The E/ artgroup is an eclectic collection of Chicagoland artists whose work is currently on display as part of our popular exhibition series Local Art @ EPL. Comprised of artists Mary Beth Bellon, Susanne Clark, Sarah Hahne, Mary Hilger, bert leveille, Nan Seidler, and Victoria Senn, the group began exhibiting together 7 years ago and is dedicated to “growing artistically” while exploring “their own unique and individual styles creating collages, watercolors, oils, mixed media, fabric constructions, and digital media.” You can catch their show through June 7th on the 2nd floor of EPL’s Main Library, and you can also learn more about the group by visiting their website. Recently, we spoke with Mary Beth Bellon, Sarah Hahne, bert leveille, and Victoria Senn via email about their artistic backgrounds, experiences in the E/ artgroup, and impressions of the Chicagoland art scene.
Evanston Public Library: Can you tell us a little about your background as an artist? How did you get started in art? Was there something specific in your life that sparked a need to create? What drove you in the beginning? What drives you now?
Mary Beth Bellon: I was exposed to the arts at a young age at home. As the youngest of three, this exposure was wide ranging. I had a very active imagination experimenting with different objects and media to create and recreate what I saw and felt. I have always been driven. I have tried not being an artist – it’s hard work to be broke most of the time. But the need to create a mood being inspired by my environment is too strong.
Sarah Hahne: I don’t remember not making art, observing how things fit together, how they looked. I think observing and looking at the world is the primary focus I have, and the art just kind of follows. I sometimes work in series related to something I am interested in such as the history of color, numbers, and recently, forms of meditation.
bert leveille: I always enjoyed art. What kid didn’t. But when my drawing was not collected and displayed on the bulletin board by my second grade teacher, I abandoned the idea of ever becoming an artist. But, that didn’t stop my love of watching images change in the sky as the clouds moved.
It was not until college when I was pursuing a career in theater that I discovered my real vocation as an artist. That interest in theater has spurred a lifelong quest of creating a space, an environment that one can enter and experience. To this end, I have done large-scale installations and worked with a choreographer to create a large tunnel for dancers to interact with. My smaller paintings are glimpses of these larger spaces.
I continue this journey of visual exploration of my subconscious linked to input from my conscious experiences.
Victoria Senn: My father was an artist and worked commercially for many Chicago firms, most notably the Chicago Sun-Times. I was influenced and exposed early to the arts. My mom says that I was “always drawing.” I like to make things. There is a great sense of accomplishment in creating things.
EPL: How do you describe your art? Do you see yourself as fitting in with any particular artistic movements or styles? Do you work in any other mediums?
Mary Beth Bellon: Abstract realism, but my work moves in and out of abstract and realism within the painting itself. I still work in animation, I’m working on an abstract piece now using oil, clay, pencil, charcoal, chalk, oil pastel, watercolor, cut-out paper, and computers. I did gesture sculpting at the Palette and Chisel. I thought I needed a fresh eye for my figures.
Sarah Hahne: I don’t particularly belong to any one style though my work is mainly abstract/geometric. As a group we are very eclectic with pure abstract to representational work.
bert leveille: My art is abstract, surreal and non-representational. Although somewhat figurative, the figures are not necessarily human. I am intrigued with the dynamics of the abstract and the suggestion of realism.
When I began painting I felt I was an abstract expressionist, but imagery kept evolving from the work, and I finally let the paint guide me – much like the images that appear in clouds. Artists that influence me are: Kandinsky, Pollock, Miro, Tanguy, Dali, Gorky and most recently, Rothko. Rothko also created spaces, meditative and contemplative. The minimalism of his art has influenced me as I have tried to remove noise in my work.
In addition to traditional mediums (acrylic, watercolor, drawing, oil and mixed) I am exploring digital painting. This medium allows new avenues of expression. I am using these paintings to combine with traditional mediums and to create movies of the digital painting process.
Victoria Senn: I make my art for myself. I call it visual journaling. I combine multiple materials and layers. I often use words or writing in my art. I am drawn to pattern and words. They are somewhat interchangeable.
EPL: Can you describe your experiences as a member of the E/ artgroup? Why did you decide to join, and how has it influenced you artistically?
Mary Beth Bellon: Exhilarating and challenging. Anytime you have a group of people, especially artists, it can be challenging, but we are really great together. We work well, play well, and exhibit well together. When I was asked to join, I jumped in with both feet. I had no idea what I was doing as I was new to painting. I was an animator and used to working in studios for other people who told me what to do. They helped me in so many ways to grow as an artist. We learn together and share ideas, watch each other grow, and most importantly are supportive of each others paths. Beverly Ganshaw at the Old Court House Arts Center was an integral part in bringing us all together. We all at some point showed work there, and Bev made it a point that we met each other.
Sarah Hahne: We originally met together with the idea that we were dedicated artists that liked to exhibit. We wanted to find new avenues for exhibiting art and took our work seriously. We have been a group for over seven years now. When we tried to come up with a name for the group, we had a lot of trouble as we are all such different artists, but finally someone mentioned that one thing we did have in common with each other was the letter “e” in each of our names – so that is how we named ourselves E/artgroup.
bert leveille: E/artgroup affords me the opportunity to exhibit with other like-minded artists. Our artistic visions are all different, but our drive and commitment to creativity is the same. The group also provides input, discussion and support.
Victoria Senn: E/artgroup kind of happened organically. We are friends. A sisterhood in the arts. We trust and encourage one another.
EPL: What are your future goals and plans as an artist?
Mary Beth Bellon: To never stop learning, to always be humble, and to respect others and their work. To continue to grow, to keep pushing myself as an artist and a person, and to keep creating and looking for new ways to get that inner creative bug out of me.
Sarah Hahne: As an individual I hope to continue to make and exhibit art and grow personally. I hope we do this as a group as well.
bert leveille: I am working with new ways to create installation spaces incorporating the digital paintings and movies – so combining the traditional with video of a painting forming.
Victoria Senn: Presently, E/artgroup curates local exhibitions. I would like us to expand into curating national and international shows. On a personal level, I work as a gallery assistant at the Old Court House Arts Center in Woodstock, IL. I enjoy working with the public and seeing how art influences the community. I hope to continue to do this and make art. I feel supremely lucky.
EPL: How do you find Evanston and the Chicagoland area as a place to work and exhibit as an artist? What inspires you as an artist about the community where you live?
Mary Beth Bellon: Chicago and the surrounding area have such a rich cultural diversity and a proud, rich heritage with lots of intellectual stimulation in all aspects of life. Everything you would want that feeds the artist within, nourishing the soul and feeding the mind. At the present time I have a wonderful studio space in the historic Starline Building in Harvard, IL, just blocks from my home. [I’m inspired by] the lingering rural lifestyle mingled with the preservation of nature not far from my childhood summer home.
Sarah Hahne: There is so much art in the Chicago area and many artists live and work in Evanston – it is a very vibrant place to live as an artist. There is also a thriving art scene in the NW Chicago area where most of the E/ artgroup members live. There are larger spaces to work and exhibit in as well as more reasonable costs and more exhibiting opportunities.
bert leveille: There is a vast art community in the Chicagoland area. Discovering new spaces inspires me to envision new work or repurpose works. The artists and the people inspire me. Also the clouds, rocks, building abstractions – everything around me – I see images in everything.
Victoria Senn: I love showing in the Chicagoland area. There is a broader audience. The arts are integral, accepted and encouraged to a higher degree.
Interview by Russell J.