Arlene Gianni
Painting Gallery

A Moment with Arlene Gianni

She is scowling and looking down her nose at me. Her eye looks like it may be twitching. One ear is bigger than the other. Her hairline recedes. No, not Arlene, but "Eda", one of her paintings. Like many of the others, they are executed in a palette which includes lots of greens and umbers. The whole group of portraits and nudes are somewhat abstracted, somewhat awkward, somewhat raw, somewhat "edgy" — extremely creative, and well-executed. And she says she often thinks of the face as a landscape. She exhibits with the Skokie Art Guild (SAG), so you can see for yourself.

Arlene taught for the Chicago Public Schools in grades 6,7, and 8. She taught all subjects, including art (but it must have been art that captured her heart.) She says the students made murals and masks and paintings and drawings and they just loved to be in her room. "Children get such a positive self image when they complete a project. And it carries over into other subjects." In literature classes she taught them to make book covers; they did dioramas and maps for social studies. In 1993, after 27 years and the lure of an incentive program, Arlene "retired" and started painting in earnest. (Except for last year, when the City of Chicago School Program hired her to observe first year teacher's performance and evaluate reading programs.)

She works in oils, with an oil ground on canvas, although in the summertime she often does watercolors and pastels.

Since her "retirement" she has studied sculpting with Sheila Oettinger, painting with Elanor Spiess-Ferris, Marilyn Propp, Riva Lehrer, Richard Halsted, and Alain Gavin. Michael Paxton, Paul Mullins, and Matthew Cherry, she says, have helped her to take her work to a new place. "Last year there were all these intense classes. Now I feel free and I'm painting like crazy."

She currently paints every Monday and Thursday at the Figurative Art League in Evanston and "whenever I can fit it in." Sometimes she'll work until 2a.m. She uses models and sometimes uses photos. Her 24 by 40 foot pegboarded basement studio contains tabourets, desks, and worktables. There are puppets and masks hanging on the walls (as well as her grandchildren's art work), and candlesticks on the file cabinets. Each of these she may put into a painting. She has a clear plastic backpack for carrying supplies to paint elsewhere. Finished canvases and works in progress line the walls and floor. The largest is 24 by 40 inches, the smalles: 9 by 12 inches. There are brushes of sable, synthetic, and bristle of every size.

What is she thinking when she looks at a model? "When I look at a model, I don't think. I just start working. People say, 'Oh she's so sad.' I don't try to do any of that. It just comes out. I just see it that way. Your art just takes you away and nothing else exists except what you're working on right then. You're in the zone."

After a couple of years of painting, she began to enter juried shows and even won prizes at the Evanston Woman's Club and in Melbourne, Florida. She is currently showing in the Fine Art Exhibition at the North Shore Senior Center, in the American Jewish Center show, and at Bank One in Skokie. Last year she had her first big show at the Noyes Street Cafe in Evanston and has exhibited with SAG at the LaSalle Bank and Lincolnwood Bank. A nude woman painting will be included in this year's Woman's Work in Woodstock, Illinois. All are figurative pieces.

Arlene is working on three paintings now. A large colorful painting sits on her easel. A woman in a green dress looks down on the violin held in her lap. Her left hand is elongated. She is tense. And you wonder just what she's thinking — the girl with the violin, not Arlene.

— Judy Bjorling

Skokie Art Guild Newsletter
May 2002