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One of the ‘Most Interesting Living Painters’ Unveils Years-long Project

July 15, 2015

PILSEN — Artist Marie Krane watched the Annabelle hydrangeas from her Hyde Park garden change color every day for a year.
And every day, she recorded the colors of the flowers — keeping track of how they changed in ultra-minute detail. That information — logged precisely in a journal — was then turned into a 140-foot, 13-panel series of paintings that features more than 364,000 marks and 600-plus colors. Each day of color is represented in the paintings with a tiny, nearly identically sized mark — smaller than a finger knuckle.

The project took more than eight years to create.

At first, the panels appear to have the same color, but upon closer, lengthier examination, it becomes apparent the hues are dramatically different.

“The difference is barely discernible at first glance, but with time, it’s extraordinarily colorful or discernible,” Krane said. “If we give our eyes, our vision a chance and recognize how much we can see differently than a camera can see — that’s what it’s celebrating and advocating for: the extraordinary potential of human seeing. … It’s about representing the process of seeing and seeing time pass.”

Only a handful of people have seen the works of Krane and the Pilsen-based artist collective Cream Co. that she leads. But this week she began seeking commercial galleries to showcase and sell the paintings — which show how time impacts colors in plants, the sky and water. Like the hydrangea series, each of Krane’s artworks takes years to research and put down on canvas.

“The truth and the drama of this is, will this work be seen?” Krane said. “I’m on the risk of total obscurity.”

Art experts have praised Krane’s paintings.

Julie Rodrigues Widholm, curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art of Chicago, said, “It is rare to find an artist who is so focused on the long-term development of the work,” adding, “I think the public will be fascinated by the mystery of their making, and enchanted by the luminous, yet barely perceptible, shifts in color.”

James Elkins, the E.C. Chadbourne Chair of art history, theory and criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, said, “Marie’s work stands out for the extreme complexity of her self-imposed rules.”

Elkins, of West Loop, went further: “I think she’s one of the most interesting living painters. I rank her alongside Günter Umberg, Marlene Dumas, Luc Tuymans and a half-dozen others.”

And Lawrence Rinder, director of the University of California-Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive, described Krane’s art as “simultaneously poetic, philosophical and strikingly visual. She brings it all together.”

Krane, a lifelong Chicagoan with the exception of time spent at a boarding high school in Boston, grew up Downtown and graduated from Sacred Heart grade school, Northwestern University and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She founded Cream Co. in 1997 with painting students at the school. The collaborative produces paintings, photographs and installations that Krane said “raise questions about ways we make meaning.

“The paintings propose to represent things like: What does a year look like? What does a month look like?” Krane said.

The key to her craft, Krane said, is discipline. For a current project, she looked at the sky through the same window every five minutes from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. and 4 p.m.-6 p.m. every day for nearly a month. She’s doing similar research showing how water color changes as plants and flowers decay inside glass mugs filled with the liquid.

Krane estimates over 20 years she’s made more than a million “marks” in paintings, so many that injuries have forced her to give the majority of the actual “painting” work to members of her collaborative team.

Krane said she’s achieved success from an art history standpoint due to favorable reviews from art aficionados, but she’s on pins and needles waiting to see whether the art will be embraced by the general public.

“Whether or not they get out into the world, I don’t know,” she said.


Article by Justin Breen