Glencoe’s bastion of contemporary art, the Anne Loucks Gallery, debuts its latest exhibition—Painted Short Stories. The show will run through the end of June and features 30 paintings by local artists Rodger Bechtold and Mary Jo O’Gara.
Bechtold has built a reputation for his contribution to contemporary landscape painting, and his work is punctuated by energy and charged with color, all connected by place and movement. Similarly, O’Gara’s still life and landscape works showcase a commitment to color, freshness, and spontaneity.
“It’s a fabulous representation of both artists,” says Gallery Director Anne Loucks. “There is so much positive energy that radiates from both Mary Jo and Rodger’s work. With seemingly effortless brushwork, they both express a sense of exuberance through their use of color and light.”
The exhibition title Painted Short Stories is meant to describe how both artists use their canvases to capture a moment in time, suggesting an emotional connection to the landscape around them as well as a fascination with the underlying stories that may have unfolded in those places over the years.
“We’ve paired Mary Jo and Rodger together because of the dialogue the two artists share in their paintings,” explains Loucks. “Both focus on the Midwest’s landscape as their subject, including its barns, outbuildings, wide-open spaces, trees, fields, and fauna. Their paintings are beautifully rendered and use vibrant color to express a response to their subject matter. They both communicate a wonderful sense of place that is unique to the Midwestern landscape.”
Bechtold is a Midwest native and nurtured his interest in the visual arts at Chicago’s American Academy of Art College and at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. For many years, he worked in commercial art illustration before pursuing landscape painting full time in the 1980s.
What really ignited this passion for painting was his exposure to mentor Wolf Kahn through the Santa Fe Institute of Fine Art as part of the Masters Art Program. “Looking back, painting with Wolf Kahn and painting in Tuscany are highlights of my life,” says Bechtold.
His vibrant paintings have been featured in solo and group exhibitions in galleries and art centers across the United States. Twice his work was selected for the U.S. State Department’s Art in Embassies program by the U.S. ambassadors to Georgia and Luxembourg, and he also created two large-scale paintings (12-feet-wide by 15-feet-high) for the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.
“The heartland possesses such uncomplicated and straightforward beauty,” says Bechtold. “The simplicity of these ever-changing vistas resonates with me the way music does. My hope is that my painting might somehow rekindle interest in what wonder surrounds us every day and yet goes unnoticed.”
O’Gara came to art later in life, taking her first class on a whim in 1990 at age 40 and then falling in love with the discipline. Mostly self-taught, she now serves on the faculty at the North Shore Art League where she teaches oil and gouache paintings.
“I’m proof that you can follow your dreams later in life,” says O’Gara. “When you pursue something you’re passionate about, doors open.”
In 2015, O’Gara provided 65 paintings for a barrier-free apartment building for disabled adults in Matteson, Illinois, built by the nonprofit organization Over the Rainbow, which is dedicated to providing independent living solutions for individuals with physical disabilities.
This building received the 2016 Vision Award from the Urban Land Institute. Her paintings have also hung in the Office of the Lieutenant Governor of Illinois, as well as in the Cook County Law Library in Chicago.
Traditionally a landscape painter, O’Gara has recently ventured into the abstract space; some of her newest abstract work will be on display.
“During the COVID quarantine, I studied contemporary abstract expressionists like Joan Mitchell and Cy Twombly,” says O’Gara. “I wasn’t going out in the landscape like I used to, so it freed me up to try some new things. I’m excited about this change in style. The newer pieces are more spontaneous and freer.”
Loucks says the new abstract paintings are filled with the same sense of harmonious color and energy as O’Gara’s landscapes. Between Bechtold and O’Gara, Painted Short Stories will feature 20 new works in combination with older pieces. “Anne is very special to me, as her gallery is the first I ever worked with,” says O’Gara.
“I’m so grateful to be showing with Rodger. Our work goes really well together. It’s a dream come true.”
The gallery’s exhibition schedule for the next year features some new artists for the gallery, including photographer Rodney Smith and abstract artists Brian Coleman, Maura Segal, and Stephen Seinberg. Loucks also has shows planned for Sally Michel and Maggie Meiners, as well as the gallery’s annual photography show that will feature new work by David Burdeny, Joshua Jensen-Nagle, and Laurie Victor Kay.
“Art continues to be a universal language that connects us to the world around us and offers a place for personal expression, respite, and introspection,” says Loucks. “More than ever, people are focusing on their homes, investing in their living environments, and making art a central part of that. We continue to see a strong interest in painting and photography, especially large-scale work. We also see clients continue to be drawn to work that evokes an emotional response whether that comes from color, subject, or composition.”
Painted Short Stories is on view until July 6. Anne Loucks Gallery is located at 309 Park Avenue in Glencoe, 847-835-8500, loucksgallery.com.