Chicago native John Fennell has been a painter for more than 35 years. After graduating from Northern Illinois University, he attended the American Academy of Art in Chicago and then studied privately with artists Milford Zornes, Rex Bradt and Gianni Cilfoni. He later earned a master's degree in painting and drawing from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He has exhibited in Chicago and Milwaukee, as well as in St. Louis, Fulton and Columbia, Missouri. His work is in many private collections. He recently retired as a professor at the Missouri School of Journalism where he taught magazine writing, magazine publishing and design for the past 13 years. Before teaching, he was a journalist and editor. A former newspaper reporter, he assisted the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Mike Royko at the Chicago Daily News. For seven years he was the editor of the international design journal, Step-By-Step Graphics, before becoming editor-in-chief of Milwaukee Magazine.
About the Work
Light in all of its manifestations has been my primary interest in the ongoing work displayed here: landscapes, cityscapes and geometric abstractions. To me, light is the foundation of seeing and a metaphor for knowing.
The landscapes – influenced by the Hudson River School, the Impressionists, Cezanne, Matisse and others – are painted outdoors, plein air style, and completed in the studio. I paint landscapes because I am fascinated by the natural world and the idea of transcendence, to be at once in the world and yet go beyond it. That’s what happens in painting, an act of the mind as much as it is of paint and brush. In a way, I become one with what I see, what I try to interpret in paint. These landscapes are evidence of those journeys.
The geometric abstractions, influenced by the mid-century modernists, emphasize pure form and color – landscapes of the mind, if you will. I am particularly interested in how the mind orders line, shape and color from seeming chaos. I begin these explorations with random lines and swashes of color not knowing where the painting will lead. Guided by intuition, the lines and shapes gradually take on form. As I draw and add additional layers of transparent paint – often over a period of months – I discover new patterns and colors. This transformation is what excites me because I am never sure where the painting will take me. What am I ultimately after? In a world where so much of our lives are prescribed, I find that these explorations into the unknown reconnect me with the inner spirit, the driving force of life.