Portraits of Pilsen

“Are you an artist?” is asked of any unfamiliar face entering the Carlos & Dominguez Fine Arts Gallery for the opening of PILSEN ARTISTS. A glance at the artwork and attendees reveals why. Portraits of Pilsen artists line the walls, and many of the attendees at the opening are the photographs’ subjects.

Benjamin Anaya, the photographer who has taken all these portraits, stands admiring his exhibit. There is no portrait of Anaya hanging on the walls, but there doesn’t need to be–everyone knows him. Patricia Cosmos, a young painter, expresses the view of many: “He is the glue.”

Anaya’s exhibit features a sampling of Pilsen’s artists–a community that has increasingly begun to resemble a family. “Like a family” is also how the attendees are received by Anaya, as well as by Len Dominguez and Pat Carlos, the gallery’s owners. Artists embrace artists, and then sweep them away to their portraits–“Look, here you are.”

“We are more than friends. Brothers!” Anaya exclaims., Pointing to a photo of a reclining man gazing away from the camera, he gushes, “This guy,” just as a motorcycle came roaring up the street. Turning toward the rider, Anaya points out the door “Here’s this guy!” The man enters and they hug before Anaya turns his attention back to his photographs.

Anaya mentions that the decision to exhibit portraits was spurred on equally by pride in and responsibility to his neighborhood. It seems the exhibit is a message of thankful recognition to the “vivid, vibrant community” that welcomed him to Chicago when he first arrived in 2007. At the same time, Anaya chose this subject with an eye toward their shared artistic struggle–the process of capturing truth and beauty in any environment.

According to Len Dominguez, the portraits are an unusual choice for Anaya, who has exhibited mostly landscapes in the past. The gallery first started planning the exhibit six or seven months ago. For Anaya, the process began much earlier. He often attends exhibits and concerts by fellow artists, and when the fancy strikes him, he takes a picture, trying to capture “the colorful minds behind the faces.”

At the opening, a fellow artist pauses while passing his own portrait, noticing he is wearing the same shirt he had been photographed in. “It shows what kind of guy I am,” he jokes.

Carlos & Dominguez Fine Arts, 1538 W Cullerton St. Through June 2. Hours by appointment. (773)580-8053. artpilsen.blogspot.com