CHICAGO -- At Carlson Tower Gallery, located at North Park University, a 20-foot wide, 8-foot tall exhibit displaying hundreds of staggered portraits on wooden blocks dazzled art lovers in attendance.
Dubbed the "Roseland Portrait Project," the installation constitutes hundreds of man-hours by painter John Bakker and a team of volunteers who helped construct the boxes.
"Typically each person takes me about four to five hours," said Bakker, a Chicago-based portraitist who has taught at Trinity Christian College for the last 41 years. "The whole project I'm guessing would take about maybe 15 months full-time."
Roseland Christian Ministries commissioned Bakker to paint the project to commemorate the life of Percy Julian High School star athlete Andre Taylor, who was shot to death in 2016. The 310-panel exhibit features 404 portraits of residents of Roseland, a Far South Side neighborhood of Chicago with a history of disinvestment and crime.
"Part of the problem is because Roseland doesn't represent itself to itself, somebody else fills that gap," said Bakker, speaking about news coverage. "I wanted people when they saw this to look at this and say, 'Yeah that's the Roseland I know.'"
Corey Hardiman lives in Roseland and started an organization called Hope Dealers to help students channel their negative experiences into positive change. His portrait is included in the project alongside friends and neighbors.
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"When I look at this wall of individuals who've made a tremendous impact in more than one way in our community, I'm proud to be from Roseland," said Hardiman. "My mother and grandmother instilled in me that despite your zip code, you have the capacity to go where you want to go."
The exhibit purposely includes Roseland residents from all backgrounds and vocations, from aldermen and business owners to children and homeless residents. Bakker said his motivation for the project is rooted in his belief that all people matter.
"Five hundred years ago the only people who would've had their portraits painted would have been kings, and they used those portraits as a way to demonstrate their value," said Bakker. "A hand-painted portrait still has that sense."
Bakker got to know each of his subjects through their submitted photos and an emailed questionnaire. He said Roseland now feels like a second home to him.
"You just get to know people in a way you wouldn't otherwise," said Bakker. "What I'm interested in is representing the networks that make up the community."
The project will remain at the Carlson Tower Gallery until Jan. 17, and will eventually reside at Roseland Christian Ministries at 109th Street and Michigan Avenue. Bakker said he hopes it moves to schools and churches in the neighborhood as well as gallery venues that serve the South Side.
For more information on the Roseland Portrait Project, visit johnbakker.info.