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Western Avenue: 24 Miles in 24 Watercolors

Western Avenue may not be Chicago's most beautiful street, but local artist and architect Jane Sloss thinks that it is the city's most revealing. That's why the 31-year-old Andersonville-based artist decided to paint 24 watercolor paintings, one to document each mile of Chicago's longest continuous street.

The paintings are part of an exhibition titled "At the Heart of the City" which opened Saturday, May 5 at the Beverly Art Center and will be on display through May 28 with a reception to be held 7 to 9 p.m., Saturday, May 19.

When Sloss moved to Chicago from rural Alabama five years ago, she admits she wasn't immediately smitten with Western Avenue. But, over time, she learned to appreciate what the street represented.

"It's a good reflection of the most typical fabric of Chicago--lot's of brick two flats and strip malls that you drive by without noticing," Sloss said. "It's not a place that tourists go. It feels like a place that is much more working class. It's part of what makes the city run."

Western Avenue passes through 13 of Chicago's 50 wards as it slices through the west side of the city for 23.5 miles through neighborhoods like Lincoln Square, Bucktown and Mckinley Park.

Sloss says that words of Pilsen born author Stuart Dybek do a good job of summarizing her project.

"Western, with apologies to State Street, is a great street. 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," Dybek writes.

In order to get a feel for the street, Sloss walked along a 21-mile stretch of the street in one day and then trudged through the remaining three miles the next day. During her walk, Sloss stopped to make sketches and take snap shots, but she also began to notice  some clear trends. She made a deliberate decision to incorporate these trends into her work to ensure that each painting was an honest portrait of its corresponding mile of Western Ave.

"The stretch between Irving park and Lawrence has seven Thai restaurants and a Thai grocery store, so I did a Thai restaurant for that section," Sloss said. " I wanted to have something that was somehow indicative of that part of the avenue, but I also wanted the collection of paintings to reflect the wide range of things that exist along the avenue as a whole."

For more information about Sloss and her Western Avenue series visit her blog.

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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