The Sun-Times features Neoteric Art’s William Dolan at The Artist Project

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Three for the show

BY MARY HOULIHAN mhoulihan@suntimes.com

The movers and shakers in the art world never feel the pain. You know, falling in love with a piece of art before looking at the price tag filled with way too many zeros. But even when it’s beyond your means, that insatiable urge to buy doesn’t leave. To buy or not to buy—that is the question.

And that nagging question is easily answered at the Artist Project (another of the shows that are part of Artropolis). Nearly 300 established and emerging artists, unaffiliated with a gallery, will show their work, which runs the gamut from sculpture and painting to collage, mixed-media and photography.

Here’s a look at three Chicago artists included in the Artist Project.

WILLIAM DOLAN

The nighttime is the right time for artist William Dolan. It’s when the city begins to shut down that he wanders the streets, rides the L and finds inspiration in something as simple as the cornice of an old building or a brightly painted car. His large colorful paintings are vivid thumbnail sketches filled with an intense urban quiet.

“I think the best art tells the artist’s story, and this is my story,” Dolan, 46, says. “It’s all about the mood of the city at night.”

While all of Dolan’s paintings have a Chicago feel, they do not represent specific locations in the city. Instead, they are his own version of buildings, streets, cars and the L, sometimes all contained in one skewed closeup.

“I try to capture a mood with the work instead of depicting a specific place,” he says. “I like to crop the picture and give it a kind of off-balance feeling. Maybe even a slight feeling of danger that you might feel walking around at night.”

Dolan studied studio art at DePaul University and worked for 13 years in the graphic-art departments of several area corporations. It was an album cover he designed for local singer-songwriter Kathy Richardson (“The Road to Bliss”) that inspired Dolan to change careers. The album design was nominated for a Grammy Award.

Dolan, who quit his job three years ago, admits he’s coming late to the game, but he has a story and he’s determined to tell it through his art.

“That fallback career takes over at some point and you never get to first base,” Dolan says, with a knowing laugh. “I’m hoping this is the year I take my foot off first base and try to steal second.”

XIUMEI ZHANG

Xiumei Zhang grew up in Shanghai during Mao’s Cultural Revolution, so it’s understandable that Mao is a constant presence in her latest group of paintings. He lurks in her sometimes humorous Pop-art paintings alongside familiar pop-culture icons—the Beatles, Marilyn Monroe, Mickey Mouse and the iPod.

As a youngster, Zhang’s teachers recognized her talent, but, as always, options were limited in Mao’s China. However, Zhang was determined to study art and avoid the “usual life in China.” She successfully tested her way into college, where the world of art — past, present and future — began to open up for her.

“I discovered light and hope in my study of European and American art during China’s darkest times,” Zhang, 47, says.

After Zhang came to Chicago in 1990, she earned her living painting portraits and in graphic design, creating everything from simple logos to massive advertising banners.

But it is her colorful Pop-art vision that is most striking; Andy Warhol is an inspiration. In one work titled “Revolution,” the Beatles walk across the canvas (think the “Abbey Road” album cover) with Mao floating above in a background of what looks like rays of red light.

“My Pop paintings are impressionistic expressions of American and Chinese cultures in development, in harmony and in conflict,” Zhang explains.

What would her family and friends who still live in Shanghai think of her artwork?

“They may think I’m crazy for drawing Mao and the Beatles like that,” she says. “Both started a revolution, but the results were very different.”

KATHY HALPER

Kathy Halper raised three children, which didn’t leave her much time to develop an artistic vision. But thanks to determination — and an understanding family — she’s found her true calling.

Halper, who began painting 14 years ago, has no formal art education. What she does have is a love of patterns and texture, which grew out of an interest in quilting and evolved into experiments with paint on fabric and textured-paper collages. Today, her paintings continue to vaguely evoke the domestic arts but with an added fine-art sensibility.

Halper’s latest series features silhouettes on a tapestry-like background. They evoke simple scenes of life — women sharing secrets, children playing, people in quiet meditation. There is much joy here but also a palpable loneliness and solitude.

“I think the thread running through the subject matter is family, community and a bit of a social statement,” Halper, 49, says. “It’s about where we’ve been and where we’re going.”

Halper still sounds amazed about the progression of her life. She studied journalism, worked as an advertising copywriter and toyed with becoming an actress, but it was art that won out in the end.

“This has been such a gift,” Halper says. “Something that I didn’t see coming but something that became such a passion in me that I couldn’t not do it.”