“Her art developed out of how she lived her life,” explains Anne Loucks, owner of the eponymous Glencoe gallery known for its thoughtfully curated collection of contemporary art, about artist Sally Michel Avery, the focus of their current exhibition. “She believed in making art that was fresh, modern, joyful, and, most of all, accessible. She believed painting could be a language that could speak to anybody.”
Joy most certainly comes to mind when walking through the exhibition, Sally Michel Avery: Landscapes and Figures, surrounded by 25 pieces representing three decades of paintings—from the 1960s through the 1980s—by the prolific artist, who passed away in 2003 at the age of 100. Bright colors in surprising combinations are equally cheerful and exuberant as they are tranquility itself. Scene after scene reveal captivating landscapes and figurative compositions evoking intimate domestic scenes.
“The subject of so much of her work revolves around their [Avery and her husband, artist Milton Avery] favorite places and pastimes; time spent with friends and family in their New York apartment or in the mountains, hillsides, and surrounding area of their Woodstock, New York, studio,” describes Loucks. “You see family and friends enjoying time together, perhaps chatting over dinner, playing checkers, enjoying a book, or relaxing by the pool. Her figurative work represents the people they loved spending time with, yet it is still quite abstract.”
Brooklyn-born Avery was a young artist when she met her husband in 1924, after studying at the Art Students League in New York. Loucks explains, “Together, they developed a style that was very modern, using abstract shapes and figures, flat planes, and unusual color pairings.” For forty years, often painting side-by-side, they served as each other’s models, allies, and champions. It was collaboration of a deep and profound scale.
“Her style reflects how she lived—there is really a freshness and charm, an optimism, to her work. It’s uncomplicated,” Loucks says. “Her paintings celebrate the times and places of her life. When people walk in and see the show, they’ll see the sense of delight with which she lived her life—and that she derived from painting.”
Her work has charmed curators and gallery owners across the country: Sally Michel Avery landscapes, still lifes, and figural scenes can be found in important public collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the Wadsworth Athenaeum, and the Corcoran Gallery of Art.
But Loucks believes Avery’s work has found a following in Chicago and on the North Shore—this is the 4th solo show the gallery has done featuring her work. “This is a setting where people have such an appreciation for art—we are blessed with a wonderful client base and incredibly supportive community. We have a great staple of artists from all over the United States and Canada, representing a wide range of styles. Everyone has shown such an interest in our exhibitions and our artists—in learning about them, understanding their intentions and motivations, and in supporting them along the way. There is an undeniable connection that is formed.”
Loucks opened up her gallery doors in 2001, shortly after settling on the North Shore with her husband, a native of Chicago (the two both attended Northwestern for graduate school). After several years in San Francisco, they were both eager to return to the Midwest to be closer to family and to raise one of their own on the North Shore, particularly seeking its “great schools and sense of community.”
This sense of family has carried into her work at the gallery, in particular with this exhibition. Loucks works closely with Avery’s daughter, March, and grandson, Sean Cavanagh—both artists themselves—to select and source paintings for the retrospectives she puts on of the late artist. “They both provide such a great knowledge of the work and bring a sense of history and connection to it,” she says.
This history, this sense of family and of love, is woven through every surface, across each canvas, and in each brushstroke represented in Landscapes and Figures. Soft tones show an easy elegance and tenderness, contrasting bold colors lend a brightness and passion to each scene. Against each white wall, the paintings pop, like firecrackers, with a warmth that embraces you like a hug. Loucks shares, “I hope anyone who walks through the door will feel welcomed into her world.”
Sally Michel Avery: Landscapes and Figures runs from September 15–November 8 at the Anne Loucks Gallery, 309 Park Avenue, Glencoe. For more information, visit loucksgallery.com.