Canvassing Chicago

“To the east were the moving waters as far as eye could follow,” Nelson Algren wrote in 1951. Fifty years later, the abstract painter William Conger reinterpreted that famous first line from Chicago: City on the Make in his painting To the East Were Moving Waters. For Conger, who has lived most of his 71 years in Chicago, the relationship of the city to the lake is a central theme. “There’s the marvelous clutter of the city with its wild aspirations and energy, and the lake with its order and timelessness,” Conger says. “People go to the lake to see what forever is like, while the city is right now.” In advance of two shows opening in January—a retrospective at the Cultural Center and new works at Roy Boyd—we asked Conger to reminisce on a few of his most Chicago-centric paintings.

Bandit, 2008

Bandit, 2008

“My wife and daughter and I were getting in a car by our building, and a guy came down the street and pulled a gun; then he just turned and walked away. Bandit is the intensity of the urban experience.”

 

To the East Were Moving Waters, 2001

To the East Were Moving Waters, 2001

“This painting was a commission for an apartment on Lake Shore Drive, in one of the Mies buildings overlooking the lake. The painting is a window, a symbolic evocation of city and sky, facing the lake to the east.”

 

Chinatown, 2007

Chinatown, 2007

“As a kid, it was a long streetcar ride to Chinatown, and it was like going to an exotic land. Chinatown is a reference to Chicago’s ethnic diversity, a swirling mix of people.”

 

GO » William Conger: New Paintings. Jan 16–Mar 3. Roy Boyd Gallery, 739 N Wells. royboydgallery.com. William Conger: Paintings 1958-2008. Jan 24–Mar 29. Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E Washington. 312-744-6630.

Photography: Courtesy Roy Boyd Gallery

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