Gary Wick always wanted to be an architect, but worked as an architectural draftsman for 35 years, with a little time off for a tour of duty in Vietnam. All those years with somebody else's blueprints were enough to change his ambition: when he quit his job in 1996, he decided to be a painter. In fact, he'd been painting for a long time, mostly oils, and mostly portraits, including the three he has hanging in Chicago's National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum. But when he became a full-time artist he began experimenting with cameras and pastels, going into the countryside around his suburban home to photograph rapidly disappearing signs of agricultural life, then sketching and painting from the photos. No fan of abstraction--"it just matches furniture, fills space on a wall," he says--he documents reality in paintings that vary so subtly from the photographs they're based on, he can't put his finger on the difference. So why not stop with the photos? The paintings will last longer, he says, and there's also that elusive difference: "I'm in there." An exhibit of Wick's work opens with a reception from 7 to 9 on Friday, May 3, at the La Grange Art League Gallery (where he also teaches), 122 Calendar Court in La Grange. The show continues through May 31; hours are 10 to 5 Monday through Saturday.