An expanse of rubble in eroding basements, platforms and industrial ruins may not initially conjure up aesthetic passions. But Andy Paczos’ three-year effort to paint fifteen acres of the former Chicago Paperboard Company is an exercise in paying attention to the senses.
With an almost documentary vividness, Paczos’s series of paintings juxtapose abundance of life with remnants of lost industry. Plants and animals persevere amid the toil of cracked concrete, rusting fences and graffiti-laden, crumbling walls. Through his painting, however, Paczos doesn’t have preconceived notions about the evils of manufacturing and grandeur of nature. His focus is on the process of seeing and discovering.
“As a painter, I am not creative—I am observant,” says Paczos of his work. “I try not to over-think, but be led by my intuition…to reproduce the baffling world around me with truth. One thing that’s amazing is the stillness, quietness, and vastness of it all.”
In one painting, where a sewer pipe is being replaced along Elston Avenue, Paczos’ intuition draws him to a nearby field of trees along to the Chicago River, some falling under the duress of a beaver’s chomps. The shadows of oncoming winter intertwine with brown, drying grass and twigs on the ground. In the far background, fuming smokestacks, power lines and streetlights remind us that we are still in the city.
Paczos says his observation often depends upon the cooperation of various elements: wind, weather, natural light and the occasional watchful eye of security guards. The sounds of Metra trains would alert him to the 5pm rush period. The setting sun would change the shadow and light of a scene, prompting him to pack up to return another day.
“At various times, I saw coyotes and beavers…snapping turtles shuffling out of the Chicago River,” Paczos says. “I observed a ladybug that landed on my canvas, being careful not to walk on the wet paint as it dried.”
Instead of presenting a wasteland, the paintings illustrate a beauty of contours, deterioration, and shadow. A slope of rubble resembles a majestic mountain range, despite the folding construction sign, building and church steeple also in view. The remains of an opossum create a looming shadow before being blown away days after being painted. A cut I-beam interrupts concrete, and flowering weeds creep through emptied conduits. Though signs of decay and life intertwine, Paczos invites us not to theorize meaning, but simply observe the scenes of the moment.
“Nature will thrive anywhere,” Paczos says. “But that’s not something that I came in with. It’s something that I discovered.” (Ben Broeren)
Through April 5 at the Hyde Park Art Center, 5020 S. Cornell Ave. Opening reception: February 8, 3pm-5pm.