Pinning down Chicago artist Lilli Carre

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Lilli Carre

Cartoon artist Lilli Carre, an L.A. transplant who has lived in Chicago for a decade. (Phil Velasquez/Chicago Tribune / December 10, 2012)

"When I first found out how young she was, I was shocked," said Laura Park, a Chicago cartoonist and friend of Carre's. "There were echoes of European art in her work and classic Americana and cinema, and yet, in a way, it's still hard to track the source of her images. You can't quite place a person who would make them."

Ben Kolak, one of the Chicago filmmakers working on an upcoming feature documentary about the history of the Chicago Imagists, a film that will include animation from Carre, who is illustrating interviews with the artists, said, "Lilli has a rare sensibility, the sensibility of a person who gets fine arts but doesn't spend all day worrying about it, which makes her more immediate than many people who come from fine-art schools."

Carre herself said the years she spent working part time at the Facets Multimedia film library were as key as anything. Indeed, her films jitter and jump like 80-year-old black-and-white Disney shorts, but with a grainy bleakness reminiscent of Wilder and Bresson. She chalks this up to "wanting to see a human hand in the results." Asked about this rough abstractness in these images, she ran across her living room to a bookcase and pulled down a large coffee-table book and unfolded it on the floor: "The Art of the Eskimo."

She flipped through the pages and let its tribal aesthetic, clearly reflected in her images, speak for itself. Then she said: "I get a lot of influence from people who are probably untrained. I like the angular look of the characters. That wood-carved look, which is literally against the grain. You see the tension in the results."

After chatting a while, she left her apartment and walked down the street to meet Stewart, who was preparing for their Roots & Culture show. They've run the Eyeworks Festival of Experimental Animation for several years, but this gallery show represents their first attempt at artistic collaboration. Stewart, a DePaul University animation professor, said later: "I think 90 percent of artists try to fit into the mold of what people expect of them, and Lilli is very aware of what people are expecting of her. But then she does her own thing, which is probably why we get along so well. We both only do what we want to do."

At the gallery Stewart pointed her toward a wall. A flicking series of abstracted images wavered on it. The images of shapes and curls and colors seemed forever on the verge of collapsing, as though their backbones were unstable. Carre's face lit up. "I haven't seen it projected yet," she said. They stood side by side and watched for a while. His contributions to the film are gray, blocky, severe. Hers are more jaunty.

"My work is definitely influenced by Lilli," he said. "Since we've known each other it definitely has more — "

"Personality," she said.

"That's right," he said, "more personality."

Twitter @borrelli

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