“I’m trying to live this really consistent life,” Nancy Hild says, waving a cigarette toward her roommates the bulldog, the bunny, and the four hens. Hild and her menagerie share a Wicker Park loft where she ponders the follies of the flesh-eating world and renders the animals immortal in portraits worthy of 17th-century patricians.

Hild has been painting animals since she was a kid, though a whole series of art teachers tried to dissuade her. Too sentimental, they said, too womanish and silly. They needn’t have worried.

You can paint a living creature like a still life, Hild says. Take it out of context, drop it on a table, throw a strong light on it. Render each hair or feather in relentless detail. Look at it so hard it becomes more than its literal self. But don’t lose your sense of humor.

In her current show at Ann Nathan Gallery, Hild’s bat-faced French bulldog Zoe Schwartz trades bodies with a rubber human exactly her size and doesn’t seem to know what to make of it. The imperious hens Gina and Sophia share a wall with the goosefleshed drumstick they might have become. And a trinity of sweet freak babies under glass sprout fur, feather, and scale to question the distance we impose between ourselves and those we consume.

Nancy Hild’s paintings are being shown at Ann Nathan Gallery, 210 W. Superior, through April 22. It’s open 10 to 5:30 Tuesday through Friday, 11 to 5 Saturday. Call 664-6622 for more information.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Loren Santow.