Oak Park - alley side up

An artist considers Oak Park's back doors

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By Deb Quantock McCarey

Contributing reporter/Gardening blogger

During the week, as he commutes to Chicago on the el, Oak Park lawyer, painter and printmaker Tim Leeming, 51, is drawn to walk the alleys to take a back door view of the architecture in Oak Park.

Most mornings, en route to the Green Line stop at South Boulevard and Oak Park Avenue, Leeming takes pause to snap pictures of interesting cityscapes, and later addresses that subject in an original oil painting. Among his favorite alleys is the one that spills out onto Oak Park Avenue across the street from Grape Leaves Restaurant.

Near the Blue Line stop at Austin, the alley between Lyman and Humphrey Avenue is another corridor that catches his eye. There, he says, it is its interesting embankments that cause him to stop and look.

These two paintings, and eight others, comprise the new collection of oil paintings he calls, "Alley Side." The exhibition debuted at Harrison East Music Studio at 600 Harrison St. in Oak Park last Friday and runs through the end of May.

Private viewings are available by appointment via the artist at tim.leeming@aol.com.

Painting local

Leeming says he takes inspiration from the works of the late 19th century "Russian Impressionists," as well as the Ash Can School. It was an artistic movement in the United States during the early twentieth century that is best known for works portraying scenes of daily life in New York City, often in the city's poorer neighborhoods.

Similarly, he says he tries to capture the sometimes overlooked aspects of pedestrian walk-bys, such as the monumental architectural forms that when painted expand the visual perspective to include texture, and ragged edges.

What some folks take for granted as only the entree to a parking pad or garage, he says is an "alley canyon" that is punctuated at regular intervals by telephone poles, dumpsters and garbage cans – all of which are larger and darker up close, and smaller, higher and then fading away in the distance. This aspect for him adds interest.

What defines a must-savor scene is when the backdoor runway possesses a bright side and a shaded side, where the shadows race forward or back, triangulating the surfaces, and closing towards a central point, he says.

Since November 2012 when he agreed to launch this project, it has become his latest art "obsession."

"I would regularly exasperate friends and family when driving by and stopping mid-block to consider the merits of an alley-canyon. I kept post-it notes to jot down addresses," says Leeming, an attorney by trade who also has an extensive fine arts education from the University of Illinois, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and recently, the Palette and Chisel Academy of Chicago.

However, not every alley is worthy of note. It's mostly the backside roads with alley heads that hold distinctive landmarks on their horizon, he says -- a church steeple, an incinerator stack, things with an edge.

"With the encouragement of friends at the Oak Park Art League, I set out to create this set of 'Oak Park Alley' paintings," he says. "I have considered most of the alleys here, those running East/West, and those North/South. (I have even found a diagonal section), and I have enjoyed painting all of them."

Reader Comments

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Rhonda Partusch from San Angelo, Texas  

Posted: August 3rd, 2013 11:15 PM

I grew up in Oak Park. playing in the alley with my neighborhood friends are the absolute best memories that one can ever keep. I saw your painting of the alley and love it. How much do you charge for painting and would you consider painting the alley 300 N Marion street between Marion and Maple? we have all connected on facebook and have our own site called meet you in the alley! thank you! Rhonda Partusch

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