As darkness overtook Chicago two Fridays ago, I found myself walking with an uncharacteristic weariness. I approached Western and Foster Avenues, where I boarded a bus and returned to my home. My day had begun in the early hours of the morning, on an unseasonably warm January day, at 119th Street and Western Avenue, the southern Chicago boundary of Western Avenue. From there, I began a Northerly journey walking 21 miles along Western to Foster. Two days later, I walked the last 2.9 miles of Western, concluding a 23.9 mile hike down Chicago’s longest street.
This urban trek was the result of a project I have recently been interested in pursuing. Over the next 48 weeks I'll be executing a series of 24 watercolor paintings, one to document each mile of Western Avenue. Walking the full length of Western confirmed my project hypothesis. Namely, that while it is not considered to be among the most “beautiful” of Chicago’s streets, Western Avenue is a perfect place to document the humanness of Chicago, the positive and the negative. "Western, with apologies to State Street, is a great street," said writer and poet Stuart Dybek, who grew up on the South Side as the son of a factory worker. "Unlike State, it is a street that goes to the interior, the heart of the city, as it glides and glows through a United Nations of neighborhoods."
In documenting successive miles of Western Avenue, I walked through large portions of the city through which I had not previously tread. I found myself continually surprised as I traversed 13 of the city's 50 wards, each stretch of the avenue reflecting the unique demographics of successive neighborhoods. I was astonished by the Dan Ryan Woods which run along the eastern edge of the throughfare offering over sixty acres of wooded area, the starkness of our city’s defacto racial segregation, the proliferation of the car dealerships (approximately 70) and portions of the city, in which large-scale industrial manufacturing has remained.
Through the “Western Avenue Series” I would provide glimpses through a series of 24 paintings that reflect the lives of the 306,412 residents of Western. These paintings will include images of iconic Chicago businesses, and reflections of the city’s ever-changing cultural configuration. Additional paintings aim to illustrate the historic, natural, and cultural resources that exist along one of the city’s major arteries and to portray the industrial and practical workings of the Avenue. These images are intended to create documentation of that which is at “the interior, the heart of the city.”
What do you think of this new project?
Check back each Monday to see the Western Avenue Series as it progresses.