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
Mary Hood – Staff Picks
I met Mary Hood in the early 90’s in Madison. She was in graduate school, and I was a recent graduate of the UW Art Department. I acquired a few prints of hers back then and even as my collection of art has grown, and new things replaced old, Mary’s pieces remained loved and relevant to me. Mary has an ability to create images that resonate with the viewer. Even as a student Mary had a unique voice and keen interest in materials and traditional and new techniques.
In Mary’s current show “Small Stories and other Adventures”, on display through July 17th , there is one piece that has stayed with me since the moment I saw it. “Displaced/Replaced” is a diptych. On the left is an image of a black bear suspended in the air and on the right side a coiled rope that is obviously meant to connect to the bear on the left. There is such a beauty to the composition and the way she has created the image of the bear. It is also at first glance a sad image. Why the rope? What is happening to this animal? Then you realize it is a harness, not a noose, as I first saw it. This bear has been tranquilized and hoisted to be moved to a safer location. Mary told me this image is based on a real event that stuck with her from the news where she lives in Arizona. This print brings up questions about our relationship to wild animals. Who is this move better for; the bear or us? We revere animals and sometimes to the point of romanticizing; but when they get too close to our habitat we change theirs. Mary is very interested in ideas of utopia, harmonious wilderness unspoiled by the impact of human civilization. In her words, “It is glorified as the spontaneous result of a life lived naturally, uncorrupted by civilization in pastoral simplicity. Yet, creation is by nature both harmony and conflict.” Is it our work to guide conflict to harmony?
“Displaced/Replaced” is as thoughtful as it beautiful. It is a work of art that reverberates with me on multiple levels. Spending time with this print in the gallery I approach it differently from day to day. Sometimes I simply appreciate the elegant composition, and the exquisite handing of the techniques; the way the bears fur appears so soft and inviting. I love how the rope leaves the top of the paper reappearing in the next frame beautifully rendered. Other days this print makes me think about the message in this piece. What is our moral responsibility when it comes to treatment of other animals we share space with? From a young age I may have overly identified with the suffering of animals and assumed them sentient beings (correctly or not). Bears are the dominate image in the works included in this current show. Mary told me in a conversation that some of the bears are stand ins for humans. She feels that the over saturation of images of human suffering in the media has desensitized us. The bears are images that fill us with compassion and these particular pieces will stay with you long after seeing them. They remind me that we all share this planet and deserve compassionate contemplation.
- Theresa Abel
Ryan Myers has shown with the Artisan Gallery for over a decade and his work continues to evolve and grow in new and exciting ways. His current show False Idols, now on view in our Cooler space, is no exception. Myers’ Pre-Columbian influences are brought to the fore front in his newest body of work. These pieces reinterpret motifs from ancient cultures, adopting form and assumed function.
The show feels like a collection of antiquities cataloged and placed caringly on display, but upon closer inspection it is evident the work is not a culmination of different cultures but carefully crafted work created by one artist in deferential reference to these ancient civilizations. Drawing influence from the diversity of ancient South American cultures allows Myers to play with a multitude of forms and imagery. Certain classic shapes are repeated throughout the collection including stirrup handles vessels, totemic deity figures, and anthropomorphic figures. The image of the feathered serpent Quetzalcoatl makes several appearances throughout the work, his twisting form wrapping its way across the decorated surfaces of vessels. Portrait jars are another design that is featured prominently in the show. Historically these jars were assumed to represent individuals of high status within the culture and were often found in burial sites. Myers has created several of these forms illustrating his distinct depiction of the human figure.
Paralleling the form of these portrait jars are several stirrup handled jars depicting skeletal figures. One in particular Inca Stirrup Spout Vessel with Gold Ear Spools depicts a figure cloaked in black, the classic stirrup handle sits prominently atop the form and large gold luster ear spools project from the form denoting the high status of this individual. The skull is a motif found within ancient Pre Columbian art but is also prevalent within contemporary works of the same region. The symbol is ripe with meaning, most commonly thought of as a symbol of death and mortality, it can also stand as a reminder of the wonder of life, or a foreshadowing of imminent change. I find the ambiguity of this symbolism a wonderful parallel to the symbolism of the work in this show as a whole. The pieces reference ancient works but the meanings of these symbols are assumed from the limited knowledge we can construe from the artifacts these preliterate cultures left behind. Like these cultural artifacts Myers has layers of implied meaning within his contemporary “artifacts”. Many of the pieces have the feeling that they are made for ritualistic purposes, but that ritual is not something that is practiced in our society as a whole. Its ritualistic function is left open to the individual who chooses to invite one of these objects into their personal ritual.
Assistant Art Director
A few weekends back, June 11th and 12th, I had the chance to participate in a workshop with two of the artists we show here at Artisan, Tom Jaszczak and Maggie Finlayson. Their work is some of my favorite in the world, and their complex handling of surface was one that I had always been fascinated by.
Both Tom and Maggie work not only in the ceramic tradition, but are also pulling heavily from the works of painters from the 30s-50s. While Jaszczak specifically references the works of Mondrian (going to far as to quote him on his website), Finlayson’s influences are not so easily derived. I personally draw connections between her work and that of Rothko, but that response is one of feeling and color, and not a wholly complete one. These are artists that I’ve always had a connection to, and they’ve proved there’s something to be said for creating a connection between the functional piece and the abstract surfacing.
The drive up from Madison was lovely, save for the hour of zero visibility rainstorms, and an uneventful traffic stop for a faulty headlight. We made a detour to Menomonie to drop off a friend, and then made our way to Minneapolis proper. The actual location of the workshop was about 40 minutes South of the city at the home and studio of Donovan Palmquist and Colleen Riley. The two of them could not have been better hosts, and just being able to see their collection would have been worth the trip. Hundreds of pots filled every inch of shelving, including some of my favorites potters, and a few of the artists here at the gallery: Nick DeVries, Ryan Myers, Zac Spates, and Tom Jaszczak. Although I didn’t see any of Maggie’s work which is just silly, and I hope Donovan and Colleen picked up a piece.
Our day started with watching Tom throw and then square/pentagon off some of his classic five-sided pitchers, mugs, and three sided bowls. While doing so he and Maggie ran an informal Q/A of what their lives as full time artists were like, the differences between Penland and Archie Bray, and the classic piece of mind questions that aspiring artists ask of professionals (yes they still get to eat three meals most days, etc). Having seen many, many potters proficient at the wheel, and even beginning to approach something resembling efficiency myself I’m still amazed by what people can do with that tool, and he was no exception. After watching that performance we took a brief coffee break, wherein I was able to talk with the two of them about their recent time working abroad, and their path that led to ceramics.
I’ve always been fascinated by what brings people into this field, and what drives them to make the work that they do. Growing up in Canada, Maggie didn’t have many opportunities in clay until she came to the University of Minneapolis. Tom’s interest in clay was slightly more ingrained in his Minnesota roots. He speaks fondly of the crisp, but clearly hand-hewn aesthetic of Mark Pharis, as well as other potters working in a similar fashion. The history of Minnesota potters is a deep one, and these two have carved out a space for themselves in its canon.
The Wisconsin State Journal had some kind things to say about our current set of shows!
In Debbie Kupinsky’s sculpture “Predation” we are invited into a staged confrontation. The predator and the prey have come to a head, and have nothing left but to stare into each other’s eyes as the tension builds. Both figures have been anthropomorphized, and in doing so Kupinsky has drawn us into the scene in terms we can easily understand. Animals as lens for the examination of human behavior is a motif as old as time, and this is an interesting recontextualization of that narrative.
In discussing the piece itself I’m drawn to the range of textural difference across the piece. The heads are matte bare clay, transitioning into the slightly glossy body. The fur is cut into the clay surface, creating visual and textural interest across the head. I’ve always been intrigued by the interplay between complex and simple surface, and this is no exception. The dark crevices of the broken cast pieces pull you in further, and you can’t help but attempt to discern what these fragments once were.
There are many ways to read into this interaction. For example, this piece may be looking into the relationship of the literal predator and its prey. In this interpretation the anthropomorphic qualities serve mostly as a medium for translation. The opposite is true if one looks at the animal roles for metaphors to explain the behavior of humans. In the case of this sculpture I think both are supported by aspects of the piece, but I personally appreciate the former, as the latter gets into territory associated with sociopaths. I particularly appreciate the handling of each of the characters through this lens. The wolf, usually resigned to play the role of the villain, is depicted as sympathetic. There is no malice in its eyes, just as there is no fear in the eyes of the stag. The two seem to understand their situation, whatever that specific situation may be.
What we’re sure about is that there is a story being told here, and in this ambiguity we find room to imbue these figures with our own narrative. The context provided gives those narratives poignancy, and anchors them in something we can explore and interact with. That is the value of sculpture. It invites us into this dialogue, and without the explicit direction of the artist we’re left to fill in the gaps with our own story.
Showing with us for the first time during the Functional Ceramics show Manoa, Hawaii based artist Pete Scherzer shares his impeccably wheel thrown vessels. I first came across Scherzer’s work on a recent trip to the twin cities. Always on the look out for new ceramics I made a stop at Northern Clay Center. If you are a ceramics lover and find yourself in St. Paul, Minnesota this place is a must see. They have a huge variety of work on display, but my attention was immediately drawn to Pete’s work. He uses a deep red clay body, throwing beautifully thin forms with wonderful little unexpected details such as an extra little flair at the base of a perfectly pulled handle, or a subtle undercut on the foot of a bowl. Then there are the glazes, Pete uses thick opaque brightly colored finishes that break over the edges of the form allowing the red clay to show through. The work stuck with me, so when Theresa and I sat down to plan our functional ceramics show and we thought about who we should invite, he seemed like the perfect artist to include. Pete sent us so many beautiful pieces for this exhibit. There were mugs with thick pink glazes, and bowls with creamy finishes set off by flashes of blue, green, and rusty orange. Then there was the little yellow jar. This perfectly round vessel glazed in his trademark yellow is like a little sunny globe. A perfectly fitted lid sits atop this little round body, and the inside of the lid is glazed with the same bright yellow finish. This little added detail displays Pete’s attention to every aspect of the piece from the throwing, to the trimming, to the glaze. The piece looks simple and effortless, but upon closer inspection it is evident it was created by a very skilled hand.
Assistant Art Director
The ever-changing scope of contemporary art is one that has always interested me. The landscape is always linear, but fractured. Paths branch off at different junctures, but also find ways to rejoin, often in unexpected ways. When I look at Libby Rosa's painting, Interior Space, I see not just the piece, but the layers of influence that developed in the world of portraiture before her. Also important to consider is how this generation of artists will influence work to come.
For a few thousand years, give or take, portraiture was centered around the nobility. They were first and foremost symbols of power and influence. This originates from the period immediately prior wherein if there was a figure in a work of art they better damn well be of religious significance. The wealthy of the 16th century realized that their money was excellent at convincing artists to paint them in addition, and often in tandem with those same religious figures.
In the time of the Italian Renaissance, artists had begun to realize that the common person could be an interesting, important subject. However, it was only done anonymously, often with political intent, and almost always funded by those same wealthy benefactors. The trend of politicized characters continued into the 19th century neo-socialist movement, but also branched into humanist portraits, as well as the popularization of the self-portrait.
Contemporary portraiture finds itself in a place of continued development of these ideas. Concepts of what makes a person, and how internal and external factors can be displayed in unorthodox ways. The location has always served as allegory to varying degrees, but in Rosa's work the human reference is all but anonymous without the context provided by their environment. Fragments of furniture entwine with limbs, outlines and color blocks mix into an ethereal composition. The mask-like face seems almost a stand-in for the human, and the features exist in a transitory state.
There is a removal to the piece, and the framing curtains set the viewer back as an on-looker into this scene. A firmly constructed lattice sits front and center overlapping the figure, and a filter of spray paint patterns obfuscates our view. l In this way it feels like a transfigured snap-shot of the short film by Aaron Granat that accompanies it. We are peering in, attempting to draw meaningful conclusions about who this person is from a very limited set of information. That limited set has been further abstracted, pushing the limits of our ability to interpret. Interestingly enough, that's the sort of thing we've been looking to do since the 1500s.
We attempt to connect, and pull forth any sense of personhood, of status, gender, race from whatever we are given. In that sense the piece presents itself as a challenge.
What exactly can you get from it.
What I admire in contemporary landscape painting is when an artist can find a unique voice within that history, telling us something about the world and their singular perspective. John Ribble has been able to do that, sharing his particular view of the Wisconsin countryside. Let’s not underestimate how difficult that is. The history of landscape painting is as long as it is diverse. Every style, media and location and has been explored. But after spending time with Ribble’s work you will recognize another piece of his clearly when you see it, and bring that vision back with you to the outdoors. On a day with intense greens and blues and big clouds billowing by you will say to yourself, it’s like a Ribble painting out here.
One of my favorite pieces from the current show, “A Good Drive Spoiled”, is “Solitude”. It is one of the larger works in a show full of pieces that give us a sense of vastness, even within the confines a rectangle on a gallery wall. I could argue that even John’s smaller pieces seem large. There is a sense of movement and energy that let us know this is not just capturing a specific place, but also a specific day, hour and temperature. What sets “Solitude” apart is that although large in size it is more subdued and quiet. There is a magical quality that draws the viewer down off of the road into the valley. John has created a place his own, but I also feel it’s a place I have been, a place I want to return to. The leafless trees in the foreground are animated and seem to invite the viewer in like friendly relatives of the trees from The Wizard of Oz. The sky is alive with movement contrasting the smooth mossy greens of the grass which make a perfectly secluded place for the lone cow to find rest. It’s the sort of place we pass on a weekend drive in the country but rarely take the time to stop and linger. In this current show John helps us do that. It’s a good thing for us he has spoiled a perfectly good drive over and over again.
Our current group exhibition Contemporary Printmaking shows the vastness of techniques found within the media of fine art printmaking. The show represents many traditions within the media of printmaking: etching, serigraphy, lithography and woodcut. Printmaking is a media steeped in tradition; however this exhibit shows how these traditions can be utilized to create works relevant to our modern aesthetic.
I am particularly excited about the work of John S. Miller who is showing with us for the first time. In his diptych “Down River from Ferry Bluff” and “Up River from Ferry Bluff” he is working with the most contemporary of printmaking techniques, digital printmaking. These prints incorporate image making reminiscent of more traditional print medias, the line quality of woodcut, the crisp flatness of screen printing, and the color gradation achieved from a blend roll or split fountain, but with the great advantage of tying all these styles together into one image. His use of bold line work together subtle patterns and bright color shifts is seemly simple, but it takes a keen eye to distill such a dramatic landscape down to its essential elements in such a sophisticated manner. All of these elements converge to create a stunning set of prints that capture the Wisconsin landscape. I have hiked the path leading to Ferry Bluff and can attest to Miller’s ability to capture the feeling of standing high above the Wisconsin River looking out on that dramatic vista.
Miller has created a vernacular within his work which transcends media. His screen prints, digital work, and paintings all share an affinity which is uniquely his. Too often digital printmaking is underestimated because of its commercial applications, but it seems to be the role of printmaking to adopt the most current technologies and elevate them into the realm of fine art. At one time screen printing and lithography were considered new media and were lambasted in the art world for their commercial application. Over time these methods have developed a tradition of their own and have been accepted as part of the canon of printmaking. Miller’s work is a true example of how digital media is creating a tradition in and of itself.