Andrew Rafacz Gallery has opened its doors once again following a serious car crash through the gallery’s front facade earlier this year in August, unfortunately resulting in irreparable damage to the gallery and destroying artworks inside. Now, several months of repairs later, December 16 marked the grand re-opening of the West Town gallery and the opening of their two-part survey exhibition “Nocturne” with the first part running now until January 17, and the second opening on January 19 through February 17. The exhibition brings together more than thirty painters in response to the idea of “night painting.” As described by the gallery, it aims to expand on the idea of night painting from a variety of diverse perspectives including “formally, conceptually, metaphorically, narratively, ontologically, politically, and ecologically—to name a few.”
Nocturne, the French word for nocturnal or “of the night,” was originally used to describe musical compositions, often character pieces for the piano, that were evocative of the nighttime, were characteristically smooth in melody, and possessed a tranquil or dreamlike quality (although this was not always the case). In the nineteenth century, painter James Abbott Mcneill Whistler began to use the term nocturne to describe his paintings that featured the same motif of nighttime, most notably nighttime landscape scenes. Nocturne paintings are often associated with the artistic movement Tonalism, a painting style in which color ranges are limited and usually darker in tone resulting in a low contrast and understated overall effect. The term is now used to describe any painting that features a “nighttime” quality.
A somewhat formal understanding of the exhibition’s namesake feels necessary to understand both the more obvious connections to nocturne paintings, and the compelling departures from the style featured in the exhibition. “Nocuturne” pays homage to the classic characteristics of the style with the showing of work such as “Hill Top 3” by artist Will Gabaldón, an oil painting of a natural landscape featuring a vast hill, tree line and a hint of dark sky with a color palette being almost entirely comprised of shades of green and bearing a resemblance to Whistler’s landscapes which gave birth to nocturne painting.
While viewing the show, however, I found myself being continuously drawn to the works that serve as an exciting departure from the style such as artist Robert Burnier’s “Via Mano estas Peza, Nokto, sur Mia Frunto (Soyinka III),” an acrylic and aluminum sculpture featuring various shades of blue and brown. The sculptural form of the work helps to stretch the boundaries of our understanding of what “night painting” is. Another personal favorite from the show is the acrylic painting, “Untitled (In Concert at Yale University)” by artist Milford Graves, an abstract work featuring bright shades of orange and yellow set against a dark background. It does fall under the category of a “night painting” but without the understanding of its place in the exhibition, that is not a connection I would have immediately pulled from the work; instead it is the bright colors and abstract form that draws me in.
Individually the works each speak to their own interpretation of what a night painting is, or can be, however, it is when the works come together that the theme of the exhibition starts to waver slightly as each one feels like such a highly individualized take and at times the connections feel hard to form. Nevertheless, this does stay true to the exhibition’s overall mission of expanding on the idea of night painting while providing a showing of vastly diverse interpretations, and serving as a thoughtful and interesting disruption to the classic style which in turn leaves the viewer curious enough to eagerly await Part II.
“Nocturne” (Part I) at Andrew Rafacz Gallery, 1749 West Chicago, on view through January 17, 2024 and (part II) January 19 through February 17, 2024.