Artist Jani Bodell brings New Eastside to life on canvas

In 1996, Jani Bodell chose not to purchase a “really cool” poster because she and her husband were about to spend a lot of money remodeling their home in the Western Suburbs. The decision helped launch her artistic career.

“It was, like, a Toulouse Lautrec,” she remembers. “I thought, you know, it can’t be that difficult to reproduce.”

Today, she paints originals, re-creations and a variety of portraits — including dogs as well as people — from her New Eastside home. The work is sold online and in galleries throughout Greater Chicago.

Wielding a technique that she had developed with the help of her mother — an artist who taught semiprivate art classes in the family’s Chicago Heights home — Ms. Bodell not only made a striking re-creation of the Lautrec poster, but she also began selling similar works in a River North gallery.


“Hanging Out” by Jani Bodell

“A friend told me about this place called Penny & Gentle in the Merchandise Mart,” she explains. “They had artists who would reproduce Picassos, Rembrandts, whatever. The first one I sold was Lautrec’s Ambassador.”

It wasn’t long before she developed her own clientele.

“A friend of a friend approached me and said, ‘I’d really like you to do a Mary Cosset of two little blonde girls on a beach.’” Ms. Bodell explains. “She said, ‘Just make the girls dark-haired.’ It turned out great.”

Over the next several years, her commissions grew to include paintings of people’s homes and traditional landscapes of the French countryside. Many of them were completed for Pour La Maison, a gallery in Naperville.

Her repertoire grew during the same time, and last year a portion of it literally went to the dogs. From the corner of an apartment overlooking the lake in the Harbor Point Tower, where she moved last April, Ms. Bodell has developed a canine oeuvre that has gained popularity throughout the neighborhood.

“I do dog portraits,” she explains. “I love watching them come to life.”

Consulting with owners and, if possible, meeting their four-legged loved ones before committing anything to canvas, she portrays man and woman’s best friends in works that range from realistic to “fun and funky.”

“I always recommend a little bit smaller for the more realistic dog because you can put it anywhere — a shelf, a wall, the kitchen,” she explains. “If it’s more contemporary, we can go larger.”

The inspiration came by way of her dog walker, AJ, who made a suggestion one day when he came to pick up her two-and-a-half-year-old Cockapoo, Ellie.

“He said, ‘you have to do dog portraits,’” Ms. Bodell explains. “There are so many people in our area who have dogs. They love their dogs as much as they love their kids.”

Ellie is much too mischievous to sit for a portrait — “she’s like a two-and-a-half-year-old puppy,” says Ms. Bodell — but she critiques her owner’s work in a way that only a dog lover can understand.

“I’m sitting on my sofa and she starts barking at my easel,” explains Ms. Bodell. “She walks over, looks at it, and walks away. That’s the best compliment I’ve ever received on my painting.”

Although Ms. Bodell’s husband passed away from Leukemia in 2009, her best friend lives right next door and she suspects that her children — a college-bound daughter and a college graduate son — will be happy to visit.

“My kids both walked into the apartment and they’re like, ‘oh yeah, we could live here.’”

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