The Life and Times of Lake Shore Drive

The four large paintings in Bill Woolf’s “Lake Shore Drive Series” depict the road’s past (including Native Americans), present, future (with added buildings), and postapocalyptic distant future (the Indians return). The centerpiece of Woolf’s show at Aron Packer, these works have the charm of outsider art; Woolf paints with loving precision but mixes perspectives, using a partly overhead view of the road and a frontal view of the apartment buildings. Each painting sets the road and buildings within the landscape. And while some of the windows (some of which he let his friends paint) show figures, others seem to have been replaced by paintings, whether conventional landscapes or abstractions by Rothko, Mondrian, and other artists.

Woolf has had no formal training except for a few life drawing classes–taken before he met his wife, he says, mostly so he could look at naked women. Born in 1927 to one of the founding families of Greeley, Colorado, he had a grandmother who painted so obsessively that she reportedly tied his dad and aunt into their high chairs so she could work. She wanted everyone in the family to paint, but Woolf was the only one who tried, and he preferred school and sports to art. “I loved my grandmother,” he says. “She was not really creative, though–she copied other painters’ work.” In college he majored in mechanical engineering and soon after graduation moved to Chicago, where he worked at an uncle’s industrial painting company, later managing it (he retired in 1999). His wife, Francesca, was a commercial artist when they met in 1952, and both became Sunday painters.

In 1956 Woolf won a prize in the “Chicago and Vicinity” show with his painting of the residents of a Chicago retirement hotel, Ladies of the Windermere. It depicts, he says, “an old lady sitting in a chair supported by a platform held up by pyramids of workers atop their factories. It occurred to me that all these old, wealthy women were supported by people who work.” He now calls this a young man’s view. Woolf continued to paint pictures with social themes–several on threats of war, and one showing vignettes of a man ignoring the suffering around him while posing proudly in front of his house. He also experimented with technique, which produced his current method: for the last 15 years he’s begun his paintings by covering the canvas with abstract color patterns, which can be seen shining through some areas of the Lake Shore Drive paintings. They also serve as Rorschach-like inspirations: many of his human figures develop from the shapes he sees within these patterns.

When Woolf was growing up, his friends would apparently sometimes forget that he was one of Greeley’s few Jews and make anti-Semitic remarks. Today, he says, prejudice is more hidden, which he signifies by incorporating swastikas, formed by the intersection of the drive with cross streets, at the edges of the Lake Shore Drive paintings.

Bill Woolf

When: Through Sat 10/15

Where: Aron Packer, 118 N. Peoria

Info: 312-226-8984

Postmodern Quilting

In her fabric collages at Peter Miller, Ai Kijima combines the traditional hand-working technique of quilting with postmodern appropriation, making multiple pop-culture references in ultrabright colors. Born in Tokyo in 1970, she learned knitting and sewing, including traditional Japanese techniques, from her grandmother. When she came to the United States as a high school exchange student, a teacher, impressed by her copies from old masters and National Geographic, recommended art school. After studying painting and photography in Chicago and New York, Kijima went back to Japan in 1993. There she turned to weaving, growing the plants to dye her yarn. She also started buying vintage kimonos at flea markets, and after returning here in 2001 to finish her undergraduate degree at the School of the Art Institute, she began collecting printed fabrics. At first she gathered these things because “I just love fabric, period,” she says. But a few years ago she began to feel that the weft-and-warp structure of weaving was too limiting and turned to quilting.

Each of Kijima’s quilts has many fabric sources. One stunning example is an untitled piece that includes the Queen Elizabeth 2 ocean liner (part of a towel), a sleeping puppy (from a 101 Dalmatians pillowcase), and the Dukes of Hazzard car (a bed sheet). The result is full of entertainingly discordant contrasts yet has some of the balance of a traditional Japanese painting.

Ai Kijima

When: Through Sat 10/15

Where: Peter Miller, 118 N. Peoria

Info: 312-226-5291