outside press

Slowly, and by hand: Two artists at Abel Contemporary Gallery explore timeless concepts

From January 17th issue of Isthmus
By John McLaughlin


Technology in all of its wonderful and confusing forms has entered every facet of our lives, hovering over us as an invisible, ubiquitous presence.

But two artists at Paoli’s Abel Contemporary Gallery are harking back to a pre-digital world, exploring the idea of artists as craftspersons and working with their hands to create singular objects.

New Works, open until March 3, is an exhibit from potter and educator Joanne Kirkland and printmaker Nick Wroblewski.

Kirkland, a longtime ceramic artist and instructor of 13 years at Madison College, displays an array of functional pottery in the form of mugs, pitchers and other housewares. Many of her ceramic pieces are stark and geometric, repeating and replicating lines that eventually fan out or fold into themselves. The result is a quiet and almost mystical aesthetic.

“There’s a part of me that loves these simple geometric designs,” Kirkland says. “There are certain images that show up that were being done on clay work and cave paintings 8,000 year ago, on every continent.”


Other examples of Kirkland’s work maintain the same ageless simplicity while weaving in small amounts of personal narrative. On one piece, a flock of dark chickens is pecking in the foreground while foxes appear in the background. Kirkland once saw one of her backyard chickens carried away by a fox.

Wroblewski’s woodblock prints make an excellent pairing with Kirkland’s ceramics. A longtime printmaker, Wroblewski attended Bennington College in Vermont and has been honing his craft for 20 years. His pieces in New Works actually double as illustrations for a children’s book called Hush, Hush Forest, inspired by the Minnesota wilderness that Nick knows intimately. “That’s the original reason the publisher approached me, because they saw the relationship between what I was trying to capture, very local landscapes, and the author [Mary Casanova], who’s from northern Minnesota,” he says.

Wroblewski’s prints are relatively small, at 11 inches by 14 inches, but their size still allows the viewer to inhabit the rich Minnesota dreamland he has so carefully crafted.

One print contains a hunched-over black bear walking across a fallen birch trunk. The creature’s lush, textured fur dominates the frame and clashes with the smooth, almost empty surface of the night sky. In another, a stand of barren trees surrounds a tiny cabin in the distant forest, as their shadows are thrown like skeletons across the frame.

In a third, echoing Kirkland, a fox creeps down a snowy hill that’s beginning to show the first signs of spring. The trees are white, and the orange light of a sunrise bathes the scene. It could have taken place 100 years ago, or yesterday. According to Wroblewski, creating these pieces was time-consuming, but that’s something he hopes viewers can take away.

Wroblewski wants viewers to gain an understanding of the slow process he undertook to illustrate the book. “I hope it reminds people that there are slower, more hand-carved approaches,” he says.

In its penultimate show before moving to a new location in Stoughton, the gallery is debuting two other shows alongside New WorksNocturne features the work of nine different artists in a variety of mediums as they address the theme of night, both figuratively and literally. From cryptic ink prints of vessels in the inky blackness of space, to a subdued low light screen print of a forest caught in the gloaming, to strange pieces of sleek, darkly earth-colored ceramic work, Nocturne is a beautiful and quietly unsettling group effort.

Abel Contemporary Gallery has a tradition of featuring more experimental works in the gallery’s Cooler space. The former creamery building includes a strange, close-corners space previously used for cold storage, perfect for the single installation of a small solo show. Chelsea Thompto, a master of fine arts student at UW-Madison, utilizes the Cooler for her visually arresting commentary on transgender issues and politics, Productive Bodies. Thompto’s multimedia work features a video where jagged, punctured geometric shapes shift seamlessly between forms, often depicting violence to human bodies. Thompto is comparing trans bodies with the Mississippi River, attempting to connect how both types of bodies face violence.

Click here to view the original article on the Isthmus website

Charles Munch: Between the Lines at the Museum of Wisconsin Art

For almost forty years, Charles Munch has lived on 220 acres of pristine forest and grassland close to Lone Rock in Wisconsin’s Driftless region. Drawing inspiration from his untamed surroundings, Munch has established himself as one of the most insightful artists working today on environmental issues in Wisconsin. 


Between the Lines will feature thirty paintings from four decades that trace Munch’s evolution from pure landscapes to vividly imagined narratives that explore the often complex relationships between humans, animals, and their interactions with the natural world. It is, in fact, the presence—and interaction—of humans and animals that take center stage in his dramatic vignettes. Although sometimes serene and in harmony, often his forest actors are threatened or confrontational and the outcome is uncertain. The paintings are frequently deliberately ambiguous or open-ended as Munch acknowledges that there are opinions besides his own and that some of the issues he addresses will remain unresolved. He avoids moral dictums: “I want my works to stimulate conversation and to encourage a variety of viewpoints.” 

Munch’s paintings are deceptively simple. Since the early 1990s, he has shifted from a traditional realism to a linear, graphic style informed by comic books and commercial advertising. Bright colors, clearly defined lines, and bold, readable subjects are hallmarks of his current work. He eliminates unnecessary details and carefully composes each painting with the landscape as the principal backdrop for an unfolding narrative that often packs the visual punch of a graphic cartoon though with none of the inherent humor. 

Black Bear Falls.JPG

The exhibition will include seminal early works such as Blood Rain (1987), which deals with the effect of acid rain on the landscape, and Boundary Issues (2003), which crystallizes the relationship between man and nature, symbolizing the conflict that can arise when the lines between their domains become blurred. Hush (featured on the cover) acknowledges the common ground between humans and animals while also invoking the viewer to quiet attention. Munch’s largest and most recent work to date, Family Vigil (2018), finds the artist taking an extraordinarily optimistic and conciliatory approach to nature that suggests a Garden of Eden. Is this a vision of a lost past or a desired future? Viewers must decide for themselves

-from MOWA, link to the webpage

images courtesy of Abel Contemporary Gallery

Munch’s exhibition at MOWA has already generated some great press:


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?

Artist Don Kauss in the Kansas City Star

Artisan Gallery artist Don Kauss was recently featured in a Kansas City Star Article that interviews Oracle, Fine Curiosities shop owners about their means of decorating at home and collecting taxidermy, skeletal forms, pelts, framed insects, and more. Don Kauss creates sculptures assembled from old skulls, taxidermy animals and found objects. His pieces are both haunting and intriguing.

Photo by Joe Ledford at the Kansas City Star 

Photo by Joe Ledford at the Kansas City Star 

On View 3/15/15: Artisan Gallery in the WSJ

We are very happy to be featured in this Sunday's Wisconsin State Journal's On View. A big thanks to Jeanne Kolker for writing about us once more. We've had a busy Sunday here are the gallery, the warm weather has been fantastic, and we are looking forward to seeing you all this coming week.

Click photo to be taken to article

Click photo to be taken to article

The gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. This current show will run until April 12th. To see what's next head over to our upcoming exhibitions page.