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Painting Exhibit - Chicago Jazz Scene

City of West Chicago

     Artist Lewis Achenbach captures live free jazz performances in a unique style of art which he refers to as “documentary painting.” His collection of paintings, titled “Prestissimo, Preciosismo,” consists of various musicians as seen and heard in intimate clubs throughout Chicago during the last year. His exhibit will be on display from May 2 – 31, 2013 at Gallery 200, 200 Main Street, West Chicago.

     What began one year ago as a visit to hear musician Vincent
Davis at Multikulti, a multicultural community arts center in Chicago,
has turned into a passionate series of paintings that capture the
essence of live free jazz performances in intimate settings throughout
Chicago. These paintings essentially freeze a “musical moment” in time.

To better understand the scenes he portrays, one first must understand
the genre of music Achenbach attempts to capture.  “Free jazz” is an
approach to jazz music where the musicians break down the traditional
conventions of the music and often alter tempos or traditional chord
changes.  The result is an emphasis on collective improvisation. 
Achenbach refers to his paintings as a sort of “contained chaos,” where
he captures the call and response, or back and forth, between the
musicians in the room and then contains the image within the boundaries
of the canvas.

     The title of the exhibit expresses Achenbach’s
thoughts about how he incorporates a barrage of sensory details into
his paintings.  “Prestissimo” is an Italian word relating to rapid tempo
and is often associated with music.  “Preciosismo” is a preoccupation
with glittering surfaces, a Spanish term he found in a Picasso biography
by John Richardson.  According to Achenbach, the two words together
“describe the high-energy, rapid execution of painterly lines combined
with the high art elevation of preciousness or high gloss value I tend
to put in my works.  A shiny surface makes the gritty Chicago jazz club
documentation seem more legit.”

     Achenbach chooses to work
with charcoals and acrylic paints, as they are media that lend
themselves to rapid drawing and can be immediately portable after the
performances.  Some of the paintings are colorful and large and some are
small and black and white, depending on the venue and the musicians’
comfort levels with the amount of space he occupies in the audience
during their performances.

     He then goes one step further,
bridging the gap between the intimacy of a live performance and the
immediacy of the internet.  After documenting the live performance, he
photographs the painting and posts it directly to Facebook before
leaving the venue.  “It’s 2013.  I want people to know what it’s like to
be in Chicago at midnight on a Thursday night,” said Achenbach.

Previously, Achenbach has worked as an illustrator for an independent
animation studio, a muralist painting children’s images in private
homes, and alongside his father during a return to his home in
Pennsylvania, in the behavioral health field using art as therapy.

He currently works as a painting contractor by day, but views his
efforts to document the Chicago jazz scene as time well spent. 
Referencing his artwork posted online, Achenbach said, “I think this
will pay off.  I’ve been asked if there are prints available and I hope
that it leads to further commissioned work.”

Achenbach is currently a Wheaton, Illinois, resident, he feels very
connected to West Chicago.  He previously had an art studio in West
Chicago and is a current member of Gallery 200, a local artists’ co-op
supported by the City of West Chicago.  In January 2013, he was
appointed to the West Chicago Cultural Arts Commission.  Said Achenbach,
“Serving on the Cultural Arts Commission is a way to get your finger on
the pulse of the community and see where your skills fit in.”

The artist will be available during a series of events in West Chicago
throughout the month of May.  Starting off the month is a free Opening
Reception on Friday, May 3, 2013 from 6:00 - 9:00 p.m. at Gallery 200. 
The public is invited to meet the artist and witness a live, documentary
painting of musicians Kelsey Schmidt and Rachel Schuldt, along with
vocalist Kate Reeder, as they provide entertainment. La Sirenuse, as the
group is called, will perform both as soloists and collectively
throughout the evening.

     During West Chicago’s Blooming Fest
on Saturday, May 18, 2013, the artist will be available at Gallery 200
from 9:00 – 11:00 a.m. to discuss his exhibit in conjunction with
demonstrations by other member artists.  Additionally, from 11:00 a.m. –
1:00 p.m., he will be part of a large scale “project piece” of a live
drawing of performances on the entertainment stage during the event. 
This painting and other art installations positioned throughout the fest
are part of artXposium, an interactive and multimedia art experience
made possible by People Made Visible.

     A Closing Reception is
scheduled for Friday, May 31, 2013 from 6:00 – 9:00 p.m. and will be a
formal showcase for the works created at Blooming Fest and any
additional documentary paintings completed during May.

Gallery 200 is a cultural initiative supported by the City of West
Chicago and the West Chicago Cultural Arts Commission, and is one more
reason West Chicago was named an Illinois Arts Friendly Community in
2007.  Gallery 200 is open Thursday and Friday from 12:00 to 8:00 p.m.,
and Saturday and Sunday from 12:00 to 4:00 p.m.  For more information,
including a complete list of current art classes, call (630) 293-9550 or


  • Krista Coltrin

  • (630) 293-2200


  • City of West Chicago

  • 475 Main Street

  • West Chicago, Illinois 60185


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