Jan 16 – Mar 21, 2018

Opening reception: Tue, Jan 16, 6pm
Closing reception: Tue, Mar 20, 6pm
Café Logan / Free

Chicago artist Lewis Achenbach is a fixture in Chicago's jazz rooms and festivals, where he works to do the impossible: capture the elusive artform of jazz in visual form. Chronicling in thoroughly personal terms the city's ever-expanding jazz landscape, Achenbach’s images are vibrant with color, punctuated with long lines, and surging with energy. The Sonic Story showcases some of Achenbach’s extensive portfolio of jazz paintings and portraits, and includes two live sketching sessions by the artist during Logan Center’s Third Tuesday jazz performances in January and March.

5 Questions with Lewis Achenbach 

Lewis Achenbach is a well known figure in the Chicago jazz and arts scene for his colorful, lively paintings of jazz artists—all done live and on-site. In his own words, he is “attempting the impossible: to capture a most elusive music — jazz — in visual form.” His love of jazz and his skill as an artist have led him to create a series of works called “Jazz Occurrences,” in which he invites the audience to watch him paint during live jazz performances.

From January 16-March 20, 2018, the Logan Center will host Lewis Achenbach: The Sonic Story, an exhibition of Achenbach's work that will also include two “Occurrences.” The exhibition will be staged in Café Logan, and jazz lovers will be able to watch the artist at work during the exhibition's opening and closing receptions, which coincide with the Logan Center's Third Tuesday Jazz performances on January 16 and March 20.

UChicago Arts sat down with Achenbach to ask him 5 questions about his artistic practice in anticipation of the exhibition.

Who are your favorite jazz artists performing now?

Some of my current working artist ‘favorites’ are Greg Ward, Jaimie Branch, Jason Stein, Jim Baker, Thaddeus Tukes, Matt Piet, Nasheet Waits, Jason Moran, Yonatan Gat, Chris Weller, Tigran Hamasyan, Grazyna Auguscik, and Tomeka Reid. And believe me, this is by no means a complete list and they are not strictly jazz artists. I’m just naming a few. Some of my ‘current playlist’ artists I discover after having painted them live or discovering their full discography after their passing. 

What initially drove you to want to paint live in front of an audience? How does that differ for you from creating a piece, say, in a studio or closed setting?

To get closer to the music, both physically and emotionally. And to get ‘into the water’ so to speak. The musicians were having improvisational dialogues that I wanted to understand. I wanted to interpret the music with immediacy and express with alacrity. Like painting en plein air and getting out into the fields documenting haystacks in variants of light, I wanted to “capture the frequency” while the music was still in the room. Plus, when there is an audience, the discipline of painting live has that desired “eyes on you” urgency and sharing the "out there in it" exposure with the musicians. There is a pleasant danger to creating and making mistakes and breakthroughs out of the studio. Also, in the confines of a studio it is easy to overwork or never finish a piece. On the scene, the work has to be done when the music is done. And the feedback is immediate and genuine at a live event. It’s like getting caught doing graffiti on the streets.

What inspires you as a visual artist about Jazz?

The tradition of it and the unexpectedness of it. Jazz is very “us and right now” and we as a jazz audience share this inclusive culture. The music can go way out and bring you back. So there is a journey and a storytelling about jazz that I like. I get this from some contemporary classical and experimental music also. I know where they are coming from but I don’t know what they are specifically going to bring.

How do you see the relationship between visual art and music?

I used to think that the visual and sonic where different languages. But now I know that they are the same. Or they can interpret each other, like twins sharing a secret language. Their spirit can be the same. They can have the same aspirations and purpose. That is why animations to music are important. That is why the works of the John & Faith Hubley and Oskar Fischinger are important. Jazz can allow you to see visuals, as a static still painting can be heard, if you let it be heard.

In one sentence, how would you describe your artistic vision or goal?

To preach the nourishing benefits of live music and improvisation in life.

Return to Logan: On Display

Return to Logan: On Display


Jazz Occurrence documentary trailer
TedxNaperville Talk

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