William H. Dalziel's art originated In the belly of a B-17 during World War II. The abstract pieces are being shown at Expo Chicago 2019 via Richard Norton Gallery (222 W Merchandise Mart Plaza #612 Chicago).
But are they really abstract?
Dalziel, a diminutive man, tried to join the U.S. Army in June, 1943 and was turned down because he was four foot 10 1/2 inches tall. He made another attempt and, because he had grown half an inch, was accepted. The prize he received was a job as a belly gunner on a B-17 bomber. Upon completion of 25 missions he became a member of the "Lucky Bastards Club," meaning he survived. The average life expectancy of a ball turret gunner in a B-17 was 15 missions.
"When some of these were painted it was the height of the Vietnam War. You have to wonder what was going through his mind with the protests," says Sue Klein-Bagdade, gallery director. "He was working out issues in the paintings.".
"He was a bit of a recluse. After the 60s he didn't exhibit." says Klein-Bagdade.
This is the modus operandi of Richard Norton Gallery; they often deal with the estates. Artists they exhibit may have wonderful stories like Dalziel while others were instructors at the School of the Art Institute or the New Bauhaus. Some may even have been famous in their day and have fallen into obscurity.
"We are always in someone's basement looking at artwork." says Klein-Bagdade.
At first glance, not knowing his story, you might think Dalziel's work purely abstract. When you know the story, or even when you look carefully, you will see forms, images, in the work. The paintings call to mind vistas a man in the belly of a B-17 might see. They clearly call to mind aerial views of the earth. There are often shapes that resemble figures, planes, buildings or even numbers.
"There is one at the Illinois State Museum that is an airplane," says Klein-Bagdade. She says that piece is a bit less abstract that the pieces shown here.
Dalziel is just the latest example of artists from the Chicago area (or with regional connections) shown by the gallery. They seem to unearth a never ending stream of artist whose profiles rise after their discoveries. There will be more on the gallery website on the artist, along with images for those not in town for Expo Chicago.