Self-taught artist Tom Bachtell's work is currently featured in a exhibit, "Tom Bachtell in AdventureLand," at AdventureLand Gallery, 1513 N. Western Ave. The free exhibit opened Dec. 7 with an evening reception and will run through Saturday, Dec. 29.
"The show consists of 20 years of my caricature work," said Bachtell. "There are 30 portraits that cover politics, art, music, dance, writing, pop and history. Mostly black and white, with some color workAbraham Lincoln to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Jackie Kennedy to Donald Trump, Pablo Picasso to Lou Reed and Mark Zuckerberg. Most of the work was done for the New Yorker. I have created limited edition prints of the images."
This is the culmination of a lifelong career as an artist that began as a child sitting at the kitchen table drawing with his siblings after trips to museums.
"I never had much interest in art classes at school, but I loved drawing," said Bachtell. "My childhood kitchen table is still a place I constantly return to in my mind. I was also obsessed with cartoons in the New Yorker, and was swept away by the atmosphere they conjured and evoked. After I graduated from college, I realized what an essential part of my life drawing was, and I instinctively knew I could make a career of it. That is when the hard work started. I have been learning my craft and art ever since."
Bachtell explained that he double-majored in music and English as an undergrad at Cleveland's Case Western Reserve University. He said a liberal-arts education was valued more when he was going to school so he was able to pursue it, whereas today college costs make it harder for people to do so. Bachtell said his broad education has contributed to his success as a cartoonist.
"I was academically engaged, and loved math, science, music and writing," said Bachtell. "I studied piano, played tennis and danced. I was a beautiful little nerd."
Bachtell's first illustration job was for the Chicago Tribune and since then his work has been featured in numerous publications, most notably the New Yorker's Talk of the Town and other sections of the magazine.
When asked to describe his New Yorker work, Bachtell said, "They are part of a classic tradition of lively, witty line drawings that goes all the way back to cave paintings. They are meant to entertain, inform and work with textincorporating caricature and expressing ideas. I work mostly in brush and ink and do them by hand. They suggest earlier styles of cartooning and illustration; artists such as Peter Arno, James Thurber, Saul Steinberg and Japanese ink drawings. I work under tight deadlines, and usually have just a day or two to complete a drawing."
Of the numerous other publications where Bachtell's work has been featured, he said the best experiences have been with Entertainment Weekly, GQ, Town & Country, L'Uomo Vogue, the Chicago Tribune and the Boston Globe.
Bachtell's illustrations can also be found in the Robert Trachtenberg book When I Knew.
"Robert and I also recently completed a new Mahjong set, the Trach/Bach, for the Crisloid board game company," said Bachtell.
Bachtell recently drew his late partner Andrew Patner's portrait for the frontispiece of a new book that will be released next spring, A Portrait in Four Movements: The Chicago Symphony under Barenboim, Boulez, Haitink and Muti. ( Patner passed away in 2015. )
The book features interviews Patner did with Chicago Symphony Orchestra's conductors/music directorsBarenboim, Boulez, Haitink and Muti.
"I drew Andrew as I pictured him interviewing someoneengaged, curious, chasing ideas, thinking critically and always on the cusp of a brilliant and funny story," said Bachtell.
Bachtell explained that he met Patner in an unlikely setting, at a party in the '80s where everyone was wearing black.
"Except for Andrew, who was in a colorful bowtie," said Bachtell. "He had barely opened his mouth when I fell in love with him. I had a sense of him in an instant. Andrew and I were together for 25 lively years and our interests were very much in sync, so it is hard to pinpoint any particular moment that was the most meaningful or memorable. We both loved observing, laughing and thinking about people and the world.
"Andrew was always traveling, whether he was rummaging around China or stopping into J.J. Peppers to pick up newspapers. I do not know that I ever mastered his ability to act like he owned the joint, but he did teach me that art and conversation can be passports to absolutely anywhere. Thanks to Andrew, I met people from all over the world and through all walks of life."
In recognition of his impact on the community Bachtell was inducted into Chicago's LGBT Hall of Fame in 2016an event he called a "great honor."
"The Chicago LGBTQ community is very good about celebrating its own, in all our variety," said Bachtell. "There is a lot of support here. I also love the unique civic spirit of the Center on Halsted which, along with the Hall of Fame, is very Chicago and American. I am grateful to be a part of the community."
Outside of working on his illustrations, Bachtell can be found swing dancing and playing chamber music. When asked what advice he would give others, Bachtell said, "Eat right but also treat yourself to pie occasionally. Do not forget to exercise and vote."
For more information about the exhibit, visit adventurelandgallery.info/. See tombachtell.com/home.html .