If you live in Rogers Park or are a student at Loyola, you’re likely a part of the neighborhood news Facebook page, where everything from restaurant suggestions to the latest in city politics are shared.
Among the sea of posts, photos of paintings from Zhanna Biletska, a local photographer and painter, tend to stand out.
A resident of the northern Chicago neighborhood for about three years, Biletska usually works as a wedding photographer. But as COVID-19 has mitigated large gatherings, she has been painting scenes around the neighborhood more frequently. She aims to paint once a day, she said.
“I usually do wedding photography,” the 30-year-old said. “I don’t know how it will be in the future but now I have more paintings than photoshoots.”
Biletska first started painting the lake, beaches and nature around Rogers Park when she moved to the area. At some point, though, she posted her artwork to the Facebook group, which commenced neighbors commissioning her to paint their homes.
Perhaps you’ve seen her around: the artist usually pulls up a chair and easel in front of a house and gets to work. Often, her finished project will be commemorated with a selfie on Facebook.
“Right away when I moved here, I fell in love with Rogers Park,” Biletska said. “I like that the lake is nearby. … Beaches, architecture and also the people.”
She’s even painted Loyola’s Madonna della Strada Chapel, which was featured in an exhibit at Caffè ArrivaDolce (6451 N. Sheridan Road) last year. The display was her first solo exhibit and featured her works based on Rogers Park.
“People are always really nice,” Biletska said. “People are always impressed when they see the painting and it looks so much like the building.”
Born in Ukraine, Biletska describes her works as impressionist, a style of art that, beyond focusing on accurate depictions of lighting, notes how fleeting and unstable the world can seem. French painter Claude Monet is perhaps the most famous impressionist artist.
Her choice of style is complemented by the fact she usually paints outdoors, using the “en plein air” method — the French translates to “in the open air” — to create more accurate depictions of her subjects.
“You paint from the impression, the atmosphere,” Biletska said. “It’s kind of different from painting in a studio. … When lighting lays really well on nature or architecture so you can show it, I like that a lot.”
Facebook groups don’t just connect her to community members who commission her, though. She’s also part of the Plein Air Painters of Chicago Facebook group, which boasts of more than 1,100 members.
While the group hasn’t been able to gather due to COVID-19, the group members usually use the page to offer each other critiques and organize meetups where artists can paint together, something Biletska would do often before the pandemic.
“When I moved to Rogers Park, I found this group and I started painting with them,” Biletska said. “Usually they were gathering up in summer and going to different places to paint. … This year they have only had one gathering.”
Despite social distancing guidelines, Biletska said the group has been able to continue working as a community through critiquing each other’s work. While she hasn’t had time recently to engage with the group’s commentaries, she has had her fair share of training — Biletska attended art school as a child and went on to study architecture in Ukraine as an adult.
Though she said being a photographer hasn’t directly translated to creating paintings, Biletska said studying art has helped her understand the framing and composition of a painting.
“You always have to be able to frame composition in the right way,” Biletska said. “Every scene has something beautiful to it.”