I didn’t know about Francis Chapin (1899-1965) until a few years ago, but once I saw his pictures it was like I’d known them my whole life. He painted and drew Chicago cityscapes in a style somewhere between French Post-Impressionism and the Ashcan School. Those are two of the boxes often checked off when my own work is described.
Chapin painted views from Chicago windows which I recognize so instinctively that I might as well be looking over his shoulder as he did them. But the man died five years before I was born, so how can that be?
Friday morning it was finally cool enough for me to ride my bike, after a week of oppressive heat and humidity. I pedaled downtown to the Merchandise Mart. Richard Norton Gallery, on the sixth floor, was opening a Chapin retrospective that day. It was my first chance to see a big group of his work all at once.
I did a thing I hardly ever do: I introduced myself to the gallerists. Now that I write about art I’m bombarded with press releases so it behooves me to keep my distance. But I wasn’t here in any professional capacity. I just wanted to look at some paintings and drawings I felt close to. The gallery people couldn’t have been nicer. I’ve never had such an easy, enjoyable time in an art gallery in my life.
They told me to come back and they’d show me stacks of Chapins they had no room to include in the show. They even asked about my paintings. I gave them a bunch of postcards. Their focus is Modernism and the cutoff seems to be around the middle of the twentieth century, so I doubt there’s much chance they’d take on my work, but it was flattering that they took an interest anyway.
One of my favorite pieces in the show was a small ink of a six men on barstools at a counter. It looked like some of my drawings done in bars over the years. In the few photos I’ve seen of Chapin, he’s a smiling Jimmy Stewart type. I’m nothing like that, but otherwise I feel a lot of kinship with the guy. I look forward to going back to the Merchandise Mart and pouring of more of his stuff and finding a few more that look like I could’ve done myself.