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Event paints pretty picture of Waukegan

Waukegan-04/20/13 Sat./Downtown Waukegan KatrinDavis-Salazar Gurnee featured artist Urban Edge Gallery talks about her work patrduring Saturdays Art Walk Waukegan. |

Waukegan-04/20/13, Sat./Downtown Waukegan Katrina Davis-Salazar, of Gurnee a featured artist at the Urban Edge Gallery talks about her work to a patron during Saturdays Art Walk in Waukegan. | Joe Shuman~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: June 21, 2013 2:19AM

Katrina Davis-Salazar, an artist from Gurnee, sold one of her oil paintings at the Urban Edge Gallery in Waukegan before the exhibition opened Saturday.

Not soon after the show, part of the city-sponsored Art Wauk got under way, she sold two more. The Art Wauk was aimed at bringing people to stroll downtown to visit its 20 or so art galleries.

“I priced them low, so people can afford them in this economy,” said Davis-Salazar, who uses mixed media including oil, acrylic, charcoal and water color in her works.

The first one, titled “A friend from Afar,” sold for $400, and the second ,“Two Sisters,” fetched $200. The third, “How Many Faces She Will Have,” went for another $200. And she was elated as she circled around the gallery at 220 W. Clayton Street on the ground floor of a new building that was supposed to have ushered in a downtown revival anchored by a steakhouse across from the venerable Genesee Theatre.

Blame the economy. That didn’t happen, but downtown has emerged steadily and surely as an artist colony — not the rundown, seedy and squalid kind often associated with what you might say, “starving artists.”

Waukegan’s downtown art district, boasting 20 galleries, is nothing like that. They seem to be faring well, or least holding the fort. The artists are not left to paint or perish on their own. The re-opening of the long-closed Karcher Hotel as the new $14.5-million Karcher Artspace Lofts to provide affordable quality housing has lent a much needed helping hand to qualified artists. Karcher, operated by the non-profit Artspace of Minneapolis, has 36 units from one-bedroom to three-bedroom apartments which rent from $350 to $850 a month. All units have been rented.

Like Urban Edge Gallery, Karcher was one of major stops for the two-day Art Wauk which continued into Sunday. Several artists showed their works at the Artspace’s bright and airy lobby.

Eoin Boyle stressed the need to have events like the walk to make downtown viable and a destination to visit.

“It’s good to have something like this going on. Otherwise, it would be dead. Something needs to happen in Waukegan,” he said while browsing at Tufo Art Gallery on Genesee Street which is brimmed with paintings and drawings by owner-artist Patrick Tufo.

Prominent among the portraits on display were those of President John F. Kennedy and his brother, Robert Kennedy, done by pencil and graphite. There were nudes, oil paintings of a bison and sceneries.

Grace Wangombe, an art teacher at North Chicago High School, said she and her husband, Baru, happened to be downtown, not knowing anything beforehand about the walk.

“A lot of people would like to come if the event had been well-publicized,” he said.

“This is fantastic. We need more shows like this to be held everywhere,” she added.

Not all artists at the show were local. Pablo Ramirez, displaying more than a dozen oils at Urban Edge, said he was invited by Emilie Correa and Michelle Patch, founders of the Dandelion Gallery on Genesee Street, after they saw his works in Milwaukee.

“This is my third time here,” said Ramirez who sold six paintings at a previous show and two Saturday. His topics include roosters, horses, bulls and skulls – all with a Mexican cultural theme.

Leslie Marley, a Gurnee artist, spoke of the “great quality” of the paintings at Urban Edge and other downtown galleries.

“They are not the kind of things you see at the open-air art shows,” she stressed.

Not just painting, as part of the Art Wauk, the Genesee Theatre, together with Lyric Opera of Chicago, presented Cruzar La Cara de La Luna, billed as the world’s first Mariachi opera, Sunday night. The opera in Spanish has as its theme how a Mexican family was divided by immigration and displacement in America.

David Motley, founder of Urban Edge which has held 18 downtown art walks since its inception in November, 2011, said the Art Wauk has made Waukegan “a destination” for art lovers and tourists. The walk is held every third Saturday of the month.

“The number of visitors is growing,” said Motley, an artist who is the city spokesman. He pegged Saturday’s crowd at 400. An estimated 2,400 were expected at the opera.

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