby on Oak Park Avenue are welcome to peek into the windows to view the art as well.

Yet more work is up for viewing at Forest Park National Bank & Trust Co., 7348 W. Madison St., coordinated through OPAAC. In February and March, the Oak Park Photography Club will exhibit there.

"We want to afford artists, who don't have one, a gallery space to showcase their work and have it out in the public," said OPAAC Executive Director Camille Wilson White. "And they may have it purchased."

Like any fine art gallery, some of the work may be purchased directly from the artists.

The opening reception for "Fleeting Fragrances" is Friday, Feb. 2, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Main Building Lower Level Gallery, West Suburban Medical Center, 3 Erie Court. "Women of Quiet Confidence" reception to meet the artist is on Thursday, Feb. 15, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., Room #101, Village Hall of Oak Park, 123 Madison St.

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