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At age 80, Gurnee artist gets first gallery exhibit

At age 80 John Callahan has created more than 60 paintings since he first picked up brush five years ago.

At age 80, John Callahan and has created more than 60 paintings since he first picked up a brush five years ago. Now some are on display at the Private Bank and the Re-invent Gallery in Lake Forest. | Courtesy of John Callahan

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Updated: August 21, 2013 6:03AM

At 75, John Callahan of Gurnee picked up a paintbrush on a whim five years ago.

Now he’s age 80 and has created more than 60 paintings that capture the Chinese concept of “Chi,” some of which are now displayed at two Lake Forest sites.

The retired teacher and businessman started painting abstract-looking artwork during his retirement and has since blossomed into a passionate artist. He creates work that captures what he says are feelings of love, kindness, beauty and peace — all concepts of Chi, which is believed to be an energy force that flows through all living things.

At first glance, Callahan’s paintings could be described as modern or abstract, but in the artist’s eye the paintings capture the peaceful effect of the Chi concept.

He creates each piece of art by following his subconscious thoughts and feelings, many of which he identifies with during his dreams while asleep at night, he said.

“When I sit down I see nothing. I don’t want to paint a landscape,” Callahan said. “I just sit down to paint and I’m like a robot; I think it comes from my heart and my soul.”

Callahan’s work is displayed at two locations in Lake Forest: in the lobby of the Private Bank at 920 S. Waukegan Road and at the Re-invent Gallery, 202 Wisconsin Ave., which is his first-ever gallery appearance.

Working out of his tiny apartment and using a folding card table as an easel, Callahan is anything but a traditional artist. He uses acrylic colors and different textures to create depth and interest in his paintings, but he refuses to follow any of the “rules” of art, such as color schemes or geometric guidelines.

“I never listen to anybody and I’ve never taken a class. I think I’m fearless when it comes to art,” Callahan said. “If you take an art class, they give you restrictions. They say ‘Don’t use these colors, but use these,’ and ‘You should do this or that.’ But if I like it I’m going to do it.”

Sometimes, Callahan wakes up at odd hours of the night to start painting when he gets the urge or suddenly becomes inspired by a thought or dream, and said he is restless until he sees his thoughts come to life on the canvas.

The Asian-aesthetic seen in all of his work stems from a fascination with the Asian culture that started when he was a child.

Back in the 1990s his interest grew stronger than ever when he took a business trip to Taiwan and experienced the culture up close.

“My paintings are in the ... abstract form, but my style continues to change,” Callahan said. “I hope people see what I see in my paintings, which is a calming, peaceful, yet energizing effect.”

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