Review: A Search for Meaning and Beauty During the Pandemic at Eat Paint Studio

In the past year, a number of visual artists, writers and musicians have been exploring the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in our lives. Artists are not only reflecting how the pandemic has had an effect globally, but also on a personal level. In the exhibition, Available Light: Photographs by Andrew Steiner, at Eat Paint Studio, we get a personal view of the pandemic through Steiner’s images. On display are 21 black and white prints that document day-to-day living in Chicago as well as images of when Steiner visited Monterrey, Mexico, in June of this year. Strangers on a train, Red Line, Chicago, Andrew Steiner. Strangers on a train, Red Line, Chicago, © Andrew Steiner. Photo courtesy the artist and Eat Paint Studio. Steiner’s photos are a narrative that give us a nuanced look at how much the pandemic has shaped our lives. While many of his photos chronicle feelings of isolation and despair, there are also images that show a sense of resilience among his subjects. A good example of this is a photo of a woman making masks in a tailor shop in the Uptown neighborhood. In another shot, we see an owner of a liquor store, who wears a face mask and latex gloves, determined to keep his store open because it is considered an essential business. As he stands in the middle of an aisle with shelves filled with liquor bottles behind him, we are reminded of how the consumption of alcohol increased during the early stages of the pandemic. There are also photos of commuters on the Red Line going to or from work. Since the commuters’ faces are covered with masks, all we see is their eyes as we get a glimpse of the weariness of having to take public transportation during this time. There are also haunting shots of deserted streets that were prevalent in most parts of the city during the lockdown. We are reminded once again of how once bustling districts looked like abandoned neighborhoods. There is a ghostly look to the city as we view photos of vacant streets in Uptown and Wrigleyville. Saturday, March 20, 2020, Uptown neighborhood Saturday, March 20, 2020, Uptown neighborhood, Chicago, © Andrew Steiner. Photo courtesy the artist and Eat Paint Studio. While his photos of Chicago produce a discomfiting effect, Steiner creates a contrast with his photos taken in Monterrey, Mexico, where he visited during the summer. Although the pandemic had a stranglehold on Monterrey as elsewhere around the world, Steiner chose to focus on the natural beauty of the area. “The pandemic was in full force in Mexico, but I felt more psychologically alive there than I did in Chicago,” explains Steiner. “I was seeing a part of the world that I had never seen before. The whole experience of seeing the mountains and the desert was therapeutic for me because my life, just like everyone else’s, had basically shrunk—for over a year my days consisted of just going to work and spending a lot of time at home. I felt fortunate to get away and be stimulated by a new environment.” Virgen de Lourdes, Monterrey, Mexico, Virgen de Lourdes, Monterrey, Mexico, © Andrew Steiner. Photo courtesy the artist and Eat Paint Studio. His photos taken in Mexico have a magical element as he captures vast skies, sunlight illuminating large clouds, and majestic views of mountains. There is a sensory aspect to these photos where the viewer can feel the arid heat in his desert scenes or the sound of the wind as we view branches bending from a hot gust of air. Steiner also creates a visual impact by capturing the elusive quality of light and shadows in various natural settings. The interplay of highlights and shadows not only reveals the landscape’s structure, but also imparts a moody quality to his work. There is also a meditative feel to his photos taken in Mexico. Steiner catches subtle scenes such as an empty Coke bottle resting on a curb while leaning against a post and also a photo of a wood sculpture of an owl that sits high on a pole, but tilting in the same direction as a windswept tree that stands nearby. These two photos as well as others display Steiner’s sense of mindfulness—that he has an awareness of his surroundings and is always in the moment of experiencing what is happening around him. Chihuahuan Desert, Mexico, © Andrew Steiner. Chihuahuan Desert, Mexico, © Andrew Steiner. Photo courtesy the artist and Eat Paint Studio. Available Light: Photographs by Andrew Steiner is a dynamic exhibition because Steiner not only shows us the challenges of living through a pandemic, but also the importance of trying to find meaning and beauty during these times.  He photographs scenes that most of us take for granted while also documenting those elusive moments that we often miss because we don’t take the time to really observe what is around us. Emily Rapport, owner of Eat Paint Studio, said, “He has a strong intuitive sense of looking at simple everyday scenes in a different way through his use of angles and light. His work shows his personal vision, but like all good art, his work transcends the personal and communicates a larger story about humanity.” Steiner’s work has been published in PDN News Online, burn Magazine, Commonweal Magazine and other online journals. You can also view his work on his website. Available Light: Photographs by Andrew Steiner, will be on display through December 11 at Eat Paint Studio, 5036 N. Lincoln Ave. Hours: Friday and Saturday from 12pm to 5 pm; Tuesday thru Thursday by appointment. For more information, go online or call 773-878-8737.
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Thomas Wawzenek