Around Town Part One: Chicago now has three opera companies and seasons

 

Opera Festival of Chicago adds different works and artists to the arts scene this summer. (Image by Cydney M Lewis)
Opera Festival of Chicago adds different works and artists to the arts scene this summer.
(Image by Cydney M Lewis)

Instead of the COVID-19 cutting back Chicago’s arts scene, it has inspired more opera and theater performances and more exhibits. Part One  spotlights opera. Part two looks at the exhibits on now and opening. Part Three draws curtains back from formerly dark stages.

The Lyric Opera of Chicago will welcome audiences back in 2021 to a refurbished Opera House with crowd pleasing, re-imagined favorites and its first mainstage season Spanish language opera.

The Chicago Opera Theater will be mixing a favorite with new and not heard here before operas in its 2021-22 season.

And let’s have a drum roll for the Opera Festival of Chicago, a newly formed group of artists who are already filling a summer festival void with three productions.

Lyric Opera of Chicago

Maestro Enrique Mazzola  opens the season with Verdi’s Macbeth Sept 17-Oct 9, followed by Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love Sept. 26-Oct 8. Then Mozart’s Magic Flute will be Nov. 3-Nov. 27 and Catan’s Florencia  en el Amazonas, Nov. 13-Nov. 28. More announcements will be made about the second half of the 2021-22 season.

Chicago Opera Theater

COT, as it’s popularly known, opens with Bizet’s Carmen Sept 16 and 18 at Harris Theater for Music and Dance, followed by Adamo’s Becoming Santa Claus, Dec. 11, 17 and 19 at the Studebaker Theater. The season ends with Errolyn Wallen and Deborah Brevert’s Quamino’s Map  April 23, 29, and May 1,  also at Studebaker Theater.

Opera Festival of Chicago

Newly formed to introduce Chicago audiences to Italian operas they likely have not heard before, the artists hope to make the Festival an annual draw similar to those in Spoleto and Verona.

The Festival opened with Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari’s Il Segreto di Susanna (Susanna’s Secret), July 24 at the Athenaeum Theatre.

Then it will do “Dante 700,” at Artifact Events  in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood, July 28 and July 29. Inspired by Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” the program is a vocal salute to the famed poet, writer and philosopher on the 700th anniversary of his death.

The Festival ends  Aug. 5 with Puccini’s  Il tabarro (The Cloak) performed at Thalia Hall in Chicago’s Pilsner neighborhood.

Going to different neighborhoods is part of the Festival’s mission statement which reads, in part,  “we aspire to: generate an inquisitive operatic appetite within Chicago audiences; make our work – and its cultural context – accessible to a wide audience; provide a stimulating and inspirational environment of Italian opera for artists and audiences alike…

Jodie Jacobs

 

Comics exhibit pulls viewers into real and alternate worlds

 

 

Ivan Brunetti Spring 2013 . (Courtesy of the artist)'
Ivan Brunetti Spring 2013 . (Courtesy of the artist)’

A fun and startling exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, opened June 2021, is likely to expand your definition of art and important artists.

As with art over the ages and across countries, much of it reflects the times and artists’ views and backgrounds.

But if you hadn’t thought of comics as art, consider the work of Ivan Brunetti in the 1960’s. His piece shown here  was in the New Yorker magazine. It stands on its own as art but really is part of a cartoon.

So, if you read the New Yorker or a newspaper containing comics do you look just at the panels or do you look to see who drew them?

The MCA exhibit, titled “Chicago Comics: 1960’s to Now,”  makes comics more personal by focusing on  artists with ties to Chicago.

 

The works of more than 40 cartoonists from about the 1960’s to the present cover the walls and tables of MCA’s Fourth Level exhibition space including that of  Lynda Barry, Lilli Carré, Daniel Clowes, Nick Drnaso, Edie Fake, Emil Ferris, Nicole Hollander, Charles Johnson, Chris Ware and Kerry James Marshall. Yes, Marshall, a  world-renown Chicago artist.

Kerry James Marshall (photo by Bryan Conley, Image courtesy of the artist)
Kerry James Marshall (photo by Bryan Conley, image courtesy of the artist)

His works are in major museums from the Art Institute of Chicago to the Met and MoMA.

The MCA exhibit includes more than a dozen of his comics from the Rythm Mastr Daily Strips. They were part of a 57th Carnegie International installation  (2018) courtesy to the MCA by the artist.

What fanzine viewers and Marvel comics readers know is that artistic cartoons take many forms. In the MCA exhibit look for more than newspaper-style comics. See works in graphic novels,  drawings, dioramas, zines, commissioned films, books sculptures and installations.

Brunetti, New Yorker, Photo courtesy of the artist)
Brunetti, New Yorker, Photo courtesy of the artist)

 

To see a Marvel exhibit go to the Museum of Science and Industry through Oct. 24, 2021.

For the MCA exhibit information and tickets visit Museum of Contemporary Art  “Comics” continues through Oct. 3, 2021.

As to the Brunetti piece it is a comic  cover for the New Yorker, a magazine famous for its cartoons.

Save time to also visit “Chicago – Where Comics Came to Life: 1880 to 1960” at the Chicago Cultural Center. Held up on the fourth floor in the Sydney Yates Gallery,  the exhibit is the perfect companion piece to that at the MCA.

Jodie Jacobs

 

Upcoming concerts

 

Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park (J Jacobs photo)
Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park (J Jacobs photo)

 

Chicago’s famed Gospel , Blues and Jazz festivals won’t  happen until this fall (hey, it takes time to bring back their featured performers). To see who what and when visit Chicago festivals reimagined.

But the Chicago area will still be swinging, rocking and keyboarding the classics outdoors, this summer.

Check out Aurora for rock, the Grant Park Music Festival for classics and a 4th of July salute, the Windy City Smokeout bands and Ravinia Festival for all of that from rock to pop and classics.

Aurora

Just west of Chicago, Aurora  has a terrific rock concert line up this summer. There are a few tickets left for REO Speedwagon, July 1, 8 p.m. at the River Ridge Park. Then,  on July 16 there is Tribute to Fleetwood Mac. For tickets and more concert schedule info visit Aurora Pop/Rock.

Windy City Smokeout

The popular eat, drink and good band festival takes over Parking Lot C at the United Center, 1901 W. Madison St., Chicago, July 8-11, 2021. Headliners include Dierks Bentley, Jon Pardi, Brett Eldredge and Darius Rucker. For more info visit Windy City Smokeout.

Grant Park Music Festival

Held in Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion, the longtime Chicago summer concert series starts  July 2-3 with a mix of crowd pleasers from John Williams’ Summon the Heroes, Scott Joplin’s Overture to Treemonisha and a Robert Lowden arrangement of the Armed Forces Salute to pieces from Leonard Bernstein’s  West Side Story,  Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture and John Philip Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever. The Festival continues with such classics as Rossini’s Overture to Willian Tell on July 7 and Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 on July 9-10. For complete schedule and other information visit Grant Park Music Festival

Ravinia Festival

Located at the south east end of Highland Park, the historic music festival brings in world renown artists in classic, folk, pop and jazz genres, plus it is the summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  The July schedule features  pianist Jorge Frederico Osorio playing Mozart on July 9 with Marin Alsop conducting the CSO, jazz/pop singer Kurt Elling  July 13 and Rock band Counting Crows, Aug. 19. For tickets, complete schedule and other information visit Ravinia.org.

Jodie Jacobs

 

Chicago festivals reimagined

 

Yes, the City of Chicago has reopened. However, look for your favorite festivals at different times in different formats and at different places. There are more events and new celebrations across the city’s many neighborhoods in 2021.

Music fests will return but at different times. (City of Chicago Dept. of Cultural Affairs and Special Events photo)
Music fests will return but at different times. (City of Chicago Dept. of Cultural Affairs and Special Events photo)

Don’t be Blue

Because some noted annual fests as Blues, Jazz and Gospel are arranged way ahead of performance dates but COVID interfered, plan on attending each of them in a three-hour, early-evening version this fall. As part of the city’s new “In Tune” program, they all will be free and run from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Millennium Park’s Jay Pritzker Pavilion in September 2021.

Gospel is Sept. 3.  Hosted by Jonathan McReynolds and Inspiration 1390’s Sonya Blakely and Deandre Paterson, it will include La Shon Brown, the Carson Sisters, Nicole Harris, Illiana Torres and the Tommies Reunion Choir.

Jazz is Sept. 4. Presented by the Jazz Institute of Chicago, it features Ari Brown, Marquis Hill and Lizz Wright.

House celebration is Sept. 11 featuring “Sanitize Your Soul,” a debut Gospel House Choir collaboration between Mark Hubbard and DJ Terry Hunter.

Blues is Sept. 18. The evening will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Alligator Records with Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials and the Nick Moss Band . Also hear Dennis Gruenling, Cash Box Kings,  Shemekia Copeland, Billy Branch and Wayne Baker Brooks.

Taste of Chicago To Go is July 7 to July 11 in different parts of the city. (Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events photo)
Taste of Chicago To Go is July 7 to July 11 in different parts of the city. (Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events photo)

Don’t Diet

Work off the Taste of Chicago treats after July 11. The celebration of Chicago dishes and restaurants starts July 7 but instead of everything happening in Grant Park  it will be a week of pop-up food from nearly 40 eateries and take place in neighborhood markets. Plus there are cooking demos, music and community meals with local nonprofit organizations.

Pop ups are July 7, 2 -7 p.m. at Pullman City Market, July 8 from 1-7 p.m. at Austin Town Hall City Market, July 9, at 4-8 p.m. at iWEPA Mercado del Pueblo, and also at 5 -8 p.m. for Taste on Tap at Goose Island Brewery.

They continue July 10 from 10 a.m. -2 p.m. at The Hatchery, and from 10 a.m. -4 p.m. at Eli’s Cheesecake Company and from 1-8 p.m. on 63rd street in the West Englewood neighborhood.

The event culminates July 11 from noon to 3 p.m. with women restaurateurs in Millennium Park.

For more information and addresses visit Taste of Chicago To-Go/Schedule

Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park (J Jacobs photo)
Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park (J Jacobs photo)

Wait, there’s more (as tv announcers say)

The city’s new programs include  “Chicago Presents” community events; a nine-part House City  series in the neighborhoods that helped create the music genre; two Latinx and World Music celebrations; two  films  and more just-announced special events at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion; and a mash-up of public art and dance at Lurie Garden in Millennium Park.

Enjoy summer in Chicago

Jodie Jacobs

Tribecca Festival goes hybrid

 

Tribeca Film Festival closing night is the world premiere of Dave Chappell's documentary.(P:hoto courtesy of Tribecca Festival)
Tribeca Film Festival closing night is the world premiere of Dave Chappell’s documentary.(Photo courtesy of Tribecca Festival)

Certainly, the Covid pandemic dramatically changed the arts and entertainment world including that of film festivals. But it also taught us we could work from home and enjoy plays and movies on line at home.

Some popular film festivals have been postponed yet another year to 2022. However, the New York’s Tribecca Festival is going ahead with its culturally and politically focused films in hybrid – at home and in-person – mode, June 9-20, 2021.

The festival includes Talks such as from storytellers John Legend and Mike Jackson, Games, Comedy and Films.

In person films range from “In the Heights” to “Johnny Mnemonic.” See In the Boroughs.

A highlight is the premiere showing of Dave Chappelle’s Untitled Documentary. To see it in person at Radio City Music Hall June 19, you must be fully vaccinated. And have proof.

Tickets are available for in-person showings  in NYC and the boroughs and for at home viewing. For ticket info visit  tribecafilm.com/festival/tickets.

 

Chicago Auto Show back in town

Chicago Auto Show 2020 (Photo courtesy of Chicago Auto Show)
Chicago Auto Show 2020
(Photo courtesy of Chicago Auto Show)

The Chicago Auto Show, North America’s largest and longest running auto show, begun in 1901,  returns to McCormick Place this summer as a Special Edition, July 15-19, 2021.

Announced earlier today by Governor JB Pritzker, Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot and other officials, the auto show’s announcement comes on the heels of Navy Pier’s recent re-opening the end of April and Ravinia Festival’s announcement that concerts return in early July.

Show goers can expect to see production vehicles such as the Alfa Romeo 4 C,  concept vehicles such as Toyota’s GR Hyperspeed Edition and debut  vehicles such as the 2020 Aston Martin DBS Superleggera.

However, as a special edition that is observing COVID protocols, don’t look for them in the usual places. The show will be held in Mccormick Place’s West Building and it’s outdoor surroundings.

The move not only takes in pandemic concerns but also allows for outdoor test drives and more test tracks and technology demonstrations.

“With strong public health protocols in place, the Chicago Auto Show will be the first large convention to take place in Illinois since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, setting the stage for the safe return of big events in the months to come,” said Gov. Pritzker.

After reminding everyone that the venue was an alternate care facility for COVID-19 cases about this time last year, Mayor Lightfoot said that the change in the pandemic numbers in Illinois made the auto show announcement even “more special.”

She added, “In the same spirit of collaboration between government, healthcare, community, and corporate partners, we are now able to bring conventions back to our beloved convention center in a way that is safe and reflective of our progress in slowing and stopping the spread of this virus. I look forward to seeing the McCormick Place reopen its doors for the Chicago Auto Show this July and further enhance our city’s ongoing Open Chicago initiative.”

Chicago Auto Show 2020. (Photo courtesy of Chicago Auto Show)
Chicago Auto Show 2020. (Photo courtesy of Chicago Auto Show)

The Auto Show website details the following mitigation and safety measures:

  • a move to Hall F in West Building with 470,000 sq ft of indoor space and 100,000 sq ft of outdoor space;
  • • timed entrance windows and staggered entry to prevent congestion on the show floor and at arrival;
  • requirement to wear face masks at all times sanitization stations throughout the event;
  • contactless delivery for tickets;
  • temperatures will be scanned,
  • a medical questionnaire must be filled out before entry is allowed into the event.

The Chicago Auto Show general information line is (630) 495-2282. More show information visit Chicago Auto Show. exposition on the continent. This year marks the 113th edition of the Chicago Auto Show.

 

If you go

Date and hours:  July 15-18, 9 a.m. – 10 p.m. and July 19, 9 a.m. – 8 p.m.

Location: McCormick Place, West Building, 2301 S. King Drive, Chicago.

Ticket Prices: $13 adults, $10 seniors 62+, $10 children 0-12. Buy Tickets | Chicago Auto Show

 

Jodie Jacobs

More Mom Day ideas

Orchids make a lovely Mother's Day gift. (J Jacobs photo)
Orchids make a lovely Mother’s Day gift. (J Jacobs photo)

Second in a fun Mother’s Day ideas series. See Travel Smart for the first article in the series and Dining Out-Eating In for the third one.

Mother’s Day isn’t until May 9 in 2021 but reservations fill fast, so figure out something special, now. The ideas listed here: Stay, Play, Eat, Treat, Spa and Ooh La La are merely a guide.

Stay

Book a package deal at the 5 star Peninsula Chicago, among the city’s top luxury hotel. It has an exceptional spa, large lap pool with great views and a great roof-top lounge.

Or get a room with a view at Sable, a new Hilton hotel. You will be staying on Navy Pier, Chicago’s No. 1 attraction that re-opens April 30, 2021. Plus the hotel has Offshore, the world’s largest roof-top bar.

 

Lincoln P:ark Conservatory's Spring Flower Show opens on Mother's Day. (Photo courtesy of Lincoln Park Conservatory)_
Lincoln P:ark Conservatory’s Spring Flower Show opens on Mother’s Day. (Photo courtesy of Lincoln Park Conservatory)_

Play

Stroll Lincoln Park  with stops at the Zoo to talk to the animals and the Conservatory for its Spring Garden show, opening May 9. Reservations are needed because of COCID protocols.

Or snag tickets for an architectural tour on the Chicago River. Two popular tours are the Wendella and the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s River Cruise’s First Lady.

 

Eat

Do brunch at longtime favorite, the Signature Room at the 95th. The restaurant is atop of what was formerly called the John Hancock Center, a skyscraper now known as 875 N. Michigan Ave.

Or reserve a table (may be on a heated patio) at Shaw’s Crab House in Chicago or Schaumburg.

 

It's hard to leave Gerhard's, a European bakery in Lake Forest with just one treat. (J Jacobs photo)
It’s hard to leave Gerhard’s, a European bakery in Lake Forest with just one treat.
(J Jacobs photo)

Treat

Pick up a sweet from That Little French Guy, a Parisian café in Highland Park.

Or look one North Shore suburb north for Gerhard’s, a European style bakery in Lake Forest.

 

Spa

Get Mom a gift certificate for a spa experience. There is likely a spa in her neighborhood but if going downtown Chicago and the oriental-flavored Peninsula is booked consider the spa at the Langham  an upscale Chicago hotel with a British accent.

 

Long Grove Confectionary (J Jacobs photo)
Long Grove Confectionary (J Jacobs photo)

Ooh la la

Flowers and candy have traditionally said “We love you.” The Chicago area has several good florists. Check out Blossoms or AshlandAddison, two popular and highly rated choices.

For candy, a top stop is Windy City Sweets in the Lakeview neighborhood. The only problem is that everything looks so good you’ll end up with stuff to also take home.

Or go to Long Grove Confectionary  in suburban Long Grove. A longtime destination, the store also has  factory outlets in Buffalo Grove, Wauconda  and Chicago.  Go back for a factory tour, good sale items and for holiday goodies.

Jodie Jacobs

 

Three arts programs end April on a very high note

Twilight Gods performed at a Millennium Garage in Chicago by the Lyric Opera. (Photo courtesy of the Lyric)
Twilight Gods performed at a Millennium Garage in Chicago by the Lyric Opera. (Photo courtesy of the Lyric)

During 2020, the main year of our COVID pandemic, much of theater programing has gone on-line and emanated from homes rather than theater stages. It also has moved to unusual formats such as car seating in drive-ins for concerts, and now, to a parking garage. Really.

On April 29-30 and May 2, audiences of the the Lyric Opera of Chicago partnership with the Michigan Opera Theater will be driving inside a Millennium Garage to view Twilight: Gods, a part of Wagner’s Ring cycle.

The scenes are viewed in specific spots and accompanied by music and voices heard by turning the car’s FM radio to designated station spots.

As the Lyric’s general Manager Anthony Freud explained in the program book, “Last year, the pandemic prevented Lyric from presenting the premiere of our new production of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung and the three full Ring cycles that were to follow. It was wrenching for Lyric to have to abandon the Ring altogether, so we considered every possible way to perform any portion of it during this period of COVID. This led us to bring into the Lyric family the innovative director Yuval Sharon and the rest of the astonishingly gifted team that has created Twilight: Gods.”

The production is a collaboration between Lyric and the Michigan Opera Theatre where Sharon, a winner of the MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant,” is artistic director.

“Sharon has radically reimagined Götterdämmerung/The Twilight of the Gods—the climactic fourth opera of the Ring—as a 70-minute series of installations that distill some of the core themes of Wagner’s massive work and concentrate on the central characters, as well as the decaying, corrupt society that they inhabit,” said Freud.

He added, “Experiencing this remarkable event within the sprawling underground world of the Millennium Garages-Millennium Lakeside Parking Garage, with the music coming to you via your car radio, offers a unique and brand-new dimension to our art form.”

Unfortunately, all the time slots are taken. However, there is a film version that will become available. Commissioned by the Lyric and created by Raphael Nash, the film will present the production so that viewers will see it as if they are driving through the garage. The film is slated to be released this summer.

To understand what the drivers will experience visit the orientation video Twilight: Gods program book | Lyric Opera of Chicago You learn that the performances take place at designated car stops, that your car window stays closed but you hear the music and voices on your FM radio and that you put the car into accessory mode so you can turn off the engine.

By radio, you will hear noted Brunnhilde interpreter soprano Christine Goerke, mezzo-soprano Catherine Martin as Waltraute, tenor Sean Panikkar as Siegfried, bass Morris Robinson as Hagen and baritone Donnie Ray Albert as Alberich. The production also includes the Rhinemaidens: Ryan Opera Center Ensemble members soprano Maria Novella Malfatti, mezzo-soprano Katherine Beck and mezzo-soprano Kathleen Felty.

On a final note: there will be no honking as applause but drivers can bring signs to hold that say “bravo.”

 

Lyric Opera of Chicago (Lyric photo)
Lyric Opera of Chicago (Lyric photo)

Another place to hear and see opera this weekend is the the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s  “Rising Stars in Concert, April 29 at 7 p.m. CDT. The program is the annual Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center showcase that features its 2020/21 ensemble. It will be on You tube and Facebook. To learn more and tune in visit Rising Stars in Concert.

Joffrey Ballet Under Trees' Voices. (Photo courtesy of Joffrey Ballet)
Joffrey Ballet Under Trees’ Voices. (Photo courtesy of Joffrey Ballet)

For dance, visit Joffrey Ballet which is streaming  “Under the Trees’ Voices, that debuts April 20 at 7 p.m. CDT. Choreographed by Nicolas Blanc to Symphony No. 2 by Ezio Bosso, the message is about the power of community durng social distancing. To register and learn more visit  Under the Trees’ Voices | The Joffrey Ballet

 

Ideas to celebrate Earth Day

Lake Forest beach (J Jacobs photo)
Lake Forest beach (J Jacobs photo)

A half century ago, Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson pushed for a national day that would jump start legislation and events stopping industrial pollution and remind earth’s residents of the importance of their planet’s health.

First held and celebrated in the United States with marches and programs in April 1970, Earth Day was then established as April 22 by an executive order given in July that year.

It was followed by the creation of the US Environmental Protection Agency to regulate and enforce national pollution legislation and led to the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act.

Earth Day is now celebrated by towns and institutions around the world. Here are some ways to celebrate and/or participate.

 

Check your community for cleanup and other activities.

Join the Lake Forest/Lake Bluff League of Women Voters and Lake Forest Open Lands Association to clean up the lakefront April 17 from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.. Capacity if 50 people. For tickets needed to meet state protocols and more information visit Earth Day Beach Clean-up.  Face mask required. Parking is at lower south beach near boat launch.

The Andersonville neighborhood invites everyone to visit the shops for special promotions during Andersonville in Bloom, April 22-25.

 

The EarthDay Organization

Earthday.org has three days of activities beginning April 20 and culminating in workshops and speakers on April 22. Among the topics covered are emerging green technologies, climate restoration technologies and reforestation efforts.

 

 Art Institute of Chicago

Celebrate Earth Day with the museum’s virtual programs, live performances, conversations and art activities. Registration is needed for conversations beginning April 21, art activities beginning April 23, and performances beginning April 30. For registration and more information visit AICEarthDay Highlights.

 

Chicago Botanic Garden (J Jacobs photo)
Chicago Botanic Garden (J Jacobs photo)

 

Chicago Botanic Garden

See Earth Day/Chicago botanic Garden for loads of ideas from “Be a citizen scientist” and “Eco-friendly gardening” to “Understanding bio-diversity” and “Conservation and restoration.”

 

At the Shedd

Visit Earth Day Shedd Aquarium to find activities and suggestions you can do at home to help planet Earth. The Shedd site talks about reducing food waste and greenhouse gases, saving energy by switching to LED bulbs and being a climate-friendly gardener.  It also talks about Shedd and partners’ science projects, such as  Shedd’s Great Lakes Fish Finder app, Project Budburst and Zooniverse Penguin Watch. In addition, it urges people to join Shedd in supporting the Global 30 x 30 movement and signing the Campaign for Nature petition.

Jodie Jacobs

New works by artist Mark McMahon reveal a different sty;e

Artist Mark McMahon and Thistles" that is part of his new flora series. (J Jacobs photo)
Artist Mark McMahon and Thistles” that is part of his new flora series. (J Jacobs photo)

It has taken COVID’s 2020 stay-close-to home mandate to bring out a different style side of artist Mark McMahon that his many fans likely won’t recognize.

Art lovers can see the ceramic tile mural of Chicago life done by McMahon, an internationally known Lake Forest artist, if they go to Van Buren and Federal Streets downtown. Folks who remember the ceramic pictures of local life that covered the walls of a Lake Forest McDonalds can find the extensive mural over at the town’s Gorton Community Center where they were moved when the McD property was developed into a shopping strip.

Abbotts’ employees know of his stylized interpretation of the international company’s various campuses as pictured first by his dad, the famed “artist- reporter, Franklin McMahon, last century, and twice now in this century by Mark McMahon. The commissioned pictures are in Abbott’s museum.

The Abbott works are part of McMahon’s “World Studio” category that also includes paintings done in Africa , London, France, Canada, Spain and Cuba.

They and other watercolors, many of which he has translated into giclee prints, note cards and mugs, have been commissioned by companies, cities and colleges. They have also ranged from sports venues and historic events such as a NASA space shuttle launch to scenic vistas on the Great Lakes such as Sleeping Bear Dunes.

Those are paintings that tell a story. Inspired by the way his dad  worked on-site, McMahon calls them “editorials.”

However, anyone stopping by The Gallery, a Lake Forest restaurant cum art venue, will see not just a sampling of McMahan’s story-telling watercolors , but also his latest works in oils and acrylics.

Set in artistically designed steel frames created by son Drew McMahon, the paintings are so very different from the story-telling works on the opposite  gallery wall that a visitor could be forgiven for asking who did those.

There are eye-popping flowers plus an unusual rendering of a lion fish.

"Bearded Iris Yellow-Purple" can be seen at The Gallery. (Photo courtesy of McMahon)
Mark McMahon “Bearded Iris Yellow-Purple” can be seen at The Gallery. (Photo courtesy of McMahon)

When asked about his change in style, McMahon, sitting at home with a cup of tea for the interview, said, “Wait” as he disappeared. He brought back a large canvas done in oils on site at a Lake Forest Open Lands property about 30 years ago.

If divided into close-ups, it could foretell the direction he would take decades later. But the style is different.

Even though it was done on site because that is how McMahon works, the scene didn’t begin as a line drawing followed by color as in his characteristic painting mode. Instead, the canvas appeared as an experiment in textured layers and scenic effects.

I’ve always done these on the side,” said McMahon.

His newest works focus on pattern instead of a scenic tale.

Zooming in on the shape of the flora he captures, his irises tend to to take on a Matisse-type flow.

His thistles, as in the work hanging in his and wife Carolyn’s living room, create an impact with repeated pattern. They become even more important against a forceful background color. This one is a glowing orange.

“Carolyn said this one isn’t going anywhere. It’s staying here,” said McMahon. (Carolyn, an artist who works in a variety of media, has a two dimensional metal piece attached to another living room wall.)

Another change is that he now favors icon boards over the canvas he had been using. “You feel it pulling the paint off the brush,” he said.

Members of the artistic McMahon family paint outside at the rock garden. (Photo courtesy of the McMahons)
Members of the artistic McMahon family paint outside at the rock garden. (Photo courtesy of the McMahons)

What hasn’t changed is working on site where he does his line work and initial painting and then, finishing the work back in his studio. He still brings his tools: an easel and box of paints to the site. “I like that spontaneity,” said McMahon.

But he attributes his adding a new style, “not technique,” to the pandemic. “I’ve had more time now with COVID,” he said.

Instead of traveling far afield to capture a story playing out at a city or college, McMahon heads to his rock garden or around the corner to the wild plants such as thistle that grow along telephone, electric and cable lines.

I’ve been doing this (painting) for 50 years,” said McMahon, 70. “The art process takes, 30-40-50 years to develop. They have evolved. Once in a while there is a good one,” he said.

(To view Mark McMahon’s work visit The Gallery, check with the Deerpath Art League’s date for its May fundraiser and go on April 29, 2021 to the City of Lake Forest Shop in the downtown train station for an event to help local non-profit organizations.)

Jodie Jacobs