Truth and Beauty: Thoughts on William Conger’s Paintings at Zolla-Lieberman Gallery


’Beauty is truth, truth beauty,’—that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know~John Keats (Ode on a Grecian Urn) 

I first met William Conger around ten years ago when I was curating That 70s Show for a  gallery in the suburbs of the greater Chicago region. I found him to be a quiet unassuming man although his paintings with broad areas of color and bold linear statements might suggest otherwise. I always admired how he could capture the busyness of life in Chicago, yet maintain a quality of stillness and calmness in his work. 

In December, I visited William in his studio in Chicago. I went there to photograph a painting that was going to a museum. The five minute interruption into his day turned into a two hour conversation about art, painting, the art world, the art market and history. I could have stayed two more hours. William gave me a couple of catalogs with essays about his art because he could tell I needed to know more. I read reviews of his work that were written by both critics and scholars. 

I still had unanswered questions about why his work resonated so deeply with me. And it’s not just me. His work has sold for more than fifty years and is in every major public collection in Chicago. His paintings move people. I knew after that day in the studio with Conger, I wanted to better understand his work. I needed to contextualize it. I wanted to know what he knows. I wanted to unlock the secrets that lie behind the colorful plains, grids and seemingly flat patterning. I wanted more.

I didn’t realize at the time of our visit that he was going to have a show at Zolla-Lieberman Gallery in Chicago. I had to see the show. I drove 500 miles to get there from Nashville. I wasn’t leaving the gallery until I came out with some idea about why his work resonates with me. True, it is good painting. Yes, the compositions are intriguing. Okay, I understand that they represent Chicago street scenes, architecture, neighborhoods, and the lake. But I feel something when I stand in front of Conger’s paintings. So the day I visited the exhibit, I stood in the small gallery with several of Conger’s paintings and I studied them quietly. I waited.

I  was looking for the truth was he telling us about life. I knew there had to be truth in the paintings because without truth there could be no beauty. What is it that this intelligent and wise sage brings to us? Then it hit me. They are about letting go. At least, that was what I felt that day in the gallery. Isn’t all of life is about letting go? Letting go of people, letting go dreams, letting go of self, letting go of places, letting go of things. Everything and everyone is going somewhere. We have to learn to separate ourselves from our world. In doing so, we can choose to be part of everything, let it become part of us and live inside us, and then let it go; or we can choose to be separate from everything by watching from a safe distance. William Conger’s paintings invited me to be part of them and in doing so, let them become part of me. I feel peace when I look at them. I want to be part of the painting. 

I don’t know if this is what William Conger would tell you they are about. I would be willing to bet that he would agree that all of life is about letting go and in letting go, you find peace. Maybe I am too philosophical in my approach. It doesn’t change the fact that William Conger is a very good artists. To me, he has many facets as William Conger the artists, the teacher, the sage, the seeker of truth and beauty. He generously lays out his inner world for all of us to see. I am grateful for my time in the studio with him and the time I spent alone with his work. I want more.

For more information on this exhibit, visit Zolla-Lieberman Gallery



Sergio and I always have the best conversations! Thanks Sergio!

This post continues my series “In-Sync with…” aimed to get a closer look at contemporary artists and art professionals from Chicago and abroad. Read it, enjoy it, share it, and get in-sync with curator, art historian, art appraiser, critic, lecturer and collector Ruth Crnkovich. Do not miss her personal recommendations at the end of the interview.

There are Facebook friends and there are real life freinds. Ruth Crnkovich is both to me and my family. We go back a while. Ruth was in grad school at Governors State University and I was in the under-grad program when we met.  Overt the years, Ruth and I have worked in various projects together. However, for the last few years, we have been working in our own separate careers with only a few calls and email updates here and there.  A few months back, we reconnected again and began a series of conversations…

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Commentary on Truth and Beauty


Painting by William Conger, Harvest, 2012, Oil on Wood, 14 x 14 inches.

A constant theme throughout my work and thoughts in general are summed up in the final words of Keat’s poem, “Ode on a Grecian Urn”. ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,’—that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know…John Keats (Ode on a Grecian Urn)


While I am not a poet or even an avid poetry reader, there are some poems that have stuck with me throughout my life. This one has probably had the most profound affect on how I see myself and what I do.

People often ask me what do I do. I understand that what they are asking is, “What is your job?” I am an Art Appraiser. I am an Independent Curator. I am an Art Critic. I am an Art Maven. I am a Muse. I am an Art Impresario. I am an Art Historian. I am an Art Management Specialist. I am a Lecturer. I am an Art Crusader. I am a Free Spirit. I am an Creative Encourager. I am a Mentor. I am a Collector. 

I can’t put this on a business card. 

We are more than a job title. We are multifaceted mutable creatures who work for purpose rather than a job title. A job title isn’t really an accurate description of who we are or what we do. Now when someone asks me what I do, I tell them that I am a seeker of and crusader for truth and beauty. It may sound ridiculous, but it really encompasses the many facets of my work. It defines my purpose, not my job. My job is the way that I reach my purpose, my purpose is why I do my work.

Art is about beauty. Beauty is subjective. What do we know about real beauty? Beauty is Truth. When an artist succeeds at communicating a universal truth, the object they create becomes a thing of beauty. If beauty is truth, then truth must be beauty.

Finding truth and beauty in artist expression has become a passion. Okay, it’s more like an obsession. I look for it every day and in uncommon places. I believe artists create because they too seek truth and beauty. My work is to find it, uncover it, illuminate it, and share it with others. 

Understanding that what I do has to do with my purpose rather than my job title has been liberating in that I do not live inside self-imposed or societal constraints that come along with labels. It fuels my passion because I know that every day I will find something beautiful to look at or some new way to look at truth by seeing it through someone else’s eyes. 

I want to recognize artists who continue seeking truth in their work while ardently practicing their craft. Successful art comes when truth is communicated through beauty through practice. I am astonished and humbled by artists who allow me to share in their  experiences. 




Exhibit opportunities! Check it out


33 Contemporary Gallery presents:
“copy.right?”  The Art of Appropriation

February 15 to March 9, 2013


As long as there have been artists, there have been artists who appropriate. To appropriate is to borrow elements in the creation of new work. Appropriation recontextualises whatever it borrows to create something new. In some cases the original ‘thing’ remains accessible as the original, without change, but in other cases, the new work takes on a completely different façade and ultimately new meaning. Thus, blurring the line of what is fair usage and challenging the implications of copyright laws. The practice of appropriation can be traced back before the Renaissance, but became popular with the Surrealists, Dadaists, Pop Artists and the Neo-Geo Artists when mass production became a cultural norm.

Art is not created in a bubble. Artists are influenced by almost everything: the internet, television, literature, history, news and even other artists…

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We do not want merely to see beauty, we want to be united with the beauty, to pass into it, to become part of it.~C.S. Lewis

Appraiser, Curator and Art Maven

Ruth Crnkovich has more than two decades of professional curatorial experience in both private galleries and museums as well as nearly a decade of experience as an independent fine art appraiser. She holds advanced degrees in Art History and Fine Art & Decorative Art Appraising.  In addition to curating exhibitions, she is an independent collection management specialist and fine art appraiser for private collectors, corporations, museums, and cultural institutions throughout the U.S. She has lectured and published numerous essays and articles about art, collecting, and the business of art nationally and internationally.