Featured Poster Artist
IAEA celebrates the work of professional artists in Illinois.
Click the tabs below for artist information, high-resolution images to use in your classroom, and lesson plans created by IAEA members featuring artist work.
2021 poster artist Susan Lechner
Susan Lechner has loved creating art her whole life, but never imagined it turning into anything more than just a hobby she was passionate about. Once she discovered oil painting while attending Eastern Illinois University, she was able to focus on one particular art medium and it helped shape the kind of artist she always wanted to become. While she started out doing regular sized paintings, it wasn’t until experimenting with painting magnets that her business idea began to form. With her love of nature, positivity and bright beautiful colors, she instinctively named it SunshineIsHappiness.
She still enjoys working with large canvases, but the majority of her work is painting business card sized magnets. She likes that she can incorporate different themes and have hundreds of original pieces of art for someone to choose from. Some are sweet, some are whimsical, some are sassy, but she creates all of them with the intention of spreading warmth and happiness.
It was not until she left her full time job in 2011 that she really took to getting her work out to the public on a larger scale. She had participated in small craft shows for a few years at that point, but this was her chance to shape and grow her brand. You can now find her participating in street festivals such as “What’s Blooming” in Oak Park, Logan Square Arts Festival, and The Handmade Market in Chicago.
For her work and information on upcoming shows, please check out her social media sites: https://m.facebook.com/
Susan resides in Lombard, IL with her husband, dog Rodger and tortoise Lance.
Painting has a way of freeing your soul. It is only when we surround ourselves in color, that we can rediscover the beauty of our childhood. The innocence that reminds us that a sunny day has endless opportunities. And that very same sunshine can bring us pure happiness. My oil paintings are created with the soul intention of making someone smile. When there is so much darkness in the world, I find that light can be found just by creating art that is full of bright colors and positive messages. It’s easy to find inspiration in simple things like sunsets and the way trees blow in the wind. I think that’s why I’m drawn to a more abstract style of painting. Using color and texture to help elicit emotion, rather than the need to recreate exactly what the eye sees. Another key aspect of my work involves the use of mixed media. For example, I have taken an image of a cat staring longingly into a fishbowl and pairing it with a “let’s do this” quote. I then layer the paint around it and can still honor the original photo while turning it into a new comical piece of art.
2020 Featured Artist: Javier Chavira
Javier Chavira is an artist who has no misgivings about creating images that straddle the line between realism and abstraction. He is as much at home with the technical rigor of academic tradition and the liberating nature of formalism. The Mexican-American artist’s early work encompassed mainly surrealist and non-objective tendencies, but after the tutelage from the acclaimed painter Patrick Betaudier, in graduate school, his oeuvre focused prominently in the exacting realism of Technique Mixte or oil over tempera grassa painting. This process, perfect for realist pictures, begins by creating a Grisaille, monochrome oil painting, with numerous translucent glazes or Sfumato that soften the transition of light and dark tones. In Javier’s work, the painting is completed at monochrome stage with colors complementary to the transparent and colored Plexiglas that covers the finished work. Doing so unifies the positive and negative picture plane and emphasizes the objectness of the work.
Javier Chavira (b.1971), a Professor of painting and drawing at Governors State University, earned an M.F.A. in Art from Northern Illinois University in 2002. Javier’s work has been included in many solo and group exhibitions in regional and national venues including the Nevada Museum of Art, Tampa Museum of Art and the Witte Museum. His award-winning work is included in numerous private and public collections including The National Museum of Mexican Art and the prestigious Mexican Art from the Bank of America Collection. Javier currently resides in Park Forest, IL with his wife, Sarah, and daughter, Paloma.
2019 Featured Artist: Bethany Dhunjisha, Photographer
Artist Biography and Statement: Even though I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, I happened to live on a fairly rural road in Lockport. There were horses next door, cows down the street, and we even had chickens for a bit. I was lucky enough to also have a little patch of woods right behind my house. I spent many days exploring my little forest looking for animals or the next unknown wildflower. I would go down to small spring that my great grandparents used to keep milk from their dairy farm cold and watch how the water moved around the rocks or how the scene changed with each season. These opportunities for unstructured time in nature helped shape my life and develop a lifelong appreciation of the natural world around us.
After high school, I attended Southern Illinois University and earned a degree in Forestry- I was going to be a park ranger. So where did the photography come in? When I was in 4th grade, I was given my first point and shoot camera. Like most kids, I took photos of my friends and places we went on vacation. But after college, a move to Seattle changed my focus. The big trees and even bigger mountains inspired my photography as I honed my skills. Another move across the country and a couple of kids changed my perspective again. I no longer had mountains out my backdoor, but I did have a garden and woods similar to those of my childhood. While my sons napped, I would frequently run out into the yard to photograph the little landscapes that so often get overlooked. I love that each picture gives me a snapshot of a season, a part of a life cycle, the light of a particular time of day- nature.
While I still enjoy grand landscapes and am dazzled at the ways Mother Nature has sculpted the surface of the earth, I am more often than not drawn to the small scenes. Just as in my childhood, I am frequently exploring the woods looking for the next wildflower or insect, watching leaves of a tree unfurl, or listening to the gurgling of water as it flows around rocks in a creek.
What happened to the park ranger dream? I have been lucky to find a park ranger job that lets me use my love of photography to promote natural beauty of the park. Occasionally, I get assignments that push my photographic comfort zones and force me to grow and learn as a photographer. For those assignments I am very grateful, but my heart will always be with my little forest.
2018 Featured Artist: Melissa Monroe, Ceramic Artist
Artist Statement: The appeal of working in clay is that you can mold it, fire it and turn it into something that is permanent. I make a representation of a flower and freeze it in time. When I create a flower in clay, I am not trying to make a real flower. I am sculpting the feeling of a flower. It is something playful, beautiful and abstract. I love sculpting different variations of nature including women. I love creating vases of women with full and wild hair. The women’s faces give subtle cues to mood and feeling. The hair shows the thoughts and interior spirit of the woman in each sculpture. It is the wild hair and spirit of these pieces that I hope connects with people on an emotional level.
Melissa Monroe is a lifelong Illinoisan, having been raised in Galesburg and now living in the Chicago suburbs with her family. Melissa has a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts from Knox College with a studio art major in ceramics and painting. She sells her ceramic art at shows in the Chicago area and at fine stores and works with chefs to create custom dishware for their restaurants.
“When I started working in clay in college it was impossible to predict the places it would take me. It has been fun journey of farm dinners where I provide dishes, the art show circuit in Chicago, and gallery shows. As I have grown in my work I find my creativity divided into two camps: the functional and the sculptural. My functional work has become focused on working directly with customers creating custom plate ware for their homes and businesses. I love to sit down to a day of throwing and trimming all of these commissions and getting the satisfaction of the matching sets of bowls and plates. The second part of my art is the creative sculptural side – making wild abstracted flowers and sculptural vases, bottles and jars. These are the objects of imagination and whimsy. I hope that both of my camps of artwork provide a connection with each person either in daily use or visual connection.”
Melissa continues to explore and grow artistically. She uses new clay bodies and mixes new glazes to achieve interesting and original effects. She continues to expand her sculptural body of work by making larger sculptures and more intricate pieces. “As I continue to create sculptures and intricate forms, I find that I connect more and more to the people who own these pieces. I love knowing that what I make can bring joy.”