Winnebago Studios is a rabbit hole to navigate. The warehouse turned artist facility is a seemingly impenetrable block, unmarked save one tarp listing its name. Inside, unlabelled personal studios stud concrete hallways littered with random work. The place is desolate. Tucked behind a corner sits Studio Z.
Marlene Miller’s most recent show, Blood and Iron is a dramatic exploration in power dynamics. When you walk in the cooler you are dropped into the court of the king, surrounded by soldiers, jesters, holy men, and bastards. The soldiers are of mixed emotions. The clay of their eyes cast down, pushed boldly forward, or locked in confusion.
I’m amazed at how, still as they are, they control they exhibit over the space. The blocked tile is a typically a difficult backdrop to display against, but Miller has no such issue. Between the figures there exists a hierarchy of control. The king sits at the top of that ladder, defined not only by his crown, but by the level of detail with which he was rendered. Some of the characters appear cobbled, pocked, and split. The clay itself is so much of the form, and that isn’t as much the case with the king. He maintains characteristics of the material, but is uncannily human in form. His stare is one of the coldest in the room; resolute, stoic, and repulsive.
Within the scope of Miller’s work she’s able to show many facets of the personality spectrum. In this show she’s pushed a few emotions as far as she could. Guilt, shame, disgust, contempt, indifference. Art about the waging of war is often from the perspective of the bystanders and victims. Miller has shown here all of the complications that come from parsing those facts, and makes us stand witness to the other half of the results. These men have done terrible things. We know it, and they know we know it.
1. WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO WORK IN OIL PASTEL?
Like most artists, I have worked in several mediums, learning something from all of them, but 20 years ago after working with soft pastels for a number of years and experiencing the health results of inadequate ventilation I opted to try Oil Pastels and to my astonishment discovered their incredible versatility. I can manipulate this medium in many ways, experiencing an ongoing discovery of new techniques and that keeps my insatiable interest going.
2. HOW HAS YOUR WORK CHANGED OVER TIME?
Whenever we change mediums our style andtechnique changes simply by what we discover from their own peculiar characteristics. I must admit however, and as you will witness in this current show I continue experimenting with new methods and styles. Sometimes our work takes a turn without our realization and I say. "TAKE IT AND RUN WITH IT !" My philosophy is: When you're green you grow, when you're ripe you rot!
3. WHAT'S THE MOST INDISPENSABLE ITEM IN YOUR STUDIO?
Having never been asked this question before my response wasn't immediate, to my surprise. Logically, I would humbly say "ME" for nothing happens without the artist's presence. But apart from that I can only say there is no one thing more important than another. Everything in our studio is there for a specific purpose and at any given time a singleitem can be the most indispensable. Also, at my age a stool to sit on has become VERY IMPORTANT! (Just a bit of humor )
4. WHO IS AN ARTIST WHO STRONGLY INFLUENCED YOUR WORK?
This also is difficult answering for I have been influenced by many but if I had to choose one, Wolf Kahn would be my choice, for his creative color harmony and the essence of subject. Everything unnecessary in his work is removed and what remains is the essence. Two others, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and George Inness both for their extraordinary tonal values and mood.
5. CAN YOU TELL US SOMETHING NOTEWORTHY ABOUT YOUR CURRENT WORK?
Most noteworthy as reflected in this current body of work, and as stated in question 1, is the variety of techniques and the addition of figures in one work, which I intend to do more of. You will also detect fine lines in some of the still Life works used for designing or in outlining. In closing I would add that I never really know how a painting will turn out because with few exceptions I don't do preliminary sketches. Any changes I make in Composition, color, or subject matter are made during actual painting process. I realize this is not the norm but it works for me.
We would like to thank George for his time, and we hope you'll come out for his show. The opening is September 15th, from 5-9pm
Architecture defines us as a culture, it encompasses the places we live, the structures we build to hold our cultural wealth, our places of worship, and our government institutions. We can trace our history through architecture by looking at the way buildings were constructed and maintained, or altered to fit a new cultural use. The theme of architecture in art has been a focus of mine not only in my personal work but it has been an element that has attracted my attention in the work many other artists. Curating this show has allowed me to explore the depths of this diverse theme and pull together artists from many different disciplines. When selecting the artists for the exhibit I wanted to present a diversity in the media represented as well as a diversity in the type of architecture depicted. There are skyscrapers, ancient landmarks, tract houses, futuristic cities, vernacular architecture of Africa, images of the future, and images of the past all represented in the exhibit.
The title “Building the Future” draws from the idea that the structures we build mark a specific place in time. However, these structures are made, for the most part, to last well into the future. Some buildings may remain hundreds of years, cycling through a multitude of updates, renovations, and repurposes, while others are left to crumble into ruins. Whatever the fate of these structures they all mark time through the way they are used or misused. Every time we as a culture construct a new building we are making a mark on our future. Art and Architecture are inextricably bound, and the convergence of these two interlocked elements of society create a captivating reflection of each other.
Trends within cultures ebb and flow through the structures societies build and the objects housed within those structures; one influencing the other in equal measure. Art and architecture reveal the values within a society and are part of what define a culture beyond written history. Every artistic movement throughout history has left its mark. From the exuberance of movement found in Late Baroque design, to the hard edge geometry of the De Stijl movement of the early 20th century, these waves of influence have been an evolution of or a reaction against the cultural ideals which preceded them.
I would like to thank all of the artists who participated in this collection of works inspired by architecture. Eric Baillies, Emily Belknap, Mark Bradley-Shoup, Rachel Bruya, Karl Borgeson, Mary Fischer, Rick Hintze, Richard Jones, Michael Kautzer, Ted Lott, Marissa Mackey, Ryan Myers, Andy Rubin, Allan Servoss, Trina May Smith, and Eric Thomas Wolever.
Ann Orlowski, Curator
I was immediately drawn to The Ephemeral Knot by the staggering craftsmanship, and attention to detail, but the subject matter is what holds you fast. Paul Nitsche’s work always pushes you with a somber confrontation. In this case, that there is no promise of life, or of moving unscathed from birth to adulthood. With the advent of modern medicine, most of my generation/region/social class isn’t acquainted with these facts. Families had almost four children on average in 1940, down to two and a half in 2002. In the United States child mortality fallen dramatically, cut by half just since 1980. In my 13 years of education in one school district, there was little mention of death. As with any similarly unique experience, this was the only one I knew. Even in moments where confrontation of death had become inevitable: the death of a friend’s parent, grandparent, or a student a year above me as the result of a rare illness, these subjects were discussed in hushed tones by us students amongst ourselves, with little to no direction from the adults, or authority figures. I think that sums up the handling in that environment pretty well. Rare, whispered, awkward, and tragic.
What Nitsche is doing with this piece is bringing this discussion to the forefront with honesty, respect, and beauty. It is symbology of frailty, disaster, and decay. The detail of his rendering leaves very little to the imagination in this respect. Here is what he has to say in that respect:
“Something akin to a Memento Mori, The Ephemeral Knot is a sculpture depicting the bridge between youth and death. The child's hand grasps a clavicle bone, the first bone to begin the process of ossification. The clavicle can be regarded as ancient in terms of the body, and here represents time's passing as well as the end of life. The red silk bow is tied around three extensor muscles: Extensor Digitorum, Extensor Digiti Minimi, and Extensor Carpi Ulnaris. These muscles, in general, function to extend the fingers and wrist. Their role here is to illustrate release, a letting go of life. The knot, or bow within this piece, represents life. The loosening of a knot could be seen as the unraveling of existence. Interestingly, the silk bow will be the first component of this piece to decay, as the rest of the materials are far more time stable. Lastly, the snail, with its coiled shell, is another reference to journey and purity.”
It’s hard to get more specific than that, but in this case I think it makes sense to treat the piece with extreme specificity. It’s far more important to have clarity when the stakes are this high. Even still, I don’t think anyone will consider his body of work in a mile of “safe.”
Watch as Kelli Hoppmann takes a piece from sketch to underpainting to gilded to finished piece.
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.
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.
Owner, Art Director
Abel Contemporary Gallery
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!
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
Carol Chase Bjerke’s new work is an excellent showing of what can be done in and out of constraints. It feels almost silly even saying that, as Carol’s work has, for as long as I have seen it, existed outside of the bounds of the photography I was familiar with. She’s built a long history of using unorthodox cameras, developing techniques, subject matter, and even developed a new medium in the realm of photography with her limnographs. With these three new pieces she upheld that desire to work beyond the medium, but did so within a surprisingly narrow frame of reference.
“Hara, A Line at the Foot of Mt. Fuji”, printed in 1964 by Shikō Munakata, serves as the direct inspiration for Bjerke’s piece. I would go further to call it a translation from the media of woodblock to limnograph. Looking at the two side by side it becomes clear that Carol’s technique has something to offer the composition.
I think the most interesting distinction between the two is the presence they each give off. Shikō’s mountain is imposing, dense, and one gets the feeling, too large to even fit in the frame he has given it. We’re seeing only a cropping of Mt. Fuji’s grandeur, and yet its power is unquestionable. Carol’s mountain is powerful to be sure, but there is a softness there. The streaking where the developing fluid breaks away reveals an aging, flawed, and resoundingly beautiful peak. Unlike Shikō’s piece there’s vulnerability accompanying intensity.
I have not seen Mt. Fuji in person, and as a man born and raised in the midwest I spend very little time with mountains. The closest analogue I have spent any real time with are the bluffs at Devil’s Lake in Wisconsin. As a kid we would go once a year to take in some scenery, swim in the lake, and climb the rocks to the top. The height of the bluffs always seemed staggering at around 500ft. From the bottom nearly impossible to take in the entirety of the scope of it. Mt. Fuji is 12,388. Always good to give yourself perspective.
Rick Hintze represents the qualities of functional ceramic that I absolutely adore. He combines the best traits of tradition, with the push for exploration in his work.
His influence from the Japanese masters is evident both in the form and glazing of his work. There is an amount of careful variation cutting through the standardization, the tradition of which can be related back hundreds of years to the first followers of the wabi-sabi, the movement of aesthetes that pushed for an acceptance, and appreciation for the imperfection and transience of existence. Hintze has found a way to let this imperfection and variation into his work in different, almost opposite ways in his different styles. On one side we have the explosion of ash and iron and slip. The slip cracks and crawls across the surface in a hundred different directions, and is accented by a soft undulation in the clay.
Servoss’ work hits close to home in a different way. The sprawling cornfields, lonely farm-houses, and towering trees dredge up memories of my beginning years in the Illinois countryside. In the middle of nowhere by all approximations, the only thing different about my memories and these scenes are the notable lack of hills. His paintings remind me of the tremendous beauty and mystery that can be found in the most innocuous of locations. Despite the unnerving qualities found in the work, on a whole I find them to be strangely comforting.
Looking at the two technically, I find many similarities in the handling of Allan’s colored pencil to Rick’s glazing techniques. There is so much hidden detail in the subtly shifting colors. The individual strokes and flicks of his mark making, just as with the cracking glaze, pull together into a cohesive surface. No clearer is this seen than in the bark and branches of Allan’s trees. Small splits of wood mirror the ceramic surface to an uncanny level.
Digging into these comparisons further I keep finding little pieces of each artist’s work connecting with each other. Little things, the right tone of blue-green glaze hitting the hue of the grass in Allan’s nocturn. The ash on porcelain pooling into a glassy ocean ice, not unlike Allan’s “World’s Edge.” The iron line-work on one of Hintze’s vessels meeting the horizon line of a corn field. Having walked through the show dozens of times now I can only describe it as magical.
The prints for the wonderful children’s book Wake Up, Island, written by Mary Casanova and illustrated by Nick Wroblewski have been on view in the Cooler throughout the last few months. Now that the show is coming to an end I realize it was past due for me to write about these wonderful prints. If you didn’t have a chance to see the show or are not familiar with this book it is a beautiful story about a small island in the Northwoods as dawn breaks and the landscape and wildlife greet the day. The book is filled with Nick’s amazing color reduction prints, each turn of the page reveals another familiar animal; moose, squirrels, deer, bees, bears, and birds of all kinds are greeting the day each in their own way.
Nick was kind enough to not only share the wonderful prints he has labored over for the past two years, but also some of the wood blocks used in creating the prints. As a printmaker myself I have always loved seeing the plates used to create a print. So much insight can be gleaned about an artist’s process from their tools. Nick’s blocks are meticulous, clean, uniform and orderly. His careful planning and preparation are evident. It is fascinating to compare the beautiful carving on these blocks to the marks on the reversed impression of the corresponding print. Each mark carved into the plate is like a painter's brush stroke, or the trace of the potter's hand on a wheel thrown vessel. The marks carry the artists visual vocabulary and are unmistakably his creation.
Nick has an exceptional ability to capture the landscape, distilling down the most essential parts and enhancing elements in just the right way. He has created a vernacular within his work that lends itself to depicting the landscape of this region. He knows just where to let the wood grain do the work of creating texture and where to carve away the surface to build space within a two dimensional plane. It is a testament to his ability to capture the essence of a place when I hear people talk about the show and insist the little island is the same little island they know and love from childhood, or how much the images remind them of the landscape right outside their cabin up north. Nick’s images combined with Mary Casanova’s prose have captured something timeless and created an imagined world that feels real beyond the pages of the book.
- Ann Orlowski
What I appreciate most about the work of Charles Munch is his commitment to the pattern. By pattern I mean both the literal graphic design, the fills and gradations that populate his paintings, as well as the long pattern of environmental subject matter. Each piece feels like a crystal clear window into an ideology. Munch has taken extreme care with what is allowed to remain in the work, and has stripped away all extraneous detail. What remains feels most reminiscent of an intersection of folk art, byzantine masterpiece and political cartoon. The narrative is portrayed front and center, but without any concern of feeling trite. In an age of irony it’s so refreshing to see an artist display himself as genuine.
His painting has changed a lot through the years, and I’m thoroughly impressed with the transformation. In the 70s he had begun to establish himself as a realist under Willard Midgette, laboring over detail, form and light. It’s fascinating to see the detail become this newfound attention to exclusion.
In his piece “Salvation” a man and a woman carry a deer on a stretcher away from the edge of a woods while a plane flies in the opposite direction. Munch does not let the graphic quality of his work simplify the way the characters are staged. The deer is contorted and exhausted, its head drooped back off the edge of the stretcher. Maybe it’s in all of the staging that I find the narrative. I can’t pin down the play we’re witnessing, but we can find enough hints for the major points. Nature has been inflicted a grave wound, and it’s our responsibility to mend it. Human-kind and its place in the natural world are the stories he’s most interested in telling, and he’s found a unique and compelling way to do so.
While putting the finishing touches on their shows, we took a moment and asked Diane Washa and Alex Mandli to reflect on their work. As they were taking part in a joint effort, we thought it would be interesting to ask the two of them the same five questions, even though they were working in drastically different media.
Q1: Why did you decide to work in your chosen media?
Diane: "I was drawn to oil painting while studying art at Milton College. My classmates and I periodically took road trips to the Chicago Art Institute where I was drawn to the color palette, brush strokes, composition and expressiveness of French Impressionist painters."
Alex: "As a child, I would spend time playing in open fields near my home, and I was fascinated by the way mud could be sticky, slimy, and plastic. After a few days of sunshine, the marks my bike tires and shoes made were hard enough to pick up. When I was ten years old, I made my first piece of pottery. As a student, I was always drawn to art class and the hands-on approach to the subject because it was so rewarding. After college, I exhibited drawings and paintings, but I always intended to have a studio to work with clay. In 1978, I built a studio and salt kiln with the intention of spending the rest of my life playing in the dirt.
I've always made things with my hands; I am a “Maker”. Most of the people in my family had jobs making things with their hands and I continue that family tradition. I spend my time creating things that didn't exist before I made them. The creative process is what gives me joy and satisfaction."
Q2: How has your work changed over time?
Diane: "I believe it was Renoir who said after painting for over fifty years he was still learning how to paint. I have only been painting for eleven years so I have a long way to go to master this art form. I am not exactly sure how my work has changed over time but I hope my audience sees that my technical style is becoming more refined and sophisticated. The aspects I’m focusing on currently include using different types of brush strokes, creating a richer, more sophisticated color palette, more skillfully addressing ‘edges’ and working bigger.
I’m also getting better at envisioning what I want the end product to look like and figuring out how to make that happen. And that’s best achieved by painting the same composition multiple times on different canvases instead of simply applying more paint to the same canvas."
Alex: "Since I began working in clay, my goal has been to make beautiful vessel forms and adorn those forms with surface decoration. Many times that decoration follows a theme or series. I have always taken a playful approach to my work which has led to change in the work I do.
To see how my work has changed over time, visit the early samples section of my site.
Q3: What's the most indispensable item in your studio?
Diane: "Viva toweling to remove paint from my canvases, hands, clothing, brushes, etc :-)
‘Listening’ to what my paintings are telling me to do next. Which means … I get a new perspective by turning my back to my canvas, walking away from it, turning around to see what I’ve done, and with a fresh set of eyes determine what I need to do next."
Alex: "My kilns are the most indispensable item in my studio; in fact, I have one in my studio and four at an off-site location."
Q4: Is there an artist who has strongly influenced your work?
Diane: "Limiting it to one artist is impossible … I’m inspired by so many artists past and present"
French impressionists – Monet, Renoir, Pissarro , Van Gogh, Cezanne, Degas
American impressionists – Edgar Payne, John Singer Sargent, John Frost, John Henry Twachtman, Percy Gray, John Carlson, Guy Rose, Hanson Puthuff.
Other American artists – Remington, Russell, Rothko, O’Keeffe, Nicolas De Stael, John Wilde, Jon Wilde, Jan Norsetter, Richard Schmidt, Scott Christianson, Clyde Aspevig, Terrence Coffman, Claire Basler, etc
Alex: "For years I’ve studied and enjoyed the pots of many ancient cultures. I am influenced by the ceramic artisans who are anonymous except for a finger print of the creator somewhere in the finished surface."
Q5: Can you tell us something noteworthy about your current work?
Diane: "My current work represents a culmination of over tens years of studying and painting Wisconsin’s watersheds nestled between the southern unit of Kettle Morraine over to the backwaters of the Mississippi River near the Trempeauleau Wildlife Refuge. I’m still having a blast capturing the beauty and uniqueness of Wisconsin’s landscapes in every season of the year including our frigid winters.
With the installation of Earth and Water at the Artisan Gallery, my sights now are set on creating a new body of work incorporating the technical goals I described above.
Alex: "My current work seeks to perfect the very essence of making ceramics by focusing on just clay, water, and fire. The saggar firing process relies on the skill and experience I have developed over forty years to create an environment of combustible materials that will use the fire as a painter uses a brush. Unlike raku or glazing, the coloring of a saggar-fired pot occurs from the moment the kiln is lit until the pot has completely cooled.
To accentuate this unique coloring, I use a vocabulary of forms built with a foundation from the traditions of ancient ceramics cultures and then honed with my intuitive understanding of form.
I believe that saggar firing approaches the very heart of ceramics as a medium—the fusion of clay, water, and fire. By eliminating everything that is not these three components, my work unites surface and form.
What surprises most people is that there is no glaze on my work."
Alex and Diane's show will be up through the end of the year, and the pairing is stunning in person. Directions to the gallery can be found here.
Last week my daughter Lucy and I visited the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art to see the Wisconsin Triennial. Every three years the Museum in downtown Madison chooses artists from around the state to showcase the depth and breadth of talent to be found throughout Wisconsin. I was excited to explore the many works from artists who were both familiar and unknown to me. There was a great variety of work. Michael Kautzer’s piece “The Blue Little Red Barn” was a favorite of Lucy's. But beyond this large interactive “playhouse” we saw a great variety of work including some compelling photographs of Suzanne Rose depicting industrial buildings presumably taken at dusk or dawn, the light fading in the background and the artificial light from the buildings ablaze. The quirky latch hook “paintings” of Christopher Rowley also caught my eye. These works play with a material often thought of as a hobby craft and more often sold in kits to direct the maker to create a predictable finished product, but the artist is creating his own playful pop art inspired compositions.
I was also excited to see the ceramic sculptures of Craig Clifford at the Triennial. It is nice to see artists you know and admire get recognition in the Wisconsin art scene at large. In addition to the show at MMOCA Clifford also has a wonderful show in the Cooler at Artisan. His collection of works from his “Wisconsin Bird Project” include carved wall sculptures of birds found throughout the state. Some of the works are sound sculptures with motion activated bird calls which resonate through the space.
Of all the wonderful works to be found in the Cooler I am most drawn to Clifford’s “Heads, Tails, and Nesting Series.” Each sculpture is comprised of dozens of slip cast forms of found objects, often bird figurines which can be found on the shelves of your local thrift store or your grandmother's curio cabinet. These cast forms combined with and other bits of ephemera create undulating textural compositions in clay, which is set off by ceramic frames covered in rich velvety black flocking. One composition comprises of birds all pushing their heads beak first out of the frame as if stuck together buy the sheer volume of this mixed up flock trying to push through a too small opening. You can almost imagine hundreds of other birds behind those shown waiting for their chance to push past the frame and into the open air. The reverse can be found in “Tails” which displays the tail feathers of these same birds as they push and struggle through the open frame seemingly flying back into the space behind the frame. The center panel is a jumble of familiar objects which could be found around the home, miniature teapots, doll parts, ceramic shards. These elements evoke ideas of the “nests” we make in our personal lives. Birds work hard to make nests that are unique within individual species, choosing particular materials and arranging those materials in specific ways to create individual spaces to raise their young. But the nesting Clifford is displaying is more reminiscent of the nests humans make when choosing items to decorate our home and create an environment that is individual to us through the items we choose to display. For me these three panels elicit feelings of my personal nest and the need to sometimes push out of its confines while at the same time knowing there is a familiar place to return to that is safe and familiar.
- Ann Orlowski
Assistant Art Director
Over the course of several weeks I had the pleasure of working with Karen Halt as she went through the process of putting together her first book. I got the chance to speak with her about her inspirations, her history, and what draws her to the animals that have found their way so concretely into her works.
After spending just a few moments at her home outside of Mukwonago the link between her world inside and outside of her paintings became clearer than ever. To put it simply, she is surrounded by nature and its beauty. She lives in what could be considered suburbia, but once you’re through the trees, and descend into the sanctuary, you would never know. Her garden is tucked in the kettles of Eastern Wisconsin, a land formation that dips down like a giant pot surrounded by trees. Halt surrounds herself with birds, statuary and flora; including a display of blooming lily pads on the pond, all of which frequent as subjects in her painting.
The representation of wildlife is nothing new to Karen. Early in her career as a painter she worked exclusively painting animals accurately and without distractions. She worked with animals as a strict reference, focusing on the details of feathers, fur, and color patterns. After working in the field for a number of years her work was picked up by a wildlife agent. He did an excellent job of marketing her work, and in no time her studio was empty. Painting after painting sold, and she began getting requests for birds with three white feathers for every one gray one. It quickly got to the point where painting lost its purpose. It was no longer for the sake of the animals, and certainly not for her own. She felt as though her work had become a product to be manufactured, and just like that the joy had dissipated.
For a time that was it; she didn’t paint. Throughout our conversations I had to constantly remind myself that Karen had an entire career before art. She worked for years as a nurse practitioner, then began exploring acrylics first as an outsider, then hobbyist, and eventually a professional. In that time, she had considered what it would be like to make a living painting but what she found left her disillusioned and heartbroken. As is sometimes the case, it took another artist to get her back to her work. A poet friend of hers asked if she’d like to do some paintings in tandem with her writing. She agreed, but had no expectations of what they would entail, and no idea of what this little project would lead to.
In combining painting with poetic metaphor she found the life she had sought out in her pursuit of wildlife all those years ago. Narrative and personality made their way into her restrained style, and suddenly blue jays weren’t just about the number of feathers in their crest. Halt took her ability to recreate with specificity and did so in foreign settings. Penguins in bathtubs, elephants emerging from the wallpaper, and owls at the dinner table became as natural as their worldly habitats. In these new conversations she uncovered the meaning she had been searching for, and it’s what drives her to this day.
I would love for Karen to have told you these things herself, and maybe one day she will. I shot our conversation on video, but unfortunately I lost the SD card in the process of moving to a new apartment. For those of you who had the chance to speak with Karen during the opening I’m sure you can attest to what a treat it is to hear what she has to say. While I hope that’s still a possibility I wanted to get this into writing while the memory is still fresh. Her show is up until October 30th, and I hope everyone reading this has the opportunity to see the work in person. The paintings are extraordinary, as is the book that accompanies the show. It’s a collection not only of recent work, but pieces going back years. Several paintings are paired with writings by Karen that highlight the narrative qualities of the pieces, and bring unexpected clarity. It is pleasure to read, and if you can’t make it to Paoli it’s available for purchase on our website (wink wink, nudge nudge).
William Lemke’s show, New Images of the Old World brings out what I feel are the best qualities photography has to offer. The piece I’d like to bring to the forefront is his, “Church Window and Pitcher” taken in a church in France. It’s a simple composition with the subject sitting front and center, beams drawing strong diagonals to the window, and the windowsill serving as an internal frame to the pitcher and panes. That simplicity does it no disservice however, and my god this is a beautiful picture. The light pulls you dramatically, but then the soft spiderwebs carry you delicately to the cracks in the wall, the crucifix, funnel, and tongs.
I absolutely love this photo for its ability to hold in time this fragile scene. Almost nothing we see looks as though it will endure nor outlast. The cobwebs will fall away, the pot teeters inches from rolling from its perch, and the plaster is already broken and cracked. In short, this captures a moment that none of us will ever see. It was already disappearing long before we saw the image, and by now we have no idea of its state. I think that’s what draws me so much to Europe as a whole. It’s a culture I’m familiar with but instead of the gloss of this era we see the dirt, wood, and rock western civilization was built from.
Not only that, but we get to appreciate what will happen to what we leave behind. Some of my favorite images I’ve ever seen are of the return of nature to human made structures. Typically those pictures show the advanced stages of reclamation, but Lemke shows us just the references of this decay. There is no exaggeration here; only soft, subtle beauty.
Sometimes a work of art just strikes a chord with you as a viewer. It hits all the notes that make your heart sing, and sticks with you like a tune gets stuck in your head. This is precisely what happened when I first saw the Flower Viewing Cabinets by Richard Jones. Back in June Theresa and I arranged some studio visits with a few artists on the Eastside of Madison. It is a particular treat for me to visit artists in their studios. I gain such insight into how other artists work through the creative process and transform an idea into a finished piece.
Visiting Richard Jones at Studio Paran is a perfect example of this creative process at work. Walking in through the main door you enter the Tokonoma Gallery Space. This space is filled with a collection of blown glass vases and bowls set along the left side of the space tucked between movable walls. Long sleek tables run down the middle of the space displaying a few ongoing projects, including some of Richard's Pedestals for Art of the Found World, which are hand blown glass structures meant to showcase the treasures of everyday life such as a stone picked up on the beach or a feather found on a walk through the woods. Next to the tables was a small unassuming model for a big project Richard has been thinking about, the Flower Viewing Pavilion, this movable structure resembles a Japanese tea house which can be moved to different locations and will house a single flower. The intent of this pavilion is to allow an intimate moment to reflect on this one flower. In Richard's words the project is a “testament to the abiding value of noticing small things.”
This same sentiment is evident in the Flower Viewing Cabinets which are on view at the Artisan Gallery as part of our Objects of Utility Show. These small wall hung cabinets embrace the Japanese aesthetic of Wabi-sabi, a concept that embraces simplicity, intimacy and impermanence. Inside each cabinet is a hand blown and carved glass vase in which a floral arrangement is set. The door of each cabinet is etched and carved with patterns which reveal and obscure different parts of the contents inside. It was my privilege to create the floral arrangements for these pieces for the opening reception of our exhibition. The elements Richard set forth in each of his cabinets guided my decisions for the flowers within. What elements do I want to conceal, which do I want to reveal? How will the shape and size of the vase affect the placement of each flower? What role will color play as it diffuses through the frosted glass surface? All of these elements need to be considered. This collaborative response between object, nature, and viewer added a wonderful depth of meaning to an already beautiful piece of art.
Assistant Art Director