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Art is ‘The Wine of Life’

St. Charles artist to feature local landscapes in solo exhibition

Nineteenth-century novelist Jean Paul Richter once said that, “Art is indeed not the bread but the wine of life.” Bringing the German-Romantic writer’s words to life is local artist Nick Freeman, whose photographs and paintings of Fox Valley landscapes and scenes of everyday life will be featured in an 80-piece solo exhibition, entitled “The Wine of Life.”

Beginning with an artist reception from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, May 23, the exhibition will run through Saturday, July 5, at the Norris Cultural Arts Center gallery in St. Charles.

“It’s every artist’s dream to have a one-man show,” said Freeman, who had a career in advertising before exclusively focusing his time on art a couple of years ago. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to show the full array of my work in one place at one time.”

A St. Charles resident and proponent of the Fox Valley area, Freeman paints scenes of everyday life set amidst the backdrop of the Fox River and its surrounding communities.

“The region isn’t necessarily known for its dramatic terrain, but the Fox River has always been a draw for me,” Freeman said. “… I think that people are so used to seeing their small-town surroundings that they don’t often take a view of them … but when they’re put in the context of a painting, they kind of look at it with a fresh eye.”

The featured work of “Wine of Life” – an exhibition title chosen because of Freeman’s affinity for Richter’s quote, as well as its ability to capture the essence of how art relates to life, he said – will be “Sunrise, St. Charles,” a 29”-by-40” oil painting on canvas depicting the western banks of the Fox River in early-morning light. Other local landscapes featured in Freeman’s paintings include Corfu Restaurant, Blue Goose Market and the Kane County Flea Market in St. Charles; the Fabyan Windmill in Geneva; and the Loyalty Day Parade, a Batavia springtime event.

The “Loyalty Day Parade” piece was a several-year process to bring to fruition, Freeman said, adding that the process involved snapping hundreds of reference photos, sketching, assembling the images and then, finally, painting.

Freeman’s preferred style of painting is realism, which requires an attention to detail.

“[Realism] is what I find most rewarding,” he said. “I find a subject that particularly interests me, and I enjoy rendering it in such a way that hopefully I capture the essence of the subject and the thing that originally attracted me.”

The detail that went into portraying some of the real people depicted in the “Loyalty Day Parade” painting, ended in a subject recognizing himself after he stumbled upon the work at a pop-up gallery at Charlestowne Mall in St. Charles, Freeman said, adding that the man sent him an email saying he was both surprised and flattered.

As part of the exhibit, Freeman also will share roughly 30 large-format photographs of vintage neon signs he’s captured throughout his travels across the country.

Freeman’s interest in the subject, he said, lies in his affection for graphic design and typography, but also in the transient nature of neon signage.

“The fact that they’re going away at a pretty rapid pace, makes it extra enjoyable to capture these things before they disappear,” Freeman said, adding that he’s amassed more than 2,000 photos over the years.

Further aiding in the preservation of neon signs, Freeman landed a book deal with indie publisher Lake Claremont Press, which will feature images of Chicago’s neon sign heritage. The book, entitled “Good Old Neon,” is due out in September.

In an attempt to explore additional uses of Norris’ gallery space, board of directors member Mark Smith said that the “Wine of Life” exhibition will offer multi-dimensional content, including gallery talks and Norris’ first-ever art auction, which will feature pieces from the gallery’s own collection of work. Also featured in the auction will be the exhibition’s featured work, “Sunrise, St. Charles.”

“It’s a very interactive way of presenting an art show, where you get several opportunities to meet the artist,” Smith said.

Freeman will kick off informal gallery talks Friday evenings in June. The gallery talks, which are free and open to the public (donations accepted), will begin at 6 p.m. and include refreshments and live music, with presentations beginning at 7 p.m.

The first gallery talk – “Gallery Walk” – on Friday, June 6, will include a stroll through the exhibition led by Freeman, who will share anecdotes, inspirations and ideas behind his work. The “Good Old Neon” presentation will take place Friday, June 13; and “Inside the Studio: Paintings Step by Step” will take place Friday, June 20.

The fundraising reception and auction sale of select paintings and photos will take place from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Friday, June 27.  The event also will include a silent auction of donated products and services from 5:30 to 7 p.m., followed by the live auction. Food and beverages will be served. Tickets, which are available at, will cost $40 a person or $75 a couple. Net sales will benefit the Norris Center.

Freeman’s work will be available for purchase throughout the exhibition.

For information about Freeman or to view his work, visit

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