Sandy Holubow paints houses in Old Town and Lincoln Park–on canvas. “A house is really a metaphor for the self,” she says. “It can be a mask. A house is as important as a face, or the way we dress. That’s what holds my interest.”

Holubow is standing on the top floor of her three-level modern skylit home on the cusp of Old Town and Lincoln Park. She’s painted, among others, houses on Dickens and Sedgwick and Mohawk, the Forkosh and Wacker houses on Lincoln Park West, restaurateur Mark Levy’s Lincoln Park home–which he “commissioned” at a Francis Parker School fund-raising auction.

Her houses are painted at different times of day and from different perspectives, depending on what Holubow is trying to evoke with her paintbrush. Some houses are painted with dark windows, or with a portion of the structure not showing, to give them a sinister look. “My Forkosh house is tan, beige, and white, and I captured it at sundown, which gives it a purple glow and distorted color. The whole house looks eerie. And I have all the lights on in the house, but you can’t see any activity. What is it you don’t know about that’s going on inside?”

Holubow, who grew up with her mother and two sisters in Chicago, says her family was financially lower-class but socially upper-middle. “I’d drive through the North Shore and imagine I’d like to live that way someday. But as I got older I realized there’s as much misery behind those doors as anywhere else. There were just more ways to camouflage and repress it. There were others who could clean it up. The lawn and bushes may be maintained, the window boxes painted, the shutters clean–but you can have a serial killer inside.” Holubow tries to break down such illusions in her paintings. “I stick with a facade, but in some ways reveal another truth.”

She has been an artist all her life, but Holubow took up painting just a few years ago. Her first work was in graphic design and silk screen. “I was always intimidated by the great painters and their paintings,” she says. “My earliest exposure to painting was to the greats–the French impressionists–and I knew I could never be them. So instead, I did graphics and printmaking. With those you can experiment so easily and forge your own route.”

But eventually Holubow became allergic to the chemicals used in the process. “I also got tired of always having a ‘technique’ between me and the work,” she says. “Silk-screening is an intellectualized approach to art, and I wanted something more immediate, like oil. Then I turned out to be allergic to oil.”

Holubow tried watercolor, but found it had limitations. “Your work fades in the sun; it becomes swallowed by time. I like vivid colors, and I couldn’t achieve the intensity I like with watercolors.” So she turned to acrylics.

Through the years, it’s been frustrating for Sandy Holubow to fully realize an art career. Her art teachers at the University of Wisconsin in 1962 paid more attention to the male students, she says. Then her husband and two sons and her responsibilities to home, hearth, and community distracted her. “I always had to be involved in some kind of artistic project–but one I could put down at the sound of a cry or a skinned knee. I couldn’t commit totally,” she says. “I buried my reputation to start a family.”

Holubow admits that some people look at artists like herself–women who have pushed their careers aside for a while to become wives and mothers–as dilettantes, which vexes her. “I don’t think just because you’re not married to your art–or to an artist–that that makes your technical expertise, your skill, your artistry any less valid than someone supporting themselves solely through their work.”

Today, Holubow says, she is consumed and committed to what she does. “I try to evoke curiosity and interest from viewers. I paint [my houses] so a person wants to know more about what’s going on inside. I stir people up with my paintings. The houses become an enigma–like Mona Lisa’s smile.

“As long as I’m endowed with this talent, I feel a responsibility to use it. It seems natural that I am drawn to paint houses–women, of course, are naturally associated with their homes. Women artists find a natural kinship with their homes.”

Holubow’s paintings of houses in Lincoln Park and Old Town, as well as some of her earlier paintings, will be on display at the Old Town Triangle Art Center, 1763 N. North Park, through September 30. Hours are 1 to 5 Sunday and Monday, 9 to 3 Tuesday through Friday, and 9 to noon Saturday. For more information, call the center at 337-1938.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Steven D. Arazmus.