- David A.F. Sweet
Down to a Fine Art
Since COVID-19 swept the world, artist Adair Peck has focused on painting flowers. But these florals are far from typical: using a blowtorch, she blends in multiple layers of melted bee’s wax on the canvas.
“I find the process incredibly relaxing,” says Peck, a Lake Forest native who has lived in Bozeman, Montana for 15 years. “The paintings are finished with a hard resin, which gives them dimensionality and a high shine.”
Adair Peck has stayed busy during the pandemic in her Montana studio.
In fact, it is her mother Fay — a renowned North Shore artist — whom Peck cites (not surprisingly) as her mentor. As a teenager, Peck and her mother would pack the station wagon with canvases, easels, and two German Shepherds to go on expeditions, often to a Lake Forest backyard to paint gardens.
Other times, Peck would arrive home to an unusual sight.
“She often drew her friends, and on any given day, I would find one of them sprawled naked on the living room carpet modeling,” said Peck, who earned a fine arts degree at Boston University. “My mother was a trailblazer. She thought little of others’ opinions on her art or her lifestyle. We were a bohemian family in an affluent, conservative town.
“My parents threw parties every summer with a live band that would rage into the wee hours. I loved these parties so much when I was little. I am told at one of the parties, I rummaged through purses and coat pockets to hide our guest’s car keys so the party would never end!”
Adair painted the scene at Cafe Vinos in River North in the early 1990s when she often visited cafes and bars to find subjects.
I can vouch that story is pure Adair. I have known her for more than 50 years, words a little shocking to type as they accentuate the passage of time. I remember racing her to my house on our bikes after Lake Forest Country Day School finished for the day, and I think she always won. A large, floral painting of her mother’s hangs in our house today, along with a cone-top beer can from her father David’s sprawling collection.
Family definitely called her home after college. But when the budding, optimistic artist returned to Chicago and searched for a gallery in River North, she was rejected by six. Finally, she joined Gilman and Gruen Gallery.
“It was a wonderful experience,” Peck said. “They were very excited about my work, and by the time I left the gallery, they’d scheduled my first Chicago show.”
Each spring, Adair teaches at The Longfellow School in Montana as an artist in residence. Students are holding animal papier-mache mounts she helped them create for an auction.
Soon after, New York beckoned. Peck enrolled in Brooklyn College’s Master of Fine Arts program. She drew scenes in cafes and bars. Discouraged by the loneliness of studio life, she joined a printmaking workshop in Chelsea, operated by legendary printmaker Bob Blackburn. Subjects of her etchings and woodcuts included the local YMCA ladies’ locker room, colorful characters of the Lower East Side, and crowded subway cars.
Following in the tradition of her mother Fay, Adair is fond of painting flowers.
“I wanted to spend all of my time with them, but I also wanted to keep my art practice alive,” Peck recalled. “Making art also keeps me spiritually and mentally strong, so I needed it to keep me sane.”
Because oil paintings take so much time, Peck gave them up as her children grew up and embraced creating papier-mache figures. Inspired by wild animals of the West, and working with a variety of colorful papers, she made papier-mache mounts, some of which hang in the Yellowstone Club in Big Sky, Montana. Said Peck, “Papier-mache was the spontaneous, playful medium that allowed me to be creative on my own terms while raising my three daughters full time.”
With husband Todd Shea and their daughters Madison, Margot and Franny, Adair’s family has enjoyed living in Montana for 15 years.
The 21st century has allowed Peck to promote her work and establish relationships across the world through the Internet. And though the century also has ushered in a pandemic, Peck’s passion for art has helped soothe any worries. Said she, “Rarely a day goes by that I am not making art. It is as essential to me as fresh air and exercise.”