A Vibrant View of Nature in Urban Settings

Alexandra Stevenson, Across the Street, 2016. Oil on canvas. Photo courtesy of the artist.

As city dwellers, we are more apt to become aware of the beauty of nature once we leave the city limits and spend time in a country setting. But in the latest exhibition at Everybody’s Coffee, the artist, Alexandra Stevenson, reminds us that we can appreciate nature even in a dense, urban environment such as Chicago.

City in the Garden  is Alexandra Stevenson’s first solo show although she has been in numerous group exhibitions. On display are 24 of her works that explore how nature and architecture are intricately integrated in many Chicago neighborhoods.

Although many of her paintings portray a city alive with nature, she doesn’t merely depict postcard scenes, but rather, she creates vibrant settings that reveal how organic elements thrive in the city.

“Her work is very beautiful, but there is also a dark side to some of her paintings as well. There is also a sense of edginess to her work. I like to think of her paintings as having a countryside appeal that is set in an urban environment,” said Karl Sullivan, general manager as well as co-curator at Everybody’s Coffee.

Stevenson’s work cannot be easily categorized. Her paintings have elements of Representational art as well as elements of Abstraction and Impressionism. Because her work cannot be easily categorized, this allows an artist like Stevenson more freedom in creating vivid scenes with her color palette and line elements. This also allows more breathing room for her audience to interpret her work.

Alexandra Stevenson
Alexandra Stevenson, Forest Glen, 2018. Oil on canvas. Photo courtesy of the artist.

In many of her paintings (she works in oils and acrylics), Stevenson captures a season in transition, a change in daylight, and also something as infinitesimal as a fleeting moment within nature’s metamorphosis process. She also captures these ephemeral moments in her urban scenes of bungalows and apartment buildings — a frozen instant that will soon be transformed due to changes in the weather or the lighting.

In Stevenson’s work, the viewer feels not only her passion for nature but also for Chicago architecture by portraying their dynamic relationship in various settings. She reminds us that nature in the city doesn’t just reside in city parks, forest preserves and the lakefront, but also along city streets lined with trees and front gardens, as well as alleys where flower boxes and planters can be found on back porches.

“A lot of my work is inspired by the view from outside my third-floor window and also views from riding on public transportation. These views remind me how nature and architecture come together in the city,” said Stevenson.

Also worth noting is how Stevenson creates an almost melding effect in her portrayal of houses along city streets. In Bungalow Boogie  and Eventide  homes seem to merge together as one organic structure. She also creates this same effect in Night Steeple  and Across the Street. But despite creating this melding-like effect, she also creates an ethereal quality through her vibrant use of color on the buildings, the trees, as well as the sky.

Alexandra Stevenson
Alexandra Stevenson, Night Steeple, 2017. Acrylic on board. Photo courtesy of the artist.

In her In the Woods  series, she creates nature scenes without an urban backdrop, and her use of color is more animated rather than organic in look. Even her depiction of the trees has the look of enlarged hair follicles under a microscope.

“Drawing and painting changes my way of looking at the world and also not taking the environment around me for granted. I encourage everyone to draw something, even if it’s just a pine cone or a leaf, because once you draw it, you’ll never look at it in the same way again,” added Stevenson.

The power of Stevenson’s work in this exhibition is that she gives equal weight to Chicago’s architecture as well as to the city’s organic elements. By creating this balance, she portrays a synergetic environment that is continually unfolding before our eyes.

City in a Garden will be on display through July 18 at Everybody’s Coffee, located at 935 W. Wilson. Hours: Monday thru Friday 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and Sunday 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Thomas Wawzenek
Thomas Wawzenek