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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Saturday, May 18

Gapers Block

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Whether she is painting herself, a co-worker from Café Selmarie, people waiting on El platforms or customers boozing it up at Delilah's, Emily Rapport uses different shades of colors and light in ways that make ordinary people and urban landscapes look terrifically real and beautiful. Rapport showed some of her paintings in early October at the fifth annual ArtWalk Ravenswood festival, a project intended to unite the community of the Ravenswood Industrial Corridor. ArtWalk Ravenswood features many open artists' studios from Balmoral to Roscoe, including Damen, Rockwell and Cornelia.

Rapport, 32, of Lincoln Square, has been drawing pictures since she took an art class in high school in Rochester, New York, where she grew up. However, it wasn't until her second year at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago that she learned "the fundamentals" and techniques for painting realistic images. That's when Rapport met Art Institute teacher Marion Kryczka, who became Rapport's mentor and taught her to dissect details before painting. Rapport says she clicked with Kryczka because he has a down-to-earth personality.

On a recent afternoon Rapport is sitting on a stool at her fourth-floor art studio on quiet, tree-lined Ravenswood Avenue near Montrose. As sunshine pours through windows, Rapport says she learned from Kryczka to forget obvious, familiar details about the subjects that she paints so that she can focus on how different shades of colors and light can help her build up stronger, sharper details to make her subjects look more convincing.

Although she has gotten better at blending colors the more she paints, Rapport says she sometimes gets impatient when she is painting and thinks, "That's not the right color!" As she talks about who has influenced her, Rapport sits on the floor, flipping through pages of an art history book to point out various artists and their styles. Rapport admires artists such as Reginald Marsh, George Bellows and Robert Henri, in part because they painted ordinary, everyday people and urban scenes, including dirty, gritty, truthful details.

Heatlamp - © 2005 Emily Rapport

Although some critics have dismissed paintings that capture ordinary, working-class and lower-class people, Rapport says ordinary people interest her the most. Of Marsh's paintings and her own, she says, "You're painting what you really see." She says that those kinds of pieces are for everyone, and that "everyone is pretty."

Rapport likes painting El tracks, fast food restaurants and other urban scenes from around Chicago. Many people have told Rapport that her artwork reminds them of Edward Hopper. Like Hopper paintings, many of Rapport's paintings create for me a melancholy mood, which isn't a gloomy, depressing vibe or a happy vibe; it's more of a thoughtful, soothing, connected feeling.

As for what she tries to communicate through her paintings, Rapport says that paintings exist beyond what one can put into words; each viewer is entitled to his or her own opinion.

Rapport got a great reaction from Mike Miller. Miller owns Delilah's, a bar at 2771 N. Lincoln Ave. known for offering many whiskey varieties, and he bought a painting by Rapport of the interior of a 1940s or '50s bar in 2002 at the Around the Coyote festival in Wicker Park.

The Pabst Drinker - © 2004 Emily Rapport

Miller liked that painting so much, he commissioned Rapport to create a series of paintings to document the 11th anniversary of Delilah's in 2004. Over six months Rapport photographed scenes from the bar and customers and then painted based on her photos.

"I couldn't have worked with anyone who captured the essence of Delilah's better," Miller says. He adds that Rapport does a great job of painting people's expressions, and he says her pieces are "definitely oozing with soul."

In one painting, "The Pabst Drinker," a girl with staring eyes that make her look deep in thought has a face made from a blend of light pink and red-orange, and her arms look part chalky white and part orange because of the way light illuminates her.

Miller says he is in the process of building a place behind the bar at Delilah's so that one of Rapport's paintings — of Fran Opre, a long-time Delilah's bartender who was killed in a hit-and-run accident — will always remain at the bar. In "The Conversation Upstairs (With Fran)" white-light pink-orange tones and shades of orange and light pink help to define female customers' faces and arms while dark-haired Fran pours a drink.

The Conversation (Upstairs with Fran) - © 2004 Emily Rapport

Rapport is such a workaholic, it's a wonder how she finds time to paint. She is a web designer and a server at Café Selmarie. In addition to showing her artwork during ArtWalk Ravenswood, Rapport has been active in building websites for the ArtWalk and for the Chicago chapter of the Women's Caucus for Art, which supports women in visual arts by sponsoring local exhibitions and educational programs. Rapport also helped do research for text accompanying a Ravenswood documentary photography exhibit by Andrew Steiner that was shown at ArtWalk Ravenswood.

Rapport hopes that people will become less intimidated by artists and artwork after attending events such as the ArtWalk; she says she hopes that any barriers between artists and other people will dissolve after folks see where and how she and other area artists work.

"It's not a mysterious activity," Rapport says. "It's not magic. It's work."

Although Rapport says it's a struggle to create a schedule and make time to paint, she gets a deep sense of satisfaction when she has a good momentum going from painting.

Rapport says that aspiring artists shouldn't worry about getting rejection, and not to listen to people who discourage them or reject their work, for the discouragement probably has more to do with other people's own failures. She says to "keep working at it" and to keep a good momentum going.

Emily Rapport's paintings may be viewed on her website,, as well as in Feed the Beast restaurant, 4300 N. Lincoln Ave.


About the Author(s)

Mary Susan Littlepage is a freelance writer in Chicago. Her work can be read at The Little Pages.

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