Painters jazz up their style
A trio of North Shore painters with an affinity for jazz are exhibiting selected works to complement a production of the acclaimed musical "Ragtime."
And for two of them, painting a canvas marks a return to one of their first loves, following long professional careers.
"This is a second career path, what I'm doing now," said Highland Park resident Howard Jacobs, 82, who heads Howard Displays, Inc., an industrial design firm. "It began within this last year. I figured I might as well have some fun and pursue art."
Paintings by Jacobs, along with works by Jack Siegel of Deerfield and Yelena Klairmont of Highland Park, will be on display through August in "Syncopated Art," an exhibit in the lobby of the Apollo Theater in Chicago, where the 1998 musical is being performed by Porchlight Theatre. The exhibit was put together by Chicago's Anatomically Correct Gallery, which supports "art in alternative spaces."
For all three artists, music and art are closely intertwined in careers that in some ways resemble long journeys.
Born in Chicago, Jacobs moved to Highland Park in the fourth grade. At Highland Park High School, he studied art and took up the clarinet. He enjoyed the art but couldn't advance beyond the beginner's band. "I couldn't keep time," he admits.
Jacobs was such a fan of Benny Goodman that he and his pal Artie jumped the fence one night at Ravinia Opera (as it was called in the pre-World War II days) when Goodman's orchestra was playing.
"It was a crazy crowd," he recalled. "The band was blowing and everybody was dancing. It was really wild."
So it's no surprise that his paintings of Dixieland musicians reflect the wild expressiveness of jazz. His canvases, painted with palette knives, practically roar with vibrant reds and exaggerated closeups of horns, keyboards and drums.
His second career path is going pretty well. Jacobs is thrilled to have one of his paintings accepted for the exhibit "The Five Senses," scheduled for Sept. 28-Oct. 29 at Northbrook Library.
Jack Siegel, 73, turned to painting about nine years ago, in the midst of a career as president of Siegel Advertising. A graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago, Siegel often digs through books of old photos when preparing to paint a jazz-related canvas.
In the current show, his works include a painting of a New Orleans street musicians in visored caps and ties, and an evocative depiction of a 1920s band that includes a young Louis Armstrong and his then-wife Lil Hardin on piano.
Siegel's career includes a stint in the U.S. Army in the 1950s, when he was stationed in Germany and worked as a set designer for an Army unit that produced plays that toured military bases.
Art and music are closely linked for Siegel, who says he draws in his sketchbook while attending classical concerts.
"It's basically an arousal of the senses," he said. "When I draw, I feel good, and listening to music makes me feel good. It's like I'm getting a double aesthetic charge."
But Klairmont, 45, a classically trained pianist born in the Ukraine, said she could never listen to music while she paints. The music keeps beckoning her to listen closely, and she does.
"Bossa nova can be background. But jazz, no," she said.
For "Syncopated Art," she contributed four pen-and-ink drawings of jazz musicians that evoke smoky nightclubs and grainy photos on old album covers. All playing with their eyes closed, her musicians are in private communion with their instruments, with thoughts and feelings that the viewer can only imagine.
While she's never formally studied jazz the way she had classical, she figures that "when I'm around 60, I'm going to take jazz improvisation" lessons.
Perhaps also in the future, she wants to return to jazz musicians as a subject for painting.
"These are like studies," she said of her small works in the current show. "I was planning to do larger works but then I switched to landscape painting and moved on to other things. One day, I'd like to come back and do it big, but you never know where life takes you."