Ben Peyer - Five Questions

Ben at White Sands National Monument

Ben at White Sands National Monument

Why did you decide to work in your chosen media?
(Note to Editor, not an answer to the question: I can't think of a meaningful way to answer this question. It's photography or nothing for me... when it comes to tools for making art, I am certainly begging rather than choosing.)

Ben Peyer, Limits Series, Part 1

Ben Peyer, Limits Series, Part 1

How has your work changed over time?
The biggest change is that I've gone from producing a bunch of unrelated but (one hopes) nice pictures to thinking in terms of sets of photos that all belong together. The biggest impact this change has had is I'm now able to be more constructively critical of work that happens early on in a run.  

What's the most indispensable item in your studio?
I shoot more or less exclusively with a 100mm (prime) manual focus lens. This means I have to choose exactly where to stand, and then choose exactly what needs to be in focus, to compose a shot. It's slow and inconvenient in just the right ways.

Wassily Kandinsky Fuga (Fugue), 1914 Oil on canvas, 51 x 51 Copyright Fondation Beyeler, Riechen/Basel, Beyeler Collection

Wassily Kandinsky
Fuga (Fugue), 1914
Oil on canvas, 51 x 51
Copyright Fondation Beyeler, Riechen/Basel, Beyeler Collection

Is there an artist who has strongly influenced your work?
Wassily Kandinsky was a synaesthete, which meant (in his case) that seeing colors made him hear sounds. His later work is usually called non-representational, but his synaesthesia made it concretely representational to him. He painted music without having to resort to metaphor. I can't say whether or how his work influences mine, but this enchanting idea has everything to do with both my appreciation for what art is capable of and my gratitude for being able to share my work with others. To wit, this is his piece called "Fugue" which - the name - is probably more like a literal description than a metaphorical title.

Ben Peyer, Limits Series, Part 2

Ben Peyer, Limits Series, Part 2

Can you tell us something noteworthy about your current work?
This work is the output of a challenge I set for myself: to hunt photos that fit the chosen theme. The problem was that I had no preconceived ideas for subject matter or composition of the actual work, so (it turned out) I took 3,208 photos with this theme in mind before I got a single keeper! If "making bad art is how you get permission to make good art" (which is how I recall the kind and useful advice Allan Servoss gave me the first time Abel Contemporary Gallery showed any of my work) then I hope these 3,208 discarded attempts, and the thousands that followed, served their purpose.

Madison Essentials - A Farmer at Heart, A Printmaker at Hand

The latest issue of Madison Essentials had a lovely feature on S. V. Medaris, a painter and printmaker represented by the gallery. Read the article below, and see her work at the gallery!

A Farmer at Heart, a Printmaker at Hand

"I think we are slowly losing our tie to the land, as the percentage of people who live in the country is much smaller than times past." Hearing S.V. (Sue) Medaris, you wouldn't expect her to be a printmaker. She's so enamored with her muses that you almost miss the way she chooses to honor them.

Home Elements and Concepts - Creating Art Pt. II

"Meaningful art is an important part of our society. You may purchase art for the joy it brings and to enhance your home’s interior, but it also helps support artists so that they can devote themselves to their craft. How does one become an artist and how is art priced? In my last article, I explained how one becomes an artist through formal education and practical experience followed by the challenge to create a professional and consistent body of work. The final steps include getting the work from the studio to exhibition, then hopefully to being purchased. "

-Theresa Abel

Read the rest of the article by following the link below.

Creating Art Part II

Meaningful art is an important part of our society. You may purchase art for the joy it brings and to enhance your home's interior, but it also helps support artists so that they can devote themselves to their craft. How does one become an artist and how is art priced?

Gerit Grimm turns ceramic figures into storytellers

Diane M. Bacha, Special to the Journal SentinelPublished 9:30 a.m. CT Dec. 18, 2017

(Photo: Courtesy of MOWA)

(Photo: Courtesy of MOWA)

Most of us know figurines as ornamental trinkets. They’re diminutive, breakable, and invariably sentimental. Modern-day iterations are often angels and fairies, rosy-cheeked children and big-skirted princesses.

I’ve never been a figurine collector, but I’ve been thinking about them a lot since viewing Gerit Grimm’s ceramic sculptures at the Museum of Wisconsin Art.

Grimm, who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is a meticulous and accomplished ceramicist. Her work reflects an accumulation of influences and interests that date back to her childhood in the former German Democratic Republic, her years as a production potter, and her early fascination with the California Funk ceramic movement. She is a voracious consumer of art history and a determined boundary-pusher at the potter’s wheel.

Her calling card is a method of creating figures and tableaus by fusing pottery and sculpture. Grimm begins with wheel-thrown pots that might become a torso or a skirt, a tree trunk or a boat hull. On to these foundational shapes she layers delicate and telling details that give each a story to tell.

“Gerit Grimm’s Fairytales: In a Time Neither Now Nor Then,” curated by MOWA’s Graeme Reid, fills the changing-exhibits gallery with the results of this painstaking process. Seven groupings of figurative ceramic sculpture are installed to easily accommodate 360-degree viewing. All are rendered in the unglazed, stone-brown clay Grimm has been working with exclusively since 2011.

Walking through the exhibit can feel like a stroll through an enchanted forest populated by characters from – as the exhibit’s title implies – a book of fairy tales. (That Grimm shares a last name with the famous storytelling brothers is a delicious coincidence.) But the “fairy tales” label, rich as it is, risks putting Grimm’s sculptures into too small a box.

Her inspiration springs from a stew of classical mythology, Biblical stories, folklore, Renaissance paintings, children’s books, and decorative crafts among many others. In describing her work, she has referenced dolls, puppets, and the theatrical traditions of commedia dell’arte. Her earlier work – colorful, highly glazed, and smaller in scale – hearken to Meissen figurines of porcelain shepherdesses and gentlemen. To this she adds her own lived experiences and interests (she tango dances and sails in her spare time).

The MOWA show spans seven years of Grimm’s output. It is populated by villagers, peddlers, children, lovers, boaters, mourners, a nobleman, a bride, an executioner, and an alchemist. They play out scenes from the Bible, Greek mythology, folklore, and Grimm’s own imaginative (and often witty) re-interpretations of all the above.

Gerit Grimm's "Entombment" (2017) at the Museum of Wisconsin Art in West Bend. Grimm's art fuses pottery and sculpture. (Photo: Courtesy of MOWA)

Gerit Grimm's "Entombment" (2017) at the Museum of Wisconsin Art in West Bend. Grimm's art fuses pottery and sculpture. (Photo: Courtesy of MOWA)

“Wedding Procession of Psyche” (2015) is a scene from Greek mythology in which the doomed bride is surrounded by attendants, some carrying bouquets and others sheathed in funeral attire. “Fountain” (2011), which evokes the centerpiece of a village square, is seething with frolicking couples and fish spitting water. In a series of four trees (2011-'15), Grimm tells stories about gloom, happiness, love, and community by festooning each tree with mothers and babies, couples and lovers, children at play and adults at work. Elsewhere we see a horse-dawn carriage, a monument to an 18th century ceramics patron, an assembly-line of beauty-salon body parts, and mythology’s Ulysses encountering sirens.


It’s easy to greet this exhibit, at first, as a collection of dolls and puppets. Grimm plays with that first impression, then upends it. Seeing puppet-like figures chop off a head (“Guillotine,” 2012) and doll-like characters carry a corpse (“Entombment,” 2017) is our first clue that something else is going on here. Three of her sculptures are life-sized, looking us straight in the eye. We notice, too, that the garments are from no distinct era, which plays with our sense of time and setting.

This upending also has much to do with the astonishing results Grimm coaxes from her medium, imbuing each figure with a sometimes haunting, sometimes humorous sense of presence. Hand gestures, facial expressions, even the eye contact between figures are magically expressive. These details add complexity to the stories each character tells. Along with the absence of color, Grimm is renegotiating her relationship – and ours – with the ubiquitous ceramic figurine.

We can see that relationship evolving. In her most recent works, Grimm’s pots take on more qualities of fabric, revealing the movement of limbs beneath. The detailing is more sparse, and a subtle note of abstraction is introduced. Her “Sirens” (2016-'17) squirm in their Martha Graham-like garments – are they trying to extract themselves, or conveying a message? It’s a universal human-vs.-wardrobe tussle choreographed so artfully your eye keeps returning to the dance.

The most recent sculptures are installed at the back of the gallery: five groupings depicting the crucifixion and entombment of Christ (2017). They are more distilled and, to my eye, more intensely felt. After her father’s unexpected death in 2016, Grimm found herself turning to the topics of mourning and grief by using, as usual, age-old symbols as touchstones. Her “Lamentation” is suffused with tender sadness. Her “Pieta” merges an animated figure with a clumsy, lifeless one, in a sobering juxtaposition of love and loss.

Even setting aside subject matter, this exhibit begins on a lighthearted note and slowly insinuates an unsettling theme. Grimm is aware that there’s an awkwardness to her figures. The tension created by joining high and low themes is a conscious one for her. It’s as if she’s rescuing the figurine from its enslavement to coyness and decoration, which disrupts accepted and long-held associations.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that so many of her figures recount stories about women, especially women under duress. Grimm’s female figurines have grown up, found their own voice, and are much less delicate than their antecedents. Despite initial appearances, you have to take them seriously.

“Gerit Grimm’s Fairytales” is on view through Jan. 7 at the Museum of Wisconsin Art, 205 Veterans Ave., West Bend. For more information, visit

Diane M. Bacha is editorial director at Kalmbach Publishing Co. and a former arts editor.

Home Elements and Concepts - Creating Art

Theresa Abel's latest article in Home Elements and Concepts.

Creating Art

Aspects of the art world can appear very opaque to those outside of it, with one of the murkiest topics being price. I am frequently asked how to determine the value of art, so it seems appropriate that since this publication encourages you to include art in your home design, inside and out, we address the question of why art can seem expensive.

Staff Pick: Richard Jones - Only Connect


Richard Jones' recent show, Only Connect, is a challenging exhibit. Though this is his second show in our cooler space, the thoughtfulness in each of his pieces always impresses me. This level of care and attention to detail goes beyond what I consider reasonable in my own work, which inspires me to push myself even further.

The large structure Jones constructed in our cooler space was built specifically for the room. Small openings cut into the shell reveal the construction in limited cones, relying on multiple viewpoints to assemble a complete picture of the charred city within. In doing so, Jones has made internal conversation, or, preferably, conversation with one another a necessity to form understanding. As such, these ideas are not solely mine. Not by half.

Jones’ use of material as metaphor enchants me. While an artist working in glass might create mirrored surfaces, the use of literal mirrors is interesting, and feels especially poignant in this context. Through the inclusion of found mirrors and other such objects in his wall work, I see Jones drawing a direct connection to self reflection. Using found objects creates the impression that this is an assemblage of memories, artifacts, and remnants. His altering and augmenting of them creates a dream-like space; a location that becomes inhabited by everything you bring into it, filling the gaps with your own context and understanding. Although Jones has left ample room for the viewer to draw their own conclusions about his installation, it seems clear that he has a profound concern for the health of the environment and the earth we live on.

When I approach Only Connect, I feel a sense of loss, and of warning. I’m an optimistic person--almost to a fault. No matter the situation I encounter, I can’t help but see it for the benefits it may bring. This isn’t to say that I don’t acknowledge tragedy, but that I think that the universe has a tendency to drift from pain to absolution. Only Connect feels to me an acknowledgement of the potential for human tragedy in the situation we find ourselves in.

I take great comfort in the idea that if we manage to destroy ourselves, in some flight of idiocy, madness, or malice, the Earth does not need us. It should be entirely selfishness that we try to recover. We could potentially cause a catastrophe so large that all it leaves is the burned husk of our civilization, setting the evolutionary clock back millions of years. Still, no fire yet has burned so hot or so long that the plants, microbes, and fish haven’t found a way back.

If we really want this relationship to work, we should probably start trying a little harder. Unlike us, the earth could move on.

Aedric Donovan
Gallery Associate

Reflections on Knowing Kelli Hoppmann

It is said that all artists are, throughout the length of their careers, basically painting the same painting over and over again. Kelli has been painting about human strength and weakness for over thirty years.

Her themes of love, sin, politics, and redemption are repeated in paintings with titles such as “The Three Graces”, “Who Invited the Fascists”, and “The Reluctant Anarchist”. Kelli is ever curious about what makes us human, and reminds us about what makes us animal. I met Kelli while finishing an art degree at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Both young painters, she was a few years my senior, thus done with schooling and figuring how to manage a life in the arts.

With little money, neither of us had proper studios, but I learned from Kelli that it did not matter so much where you painted as long as you did it. She was always disciplined, painting or drawing more days than not, putting in at least four hours in her “studio” (read: closet) most days. She always made sure to find the time to get that much better, all while working a regular job to make sure she also got to eat.

Getting to know Kelli, I discovered she grew up in Madison, stayed on to receive a BFA in painting, then moved to New York City for a few years before returning to Madison, which is when I met her. For someone who has stayed so close to home, she has an endless curiosity of the world around her and is able to find inspiration in the familiar, draw drama from the ordinary, and see things that most of us overlook in our everyday lives.

Kelli brings the world to her through reading voraciously. Books are in piles around her home, and by looking at the varied titles we get some insight into her influences. The books in her home range from: history books about Nazis, true crime, Buddhist tradition, biographies, philosophy, natural science, and of course the dictionary. While staying well-read she manages to remain down to earth as ever; reading poetry after cheering on the Packers in football.

I’ve heard Kelli refer to herself as a frustrated writer or poet, and her paintings are poetic dramas played out in two dimensions, theatrical in their ability to create tension and narrative, while making the personal universal. The figures in her allegories often don elaborate costumes, surrounded by lush environments, beautiful patterns and vivid color. Sometimes we get to live vicariously through these characters, attending fantasy parties, drinking too many martinis, smoking forbidden cigarettes, and all manner of poor decision making. These parties and other such tableaus seduce us into their world, making it hard to look away even when the topics might be challenging.

Anthropomorphism is one of her favorite devices to expose our animal nature. Innocents are rabbit prey to the devious fox predators, the clever are crows while the boorish become just that.  Villains will be attired in as beautiful of costumes as the heroines and heroes of these dramas. The flatness of the panels that Kelli paints upon will often be reiterated with flat patterns and shallow depth of field that lends itself to the sense you are viewing a performance and the background is a stage set.

I’ve known Kelli for about as long as she’s been a painter, and during that time the steady stream of work coming from her studio has been both impressive, and at times hard to grasp. Even when she had two young children at home, she still managed to produce a notable amount of work. I’ve never known her to have a dry spell or creative block. Given her influence is the entire world this is not surprising. This book has been a wonderful chance to reflect on her career so far, and has made me even more excited about where she will take her art in the years to come.

-Theresa Abel
Owner, Art Director
Abel Contemporary Gallery

John S. Miller - Artist Talk

If you weren't able to join us for the artist talk with John Miller, we wanted to provide another way of hearing the excellent discussion. As many of you saw, we shot some video for the event, and have since cut it down to a really nice selection. For those of you interested in the full talk, we've included a link to the full audio below.

Enjoy, and make sure you catch John's show before its final day on June 4th!

Staff Pick – sly collaboration by Don Kauss (and Briony Morrow-Cribbs)

sly collaboration is a wonderful example of how Don Kauss makes the lost and discarded parts of our past shine with a new life. Years ago Briony Morrow-Cribbs shipped us a beautiful sculpture of a cat skeleton and opossum skull each posed within small wooded compartments and covered in intricate hand cut etching. Unfortunately the piece was damaged in shipping and was beyond repair. The work was so beautiful we couldn't bear discarding it, but it couldn't be shown, so we turned it over to Don Kauss. Don lovingly wrapped the shattered pieces of the sculpture and carried it off to his studio where he breathed new life into the piece. Contributing his own artistic touches to the work he added tubing, clock parts, gears, string, clips, springs, and a spiky sprig of mesquite. The piece metamorphosed into its new life as sly collaboration. It is a perfect example of Don’s seamless integration of disparate elements brought together in effortless complexity.

I find this piece particularly intriguing because it showcases the connection we saw curatorial between these two artists when we paired them for this exhibit. They both honor the past within their work. Briony uses the traditions of printmaking combined with stylistic references to 19th century naturalistic illustrations to discuss concepts of human nature and our animal instincts. Meanwhile, Don collects the flotsam and jetsam that has been abandoned or discarded and combines these elements in new and unexpected ways. Both artists use animals, bones, muted tones and precise line work to create an edge of unease, while simultaneously depicting the exquisiteness of the subject matter. This tension between attraction and revilement is a delicate balance to strike within a work of art, and both artists seem to flourish under such demands.

- Ann Orlowski
  Assistant Director