Seeing the world has always been important to Joe Schlimm. Since taking up painting four years ago, though, capturing the places he sees on canvas has become equally significant. This Friday, he will share some of his favorite locales — and a few destinations he dreams of going to — at the opening of his latest show at the Jones Gallery on Commerce Street. It’s an exhibit that will take viewers to courthouses in Kansas, through fire escapes in Chinatown, and up close with the nighttime skyline of Prague.
“This show is a whole new way of seeing places,” Schlimm said. “You can take a picture of any place, but until you paint it, you don’t appreciate the colors, the shapes, the contours of it.”
Schlimm began painting more than four years ago, after retiring from a 30-year career with the engineering department at AT&T. He said that once he started taking lessons from his mentor, Anne Horton, he instantly began to see everything differently. He recalled one night in particular when he realized this.
“I was driving home on a rainy night, and I got so distracted taking everything in,” he said. “I was so busy watching all of the bright reds, yellows and whites on the rainy streets and thinking how amazing the details all were that I almost hit the car in front of me. The light on the street, the lighting of the shadows, the angles … all these things were new to me. Once you start painting, you start seeing things differently. It’s a whole new way of seeing the world.”
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Although he hasn’t been painting for long, Schlimm has had some early successes. His “Somewhere in Time” rendition of the intricate inside of a watch was accepted into last winter’s Kansas Watercolor Society National Exhibit at The Center for the Arts and was purchased by Koch Industries. He also won first place at the Prairie Art Exhibition in Sterling, this year for his “Chinatown NYC” piece. The work, which freeze-frames a random moment on a bustling street in the popular New York City area, is one of many prominent locations that will be on display for this exhibit.
The show consists of more than a dozen works. Half of them are paintings, including new watercolors, and the other half are photographs. An avid traveler, Schlimm said he is always clicking photos while on the road. Most of his paintings come from those images, but he also wanted to exhibit some of the captures that are particularly striking.
While place is the theme of the show, many works showcase more than a simple spot. Some are about the people or things that occupy a space. One particularly eye-catching painting is of a shadowy, broody man who randomly ended up in one of his pictures. Schlimm wanted to see if he could capture the same dark, yet inviting expression in his eyes. The result is a portrait that is engaging, yet scary, making the viewer question if they should be frightened or enticed.
Other notable pieces include a rendition of a picturesque courthouse in Council Grove, which Schlimm said is one of his favorite spots in Kansas. There’s also a nighttime scenic view of Prague that focuses on the vibrancy and dancing nature of the lights. Another work shows how small places can be full of fun. “Smallest Bar” features a tiny, vivacious watering hole in Key West that is the size of two card tables, yet looks exceedingly entertaining. A tribute to Wichita’s manufacturing economy is on full display in “The Welder,” where the focus is on the colors and lighting inside a piping and equipment shop.
Schlimm said he recommends that everyone learn to paint because he believes the world you see is transformed once you do. He also said he’s glad that painting is a second career of sorts because he can focus on enjoying it at his own pace.
“If I was forced to come up with stuff all the time, I might not be able to. I just paint what I love. If you love it, you’ll put your heart into it.”