Chase aims to paint Chicago – to paint it recognizable only as Chicago, as no other community in America or on earth. He seeks out what is typical and when he finds it he strives with all the skill he has as a draftsman, with all the colors on his palette and with no fears of impressions to record it.
It was while feeling his way to gayer and gayer colors with his oil pigments that Chase first began his “portrait” of the city. Every day in 1925 he had occasion to ply the vigorous new developments in the city in the vicinity of Michigan Avenue and the river. Anything was grist for his mill of experiment – anything, even the steel girders of new structures that were going up.
No. 50 Richard A. Chase [Note: These were the images Bulliet was referring to in this article]
When Chicago’s second centennial rolls round, people standing in front of Richard A. Chase’s paintings will say: “How quaint!” One or two of the hundred he has done of the city as it has manifested itself in the past decade already are embalming “relics.” For instance, “Transportation” – a scene along the river where it branches – near the Merchandise Mart. Antiquated river boards, a railroad train of the ante-streamline period, a street car of yesterday’s design, an elevated train, surely about ready for transformation; automobiles that will have no place in the 1937 shows, and airplanes admittedly crude infants, are all in the picture, normally, for six kinds of “transportation” pass that corner daily.
Chase, a portrait painter by profession, has been doing his Portrait of Chicago Over a Ten-year Period” as a hobby because he liked it. As sometimes happens his hobby has more of a “kick” to the onlooker than his profession. At the Chicago Galleries Association, where fifty of his oil paintings are on view, many visitors, who have seen his portraits in other days, are eagerly asking: “Who is Chase?”
Well, Chase, who has the appearance of a wiry young man of 30, is from the village of Columbus, Kan, where he was born April 19, 1891. After working three and a half years in a drug store in Columbus to earn enough money to pay for a year in art school he came to Chicago in 1914 and studied at Carl Werntz’s Chicago Academy.
With the knowledge of commercial art he there attained, he got a job with a poster company, where he worked for a year and then went to Dayton, O. for another year in the art studios of the advertising department of the National Cash Register Company.
Came the war, with leisure, in the long nights, to take stock of himself, resulting in the determination, should he come back, to quit “back” work and be a real artist.
Returning to Chicago after the armistice, he applied himself diligently nightly, for the next seven years, in the portrait and figure classes at the Art Institute. Portrait commissions began gradually coming in, adding their quota to the bread-and-butter income earned from commercial jobs.
A timidity a bit unusual with artists of the ambition of Chase kept him for a considerable time to the crayons and water washes of the commercial artist. When he finally got up courage to try oils, instead of a ready-selected assortment of tubes, he bought himself a tube of black and a tube of white and started cautiously to work. He found he could “draw” with his brain. Gradually, one after another, subdued blues and greens were spread on his palette – procuring which will be more appreciated when you see the wafting screaming colors of his Chicago portraits.
For now, Chase, the timid, goes the limit fearing neither melodrama with his color nor his drawing. He does not distort, nor does he experiment with mad forms but he doesn’t hesitate to put down what he sees and the dyed-in-the-wool Chicagoan knows there is plenty of melodrama in appearances around town.
He was not “cubist” but a “sound” academic workman who had learned his craft in advertising jobs where a cash register had to look like a cash register. So steel girders, no matter how intricate and exciting the abstract patterns they pretended as they were set in place by the builders, became, on Chase’s canvas, realistic steel girders with their bolts and nuts, their ridges and grooves, but, and this is important in those early pictures and the pictures he has since done, Chase didn’t destroy the “pattern.”
The young villager from Kansas was still intent on being a portrait painter. It was well enough to play with Chicago’s mechanism, but as a serious life work he must paint pictures of people. He learned the best he could with Buehr, Seyffert, Oberteuffer and Kroll could teach him at the Art Institute and then he went to Provincetown where as he had heard Hawthorne was showing both professionals and amateurs how to paint portraits out in the open air, under an unclouded sun. The novelty of Hawthorne’s instruction, streaming light and color, “you can study drawing all you want to back bone” said Hawthorne, appealed to the budding colorist.
But he cheated a little on Hawthorne. For a while that master, was making him use a putty knife, spreading on color thick with little regard for accuracy in drawing. Chase perhaps a bit fearful continued his more academic portrait work with a less radical Provincetowner, Richard Miller.
Though more and more favoring oils, Chase didn’t neglect his water colors, and in his recreational hours he was recording “the Chicago scene” in that medium, too – considering his pictures, offtimes, in the light of “studies” for more important work contemplated, he accumulated fifty of them.
Harry Engle, director of the Chicago Galleries Association, which was sponsoring Chase as a portrait painter, saw the water colors in his studio and in 1930 hung them as a group. A scout for R. R. Donnelly, contemplating a view book for the forthcoming world’s fair, saw them and when the time came shortly to get the book ready Chase was called upon to contribute fifteen pictures. The book was widely circulated as the official contribution by the huge printing house to the art activities of A Century of Progress.
Another of Chase’s activities in water is a series of color sketches of Glacier National park. The Great Northern railroad in the middle ‘20s, was inviting a few artists to the park at the road’s expense, “with no strings attached,” to paint as they pleased – the results being viewed as “good publicity.”
The late Oliver Dennett Grover recommended Chase, who made the trip in 1925, and who returned, at this own expense, in 1926 and 1928. He made seventy landscape sketches and they were invited for exhibition in Washington city in 1928 by the Arts club, where they were well received. Some ideas of the accuracy Chase had acquired can be gathered by the “knowing” from the fact he made his first twenty-four water colors in Glacier National park on a block of exactly twenty-four sheets of paper.
It can be readily gathered from this “past history” that Chase, while regarding himself as a portrait painter and pursuing it earnestly as a profession, is no novice in undertaking “the Chicago scene,” even though it is his hobby. Two of this Chicago pictures were invited for the official 1934 summer exhibition at the Art Institute of art for A Century of Progress, an oil entitled “Wabash Avenue Viaduct,” one of his intricate mechanical things, and a water color “Old Stuff,” in polar contrast – a view of old houses in the neighborhood of Division and Clybourne streets.
In portraiture Chase has been most in demand for likenesses of educators. He has painted several Chicago high school teachers including Grant Beebe, a principal of Lane Tech, and Frank W. Stahl a principal at Bowen.
It’s easy to pass Chase on the street without knowing he is an artist. He has never owned a beret, nor even a smock. One of his activities, for which he is in frequent demand, is demonstrating the painting of a picture before women’s clubs avidly studying art. Even here, to the disappointment of some of the more romantic of the ladies, young and old, he fails to “dress the part.”