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Artist bringing Sept. 11 paintings to Elgin


Melissa Jenco, TribLocal reporter

George Kokines can’t seem to fully erase the image in his mind of the World Trade Center crippled and crumbling before his eyes on Sept. 11, 2001.

The towers were like a “large smoky monster,” he says, and all he could do was run from the area where he had been eating breakfast minutes before. He still can’t explain what drew him back to the scene shortly after reaching safety.

Kokines, an artist who has since moved from New York City back to his native Chicago, spent nearly five years transferring those images to a canvas in hopes of gaining closure on what he reluctantly witnessed.

“It’s not something I sought out to do,” he said of the artwork. “It’s something that had to happen.”

The pieces changed over time, he said, from an open wound to scar tissue.

Kokines’ recently completed paintings, which also include materials like steel, are simply named “September 11” and will be unveiled at 10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 11, at the Gail Borden Public Library, 270 N. Grove Ave. in Elgin where they will be on display for the rest of the month.

Kokines will talk briefly about what he witnessed and his friend Francis Scudellari will read a poem he wrote to go along with the paintings.

An abstract artist, Kokines studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and has taught art at Northwestern University and the University of Wisconsin. Asked what he hopes people take away from his “September 11” work he said there are codes in it.

“People who know how to read the code will understand it and those who don’t will never understand it,” he said.

Kokines’ work also served as the backdrop of the recent Janus Theatre Company play, “The Guys,” that commemorated firefighters who lost their lives in the Sept. 11 attacks.

The art unveiling will follow Elgin’s commemorative ceremony at 9 a.m. Sept. 11 at Walton Island on the Fox River at Kimball. That event is sponsored by the city and American Legion and includes music by Church of the Redeemer Episcopal Choir, bagpipes and bells by the Elgin police and fire departments and a rifle salute by the American Legion Post 57 firing squad.

While the city is not memorializing any one specific person lost on Sept. 11, Cherie Murphy, assistant to the city manager for community engagement, said the events of that day still hit close to home. Elgin firefighters were among those who traveled to New York City in the wake of the attacks to try to help.

“It’s our country and we took it personally just like many communities that took it personally when it happened,” Murphy said.

Elgin also is holding its send-off to summer on Sept. 11. Other events that day include:

·         Elgin’s Biggest Block Party; 1 to 10 p.m.; Festival Park on Grove Avenue along the Fox River. Event includes games, food and music. The Fit Forest Walk begins at 1 p.m. where people can learn about caring for trees and headlining band High Infidelity takes the stage at 9 p.m.

·         29th Annual Historic House Tour; 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Church of the Brethren, 783 W. Highland Ave.; sponsored by the Gifford Park Association.

·         2010 Downtown Elgin Car Show and Midwest Green Car Expo; 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.; civic parking lot at Highland and Douglas; sponsored by the Downtown Neighborhood Association of Elgin.

·         Next Wave Art Salon; 6 to 10 p.m.; 166 Symphony Way; sponsored by the Downtown Neighborhood Association of Elgin.


“We want people to come out and have good time and enjoy the park, enjoy the community and take advantage of all the things we offer,” Murphy said.

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