Chi Lives: father and daughter, doctors and painters | Calendar | Chicago Reader

Chi Lives: father and daughter, doctors and painters 

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When Dr. Debbie Weiss was a little girl growing up in Skokie, her father, Dr. Seymour Fishkin, painted a picture of a cat for her to hang in her bedroom. "It was a very crude painting," says Fishkin.

Weiss doesn't remember that painting, but she does remember her father's attempts throughout her childhood at landscapes, musical instruments, and ballerinas.

"I forgot those completely," says Fishkin. "But I guess they impressed her. I didn't know that."

As she grew up, Weiss also dabbled in painting. And she followed her father into internal medicine--she practices part-time at the University of Illinois. "As soon as he finished putting me through medical school, he retired," says Weiss, who is 34 and now lives on the Gold Coast. A few years ago, after having abandoned painting while she was in college, she decided to take it up again. Then her father decided to follow her back into the world of pastels, watercolors, and acrylics.

Now their work is being shown in a two-person exhibition at the Old Town Triangle Art Center.

"Lots of doctors turn to art as a creative outlet," says Weiss. "Doctors are trained to be observant, aware of anatomy, and so forth. Art is a natural outlet for us."

Fishkin agrees. "Doctors make good painters," he says.

Weiss and Fishkin are offering more than 60 of their paintings for sale at the exhibit. Some of Fishkin's former patients made purchases during the opening reception. "Does my insurance policy cover this?" asked one patron as he wrote a check for Serious Contemplation--Botanic Garden.

"Everyone says our styles are so different," says Weiss, regarding their collection of still lifes, scenes of Chicago-area landmarks, and people and scenery from their worldwide travels (Nova Scotia, Bali, Sanibel Island in Florida, Hong Kong). "My work tends to be more feminine, the subject matter is quieter, there's a softer-looking mood to them.

"Now that I look at his work, though, I see his scenery is quiet looking, too. But his lines are harder and straighter. There's a sharper tone to his work, although the subject matter is fairly serene."

Father and daughter currently study painting with Don Anderson, who has helped them paint from their own photographs. Weiss says he has taught them to combine photographic images of the same subject in one painting, using their memories and imagination to fill in as necessary. "He helps us improve on reality," says Weiss.

"It's nice to see my dad working in the one art class that we take together every week. But truthfully, when we're in class it's like working with anybody else. We talk like two classmates--that's all. He's supportive, noncompetitive. We've always gotten along well. I'm an only child and there haven't been many conflicts between us. He encouraged me to take up medicine as a profession--and art, just as a hobby. And a year or two ago, I encouraged him to take up painting again, because of all the free time he had. He was a little squeamish about a new venture, but everything turned out fine."

Fishkin, who is 64 and lives in Skokie, sees his own and his daughter's work as simply the result of two doctors' desire to paint.

"I think anyone can paint if they give themselves a chance," says Fishkin. "Most people don't try because they are afraid to fail.

"I'm a right-handed painter, and she's left-handed," he says glibly, pointing to his daughter. "I see quite a difference between our work. Her painting is much better. I see Debbie's technique--and I'd like to get there. Her painting is fresher, there's more brilliant color. Maybe in the future our painting will look closer together--but right now I don't know about any kind of genetic or environmental or any other kind of connection.

"My technique is stiff compared to hers. Hers is loose, fresh, bursting, exuberant."

Weiss says, "It seemed natural to show our work together." But Fishkin believes that the fact they're both doctors may have had more to do with their pairing in the show than the father-daughter relationship. He adds, "With other [joint] shows, egos get in the way, but that's not the case with us. Other artists couldn't pull it off. Art is very individual, and artists can become prima donnas. But we don't feel that way. We're not in competition with each other."

"I wouldn't say this is necessarily just a father-daughter doctors' show," says Weiss. "That's because we're friends."

"'Doc' Art" runs through August 31 at the Old Town Triangle Art Center, 1763 N. North Park. Hours are Sunday and Monday 1-5, Tuesday through Friday 9-3, and Saturday, 9-noon. Call 337-1938 for more information.

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