Summer art orgy

Romano Johnson and Skully Gustafson

tina turner

Opening Reception: Friday, July 18, 2014, 6 to 9 p.m.

Gallery Night: July 25, 6 to 9 p.m.

Romano Johnson, Silver Art Bible and Skully Gustafson, The Juice, will open with a reception from 6 to 9 p.m. on Friday, July 18 at Portrait Society Gallery. The shows run through September 13.

Portrait Society is located in Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward at 207 E. Buffalo Street, FIFTH Floor, Marshall Building. It is one of the city’s most progressive contemporary art spaces.

Both Romano Johnson and Skully Gustafson bring performative qualities to their paintings and their lives. The artists expand

Romano Johnson, 48 x 60 in., (purple angel)the boundaries of their practices by turning themselves into works of art. By painting his clothes and shaving patterns into his hair, Romano Johnson visually blends with his glitter-induced paintings of super stars, motorcycles and imagined places. Skully, in collaboration with his partner Erik Moore, dresses (and undresses) in layered collages of fabric, fishnet and silk, often using studio installations as sets for performances and photo shoots.

romano johnson, hair design

Romano Johnson, hair design.

Romano Johnson will show a suite of new large-scale paintings of Michael Jackson, Tina Turner and Prince, as well as several drawings. Portrait Society first introduced his work in a group show last summer. Johnson, 35, moved from Chicago to Madison at aged 12, which is when he started making art. “Mano,” as friends call him, works out of the non-profit studio in Madison called Artworking, Inc. 

Johnson says of his work, “I want people to see happiness and joy for all families when they look at my work. When I draw a face, I want the viewer to feel a happiness that makes them want to clap their hands for all the faces in the world.”

get-attachment-4Skully Gustafson’s exhibition, The Juice, will transform the white box of the gallery into a Pee Wee Herman meets Jean-Michel Basquiat meets My Little Pony fantasy land of art-making. Paintings, collages, objects, ‘blobs,’ costumes, videos and, most likely, a live performance or two will mark Skully’s summer occupancy at Portrait Society.

Gustafson says of this project: “The Juice installation is a room that is a full blown art orgy.  The entire space is important and treated equal to the creatures within it, as well as the vessel that channels the information from the source, myself.  I see myself in relation to The Juice land as an anthropomorphic entity.  I am the physical maker skully Gustafson get-attachment-1and model of it and am integrated into it as a mythical creature. Archeologist within the archeology.  I am studying this foreign land and unveiling artifacts within.  It’s a psychic and organic process of digging into the grime of creation and pulling out evidence.”


Erik Moore, from Half Human, 2014.

Gustafson’s partner and collaborator, the photographer Erik Moore, will concurrently show portraits of Skully in these created environments as well as a body of black and white images, “Half Human,” in The Lounge.

For additional information, please call Gallery Director Debra

Brehmer at 414 870-9930, or email

The gallery is open Thursday through Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. and by appointment.



Keith Nelson: Arrangements

Keith Nelson, floor pieceArrangements: Keith Nelson

Guest Composers: Peter Barrickman, Paul Druecke (Chuck Stebelton), Shelleen Greene (Nirmal Raja), Greg Klassen, Bruce Knackert , Michael Mikulay, Jen Price, Graeme Reid, Marla Sanvick, Amanda Tollefson, Shane Walsh (Sean Heiser, Sean Weber)

Rural Utopia: Watercolors from Blotchy Blobs Blog by J. Shimon

Fop and Hounds, Thursday May 29, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Hosted by UWM Theatre Department’s Rebecca Holderness and her dog Asher. Discussion of Keith Nelson’s Arrangements exhibition. Free. Contributions appreciated.

Opening Gallery Night, April 25, 2014. Reception 5 to 9 p.m.

Running through July 5, 2014.

Gallery hours/location: Thursday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. and by appointment (414) 870-9930. 207 E. Buffalo Street, Marshall Building, Historic Third Ward, FIFTH Floor.

Press: Mary Louise Schumacher, Journal/Sentinel, Kat Murrell, Third Coast Daily, Shepherd Express video review

Web 1Portrait Society is pleased to present an exhibition of object-based collages by Milwaukee artist Keith Nelson. Arrangements features various iterations of Nelson’s long-term investigation of found materials and their relationships once assembled as compositions.

With a preference for surface pattern and texture as well as minimalist shapes, Nelson gathers wood planks, tiles, toilet tank tops, metal plates and panels of linoleum from which he orchestrates linear, layered compositions. Like the Italian artist Morandi, who was fascinated with the tonal rhythms of staged vases and jars in his paintings, Nelson works with a formal vocabulary of shape, color and pattern as he builds works that are equally painterly and sculptural.

Keith Nelson, shelf, pinkHe arranges these objects on shelves and also on walls as diptychs. Most recently, he has been making freestanding forms. Nelson refers to his work as “object-based collages.”

This idea of the shelf as a stage or “platform” is being generously expanded in a related exhibition called Guest Composers. Nelson invited eleven individuals (artists, curators, a historian, art preparators and an academic) to participate in his exhibition by curating a shelf. The participants were invited to show their own work or select someone else to occupy their shelf, thus passing the baton of authority over his/her own exhibition and opening it to potential widespread and unedited involvement. While Nelson’s work is succinct, controlled and poised, the Guest Composers will undoubtedly use their curatorial stages in digressive manners.


Chuck Stebelton, via Paul Druecke, five years of receipts from Woodland Pattern Bookstore.

Participants include: Peter Barrickman, Paul Druecke (Chuck Stebelton), Shelleen Greene (Nirmal Raja), Greg Klassen, Bruce Knackert, Michael Mikulay, Jen Price, Graeme Reid, Marla Sanvick, Amanda Tollefson, Shane Walsh (Sean Heiser, Sean Weber).

The arranging of things in our lives — be it shoes, book shelves, coffee tables, desk tops, pillows or platters of food — is a constant. Even something as minute as the placement of the soap dish, or the means by which one folds and stores dishtowels, becomes a curatorial act of selection, placement and ordering. Rather than what is on the shelves, this show heightens thinking around how it got there and what that means.

Truth and Beauty in the Ravine 2012In the third gallery, J. Shimon’s beloved watercolor series Rural Utopia from his Blotchy Blob Blog will collectively tell tales of art making, gardening and existing in the Midwestern landscape. A selection of nearly 100 watercolors will be displayed amid homemade planters crafted from acoustic guitar bodies and filled with herb seedlings. It’s spring, after all. Only in these intimate paintings does contemporary art discourse meet gardening implements. Nude figures, representing an idyllic Eden-like fantasy world loosely based on observation, go about making sculptures and music, deconstructing Wisconsin tourist sites, and growing vegetables as commentary on capitalism and contemporary art, in a sweetly humble honoring of the ordinary.

A machine that makes clouds you can touch

J. Shimon, A machine that makes clouds you can touch, 2014, watercolor.

This body of work was recently included in the exhibition “J. Shimon & J. Lindemann: We Go From Where We Know” at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and has enjoyed a large following on the

For additional information about these exhibitions, please contact Debra Brehmer at or call 414 870-9930.  




23 Pineapples

001_23 Pineapples_Emma HartvigOpening Reception: Friday, April 4th, 6-9pm, Project Space

Exhibition runs through April 15th, 2014

Gallery Hours: Thursday-Saturday, 12-5 pm or by appointment

Portrait Society Gallery is pleased to present the work of 23 photographers in a charitable exhibition, 23 Pineapples, curated by recent Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design graduate, Grant Gill. The exhibition celebrates the tropical plant in all of its prospects by exploring concepts of color, design, humor and play within in the confines of contemporary photography.

An opening reception will be held April 4th, from 6-9 pm at Portrait Society Gallery (207 East Buffalo Street, Marshall Building, FIFTH Floor). On display will be the work of: Corey Bartle-Sanderson, Tara Bogart, Sara Clarken, Brock Davis, Clemens Fantur, Maxime Guyon, Emma Hartvig, Jon Horvath, Theron Humphrey, Georgia Lloyd, Katya Mamadjanian, Rene Mesman, Kevin J. Miyazaki, Alex de Mora, Alberto Moreu, Klaus Pichler, Naruemon Puriso, Saige Rowe, Kyle Seis, Michelle Sharp, Alexandra Smith, Marta Veludo, and Missy Ziebart.

002_23 Pineapples_Missy ZiebartWhile observing the king of all fruits, we are also inviting the community to extend a helping hand in supporting Milwaukee’s Hunger Task Force. The Hunger Task Force’s mission “believes that every person has a right to adequate food obtained with dignity. Hunger Task Force works to prevent hunger and malnutrition by providing food to people in need today and by promoting social policies to achieve a hunger free community tomorrow.” Because of all the good they do for our community, and in the light of a food themed exhibition, proceeds made from the work on display will be donated to the organization.

The Hunger Task Force – Milwaukee: Locally founded, locally funded and locally run, for nearly 40 years we have been feeding Milwaukee. We’ve been a voice for the hungry, promoting socially sound policies that could end hunger in our community. We were founded in 1974 by a group of concerned parents worried about children going to school hungry. Then, in 1977, we responded to community need by opening a food bank to distribute free food to local charities that feed the hungry.



Ceramic exhibition opens March 20

thomas muller, psgf(c)
Opening reception: Thursday, March 20, 6 to 9 p.m.

As part of the National Council on Education in the Ceramic Arts 48th annual conference (NCECA), which will bring 5,000 visitors to Milwaukee in March, Portrait Society Gallery will host a related exhibition.

 f(c), an exhibition curated by Madison’s Ariel Brice, will present the work of Thomas Müller, Krijn Christiaansen & Cathelijne Montens of KCCM, and Stephanie Davidson & Georg Rafailides of Touchy-Feely, from March 19th through April 12,2014.

 danish groupAriel Brice is an artist and lecturer in Ceramics at University of Wisconsin-Madison. The exhibition will feature designers, artists, and architects whose works play with tense structures, anticipation, and the performance of objects. “f” get-attachment-5refers to function not in the sense customarily associated with ceramics, but instead in the mathematical sense: a finite yet unknown number of output possibilities based on the value to which it defers in the parentheses that follow.  “c” refers to the specific material conditions of clay and ceramic.

 get-attachment-3KCCM was founded by Krijn Christiaansen (1978) and Cathelijne Montens (1978). The work of these two young Dutch designers explores the ways public spaces and landscapes are made, used, lived in, transformed and shaped by people.  Their research and design interventions emanate from their home and studio in Noordwijkerhout, the Netherlands to global locations such as Serbia, Romania, Indonesia, Hungary, Japan, and most recently, to the Portrait Society Gallery in the USA. They teach design at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam and at the Royal Academy of Art, The Hague.

get-attachment-7Founded by Architects Stephanie Davidson and Georg Rafailidis in 2006 Touchy-Feely is a platform for haptic design in architecture and is a specialized branch of their architecture practice DAVIDSON RAFAILIDIS.  Based in Buffalo, NY where they live and teach Architecture at SUNY Buffalo, they develop close relationships with material manufacturers and production facilities in Europe and America, to develop architectural applications for new projects and material innovations.  Using an experimental approach to materials and an interest in incidental design, T -FEELY aims to provoke curiosity in, and more physical interaction with, the built environment.

 orangeThomas Müller is an artist living and working in Los Angeles, California.  He was born in Cape Town, South Africa and spent his childhood growing up in Africa, the United States and Europe.  Growing up in such disparate locales and cultures has inevitably influenced his work, in particular as it relates to language, time, memory and space.

tomatoHe maintains an active studio practice and shows artwork locally, nationally and internationally.  He has lectured and been a visiting artist at universities and art institutions around the country and is currently teaching at Loyola Marymount University.  He uses time as a sculptural element to create a sense of tension and places the work perennially in the present tense.  He explores ideas of the ephemeral, the nature of language and the nature of objecthood. All of the participants in this exhibition have participated in artist residencies at sundaymorning@ekwc located in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands.  Formerly titled the European Ceramic Workcentre, sundaymorning@ekwc is an internationally renowned ceramic work centre where visual artists, designers, architects and other creative professionals can explore the artistic possibilities of ceramics.

 This exhibition is included in the roster of Concurrent Independent Exhibitions taking place during the 48th annual 2014 NCECA conference Material World that runs March 19th to 22nd.   A public reception will be held at the gallery on Thursday March 20th from 7 – 11 PM.

Portrait Society will also present a new iteration of its Country Store project, dedicated to regionally made ceramic miniatures.

This program is supported as part of the Dutch Culture USA program by the Consulate General of the Netherlands in New York.

442-11Certificates of Presence: Vivian Maier, Livija Patikne, J. Lindemann
January 17 – March 8, 2014
Also: Winter Chapel by Ashley Morgan
Hours: Thursday through Saturday noon to 5 p.m. and by appointment.
Location: Historic Third Ward, FIFTH floor, Marshall Building, 207 E. Buffalo.
Review: Mary Louise Schumacher, Journal Sentinel
SPECIAL EVENT: Vivian Maier reception with archive owner Jeffrey Goldstein and collection manager Anne Zakaras, followed by screening of the documentary, “The Vivian Maier Mystery,” and a discussion with one of its producers, Jeff Kurz. 6 p.m. Thursday, February 20. Tickets available here.


Portrait Society Gallery is pleased to present the work of three photographers who have each, in their own way, used the camera to define and defy a sense of social isolation. Vivian Maier was a street photographer in Chicago. Livija Patikne lived in Milwaukee and created a small body of floral still lives and self-portraits.  J. Lindemann, is an accomplished Wisconsin based photographer who is known for her collaborative work with J. Shimon.

This exhibition presents internationally known photographer Vivian Maier for the first time in Wisconsin. Focusing on the camera as a tool of agency and self-validation, each of these photographers used the camera as means of exploring their worlds, as well as solidifying and defining their place in it. The camera provided a strong definition of existence  (a “certificate of presence,” to quote Roland Barthes) in contrast to each artist’s unique condition of isolation and disenfranchisement.

Vivian maier 4Vivian Maier (1926-2009) was born in New York, grew up in France and later worked as a nanny in Chicago for many years. In her leisure time, she would privately and secretly take photographs, wandering the city in search of interesting material. In the five decades of her practice, she produced over 100,000 pictures.

In 2007, when she could no longer afford to pay rent on the storage lockers where she housed her belongings, the materials were auctioned. Two separate buyers, John Maloof and Jeffrey Goldstein, became the primary owners of her rolls of film, prints, audio recordings and films. Both have indexed, archived, researched and guided the presentation of her work.

763-12Vivian Maier’s work has since been shown internationally. Books, exhibitions catalogs and two documentary films have been produced. Her acclaim is due to the richness of her story, but, more importantly, to the quality of the work. Maier, as a street photographer, ranks with her colleagues: Lisette Model, Helen Levitt, Harry Callahan, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Garry Winogrand, Robert Frank, Berenice Abbott. Not only was Maier adept and sensitive to human interaction in the world, but she was a great formalist; throughout her many years of practice, Maier learned to orchestrate complex structural and often sculptural compositions.

In contrast to Maier’s large body of work, Livija Patikne’s 300 Kodachrome slides comprise a modest legacy.

livija black curtainPatikne (1911-2001) was originally from Latvia but had lived in Milwaukee for much of her adult life. When she became elderly and had to leave her apartment to enter a nursing home, the apartment caretaker closed out her residence and gave local photographer Jim Brozek boxes of her slides. Brozek kept the slides tucked away in his closet for 15 years.

Livija Patikne, single bloom During the 1950s and ‘60s, Livija would create simple flower arrangements and dedicatedly stage them within the confines of her home. She also photographed the flowers that she would leave on the grave of her husband who had died in 1959 and took a series of self-portraits in floral patterned dresses she had sewn. Portrait Society introduced this work in the exhibition More than Real: The Death of Kodachrome and later presented an expanded project at the James Watrous Gallery in Madison, July 6 through August 19, 2012, with an accompanying essay by Debra Brehmer (Portrait Society Director) published by the Wisconsin Academy Review.

Like Vivian Maier, as she aged Livija lost most of her social and family ties. But, at some point, she had used the camera to define, honor, represent and reflect what she loved. The camera, as an active tool of selection, implicitly records both image and the photographer’s subjective point of view. Like Vivian Maier, Livija had little social status or sense of belonging. Yet both women insisted through their persistent work that their view of the world held beauty and value.  With autonomous authority, they quietly made themselves visible through the definition of their images. (Catalog available: $40)

neighbors, 2013J. Lindemann (1957-), in this recent body of iPhone pictures, was also working in isolation, but her conditions were different. Diagnosed with advanced stage cancer in November 2012, Lindemann underwent chemo and radiation treatments last winter. She could not leave the house due to her compromised immune system and sensitivity to cold. “The Life of a Shut-In” is a series of informal pictures edited from thousands that helped her explore the new contours of her altered life.  The iPhone camera became a means to engage with the very sensitized and quiet existence imposed by her physical state. Stepping out of the noise and rush of the world, a different kind of seeing set in.  She chose to elevate the everyday by capturing these moments and then posting them on Instagram. As a professional artist whose 30-year practice with her partner, J. Shimon, is grounded in historic cameras and hand-wrought printing methods, Lindemann’s use of populist tools, the iPhone and social media sharing systems, provided a counterpoint to her isolation and yet did not alter the intimacy and privacy of the images and her ongoing examination of the overlooked and the obscure. (Book available, $25)

J. Lindemann, lime jelloEach project’s installation in the gallery will also reflect some of the unique conditions of these bodies of work.  Vivian Maier’s photographs will be shown conventionally, in rows of framed and matted 12 x 12 inch silver gelatin prints. The 24 images selected from the Jeffrey Goldstein collection emphasize how strong a force the curatorial/gallery/archivist’s selection process becomes in shaping the identity and legacy of the artist.

Livija Patikne’s work will be presented as a digitally projected slide show as well as in a portfolio of  editioned images, with additional prints on the wall. Having originated as Kodachrome slides, the projected sequence of images suggests the temporal nature of the work. Lindemann’s photographs will stream on three small picture monitors, allowing the seasons and passing light of each day to repeatedly fade in and out of one another. A small book prepared by J. Lindemann will be available for purchase as well as individual prints.

For additional information or images, please contact Debra Brehmer at Portrait Society Gallery, 414-870-9930,

Or so it would seem: Contingency and the Contemporary Portrait

Maja Ruznic, Child With Disease II
Work by Andy Lane, Makeal Flammini, Ney Tait Fraser, Maja Ruznic, Carri Skoczek 
November 22, 2013 through January 11, 2014

Opening Reception: Friday, 6 to 9 p.m. November 22 (Andy Lane will be present to talk about his work, along with Ney Tate Fraser and Makeal Flammini).

Gallery Hours: Thursday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. and by appointment.

Andy Lane, stranger2In 1863, Charles Baudelaire wrote: “By ‘modernity’, I mean the ephemeral, the fugitive, the contingent…” Baudelaire was describing a new age where the fixed realities of church and monarchy were giving way to multiple perspectives and a new rapidity of movement, thought and opinion.

One hundred fifty years later, we are in another all encompassing cultural shift, as equally monumental as the transition from agriculture to industry. Because art absorbs the conditions of its time, we might ask what role the portrait continues to play in 2013, within contemporary art discourse. Are there last drips of intrigue to squeeze out of such a world-weary mode of representation? If identity and history are already constructions, how do the mechanics of art production mirror these fabrications?

Andy Lane, stranger15Portrait Society is pleased to present a new exhibition featuring five contemporary artists whose work might help us contemplate this question: Makeal Flammini, Ney Tait Fraser, Maja Ruznic, Andy Lane and Carri Skoczek. Each artist works within the traditions of portraiture but approaches with a heightened consciousness regarding the terms of our self-identities and the way in which history records, indexes and orders image, character and role.

Interestingly, three of the artists (Andy Lane, Carri Skoczek and Makeal Flammini) delve into history and re-frame the way historic figures might be experienced if the language of their representation is contemporary. The other two artists (Maja Ruznic and Ney Tate Fraser) use the powers of representation to evoke emotional states.

Andy Lane, AlexAndy Lane lives in Brookyn, NY. Lane earned his MFA at Yale. He has three bodies of work at Portrait Society. One is a series of paintings of our Founding Fathers rendered as if they were contemporary corporate executives. Lane’s recent work depicting swimmers has become increasingly painterly. He is interested in paint as an analog of water, how it creates an illusion and holds its own formal identity at the same time. His newer work also examines broader physical and psychological human conditions such as drowning, staying on the surface, watching, or staying hidden.

Carri Skoczek, originally from Milwaukee, has lived in New York for 17 years. In the past year her work has focused on “Fallen Women.” Plying the history books for narratives of women who earned livings as prostitutes or from other criminal pursuits, Skoczek celebrates the toughness and illusionistic glamour of these marginalized women who were certainly dealt with harshly in their own time. She will be showing a series of small paintings from her Mistresses of Mayhem series, which includes “murdering grammas, brothel owners, mob molls and spies.” As the artist says, “Well behaved women seldom make history.”

makeal flammini, meropeMakeal Flammini, Milwaukee, has created a new body of work based on the Seven Sisters from Greek Mythology. Makeal is a story teller, illustrator, printmaker,  talk show host (Wild Wild Midwest Variety Show on WMSE), and, most recently, a muralist (she just completed a major project for High Hat Lounge).  The stories of Halcyone, Sterope, Electra or Maia provide rich narratives for this series.

ney tait fraser, sarahNey Tait Fraser, originally from Zimbabwe, has spent much of her life in Milwaukee. She is a naturalist and activist who combats invasive species and encourages the exchange of lawns for wild life sustaining habitats. She is also an artist who in the past several years began a series of portraits of friends and acquaintances reading.  Her watercolor works on paper have the expressive linear quality of Alice Neel while offering intimate glimpses of quiet time, which could be looked at as another endangered habitat.

Maja, Ruznic, Fetus With DiseaseMaja Ruznic, born in 1983 in Bosnia, now living in San Francisco, works in watercolor. Portrait Society is pleased to present a series of small works from her recent series “The Oozing Ones.” Ruznic says that this work “hints at folklore, sexuality and inherited trauma.” She works wet on wet, allowing the medium to flow or pool, almost on its own will, into vaguely figurative compositions. She says: “I allow my paintings to tell me how to make them–the paint bleeds and washes over the figure, gently unmasking psychological deformations.”

For additional information or images, please contact Debra Brehmer at Portrait Society Gallery, 414-870-9930,

A Modern Hair Study

A Modern Hair Study, Tara Bogart, Georgia

A Modern Hair Study: Tara Bogart

Hair: Demitra Copoulos

Adornment: Nicholas Grider

September 27, 2013 to November 17, 2013

Opening Reception: 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, September 27

Gallery Night: Friday, October 18

Review:  Mary Louise Schumacher, Journal Sentinel

Fop and Hounds: Hosts Jon Horvath and his dog Waffle, 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, October 24. A discussion about photography and a wine pairing. Donations accepted.

taragrid9In many cultures, the imagined sexual allure of female hair requires that it be hidden from public view. Orthodox Jewish women, for example, traditionally wear headscarves or wigs.  Catholic nuns and Muslim women also cover their hair.

If Wisconsin-based artist Tara Bogart’s A Modern Hair Study is evidence, then it is true: the expressive qualities of hair are potent. But in this series of oval-shaped images of the backs of young women’s heads and naked shoulders, it is not only the tender and seductive elements of hair that are revealed, but a much broader palette of mood, self-definition and emotional states. Disheveled or dyed, pinned or pony-tailed, clipped or overgrown, each image encapsulates how identity is truly a dance of willful self-styling in sync with rogue acts of nature. The tender contrasts of hair and pale skin against neutral backgrounds render these studies as almost precious documents of pedestrian beauty.  Like pressed butterflies, the images index the infinite gestures of human individuality within the fleeting blossom of youth.

Tara Bogart, JessiBogart started this series in 2011 after seeing an image of the back of a woman’s head by the French photographer Felix Nadar (1820-1910).  She then started photographing young women, mostly art students from the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, where she works. Although this series has done remarkably well with shows in New York, LA and San Francisco, the body of work has not been shown locally. This summer, Bogart spent an additional month in Paris where she photographed a new companion body of work using French female subjects.

Bogart says, “In these intimate portraits I am a voyeur concentrating on a generation that is not mine. While certain ideals are often relevant to different generations, the ways in which women adorn and modify themselves often indicates the struggles of a young adult with their own ideology and individuality.”

get-attachment-5A companion exhibition, Hair, by Demitra Copoulos, presents sculptures of exaggerated hairstyles. Most of the work is first fashioned from clay and then finished with a surface coat or cast in different materials. Because clay can be braided, rolled, shaped, flattened or curled, it aligns well with a formal exploration of hair. Copoulos, a mid-career sculptor in Milwaukee, is known for her ambitious and often eccentric figurative projects that morph into distorted, contorted shapes. Along with her hair studies, she has recently been sculpting portrait busts.

long hair with bangs, aluminum, Demitra.One room of the gallery will be filled with three larger than life plastic sculptures of hair, a cast aluminum tress, several clay forms and a carved, wooden mullet. Copoulos said she is intrigued by how the styling of our hair offers such nuanced insights into historical periods, cultural values, power structures, gender identities and the random absurdities of civilization.

Adornment, Nicholas Grider, wrap #20aA third project, Adornment, presents Nicholas Grider’s series of self-portraits that show his head tied with different materials. He says, “The work in Adornment comes from wondering about the line where decoration stops being decoration and starts to serve another purpose, in this case to obscure or possibly even muzzle and blindfold a human head.”  Decoration is often thought of as something entirely innocent, but Grider is interested in what impulses fall behind the need to decorate or adorn something or someone and the extremes to which those impulses can lead.

For additional information please contact Debra Brehmer at Portrait Society Gallery, 414 870-9930 or Gallery hours are Thursday-Saturday noon to 5 p.m.

Waste Not: Five regional self taught artists

bernard gilardi, feetOpening: Gallery Night, Friday, July 26, 2013

Running through: September 22, 2013

Gallery Hours: Thursday-Saturday noon to 5 p.m. and by appointment (414) 870-9930.

Review: Kat Murrell, Third Coast Daily

Portrait Society presents five Wisconsin self-taught artists in its summer/fall exhibition, Waste Not. Known as a frugal state that privileges independence and industry, Wisconsin is considered a “hot bed” of self-taught art and hand-built environments.

Is it our isolation, our respect for the idiosyncratic and handmade, or the long hours of solitude during winter months that foster this condition of invention? Who knows? But it is an unassailable truth that the state breeds artists who productively and often privately work outside of conventional, professional systems. The Milwaukee Art Museum now has one of the largest collections of international self-taught art of any museum in the country.

Three new artists are being introduced in this exhibition at Portrait Society.

get-attachment-2Roger Koenke (Brown Deer, WI) worked as a vocational rehabilitation supervisor until retiring in 1999. He had always wanted to be an artist, but did not feel that he could prosper at it. Once he had ample free time, however, he turned his basement into a studio and began filling sketchbooks with geometric designs and notes that led to the creation of large wooden sculptures. Mostly using 1/8 inch dowels, Koenke get-attachment-3meticulously pieces together towering structures that are both geometric and organic. The thousands of tiny wood pieces that comprise each monumental sculpture twist, spiral and arch upward to form tall monuments. Both his sculptures and sketchbooks will be included in the exhibition.

Romano Johnson, 48 x 60, Michael JacksonRomano Johnson, 35, is an African-American artist who was born with a cognitive disability. He lived on the North side of Chicago until moving to Madison at aged 12, which is when he started making art. “Mano,” as friends call him, works out of the non-profit studio in Madison called Artworking, Inc. His large, acrylic and glitter paintings are romano (mano) Johnson, 48 x 60packed with pattern and color creating exuberant compositions that electrify his larger-than-life subject matter. Recent paintings include portraits of Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Martin Luther King, Jesse Jackson, Jennifer Lopez and Ice T. Portrait Society will feature several large, mixed-media paintings as well as drawings. Johnson recently had a solo show at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Memorial Union Porter Butts Gallery. This is his first exhibition in Milwaukee.

Jeremy Ward masks by Francis Ford.Jeremy Ward, from Horicon, Wisconsin, makes masks out of plain, geometric pieces of wood. There is an elegant and intelligent simplicity to his compositions as he PSG, Waste Not installation shot with masksmathematically pieces together the various planes of a human, cartoon or animal face. His favorite subjects are from popular culture such as Bart and Homer Simpson, Humpty Dumpty, and Fred Flintstone. Perhaps because Ward feels socially awkward at times, designing masks fulfills a natural extension of his desire to negotiate human interaction.

Rudy Rotter, Imaginary CreaturesRudy Rotter (1913-2001) was a dentist in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. He began carving wood sculptures in 1956 when he was 43, while still operating his full-time dental practice. For the next 25 years, he spent his spare time making art and by the time he died at age 88, he had filled all three floors of his studio/museum. The Rudy Rotter Museum of Sculpture, long a landmark to art enthusiasts in Manitowoc, was closed two years ago and all of Rudy’s work was moved to a new location. Rotter, whose estate is represented by Portrait Society, has not had a show in Milwaukee for four years. Gallery assistant Sean Heiser has selected and installed an exciting new body of work, focusing on Rudy’s later, Surrealist infused drawings.

Waste Not, Rudy Rotter drawings, Roger Koenke scupturesA collection of Rudy Rotter’s work was acquired for preservation by the Kohler Foundation and I had the pleasure of working directly with Rudy Rotter on that project in 1997, which also culminated in a major exhibition at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan.

Bernard Gilardi’s work was introduced three years ago by Portrait Society Gallery. Gilardi, who died in 2008 at the age of 88, had produced about 400 oil paintings in his basement studio over a 45-year period. He had never shown or sold his work. Matter of Bernard Gilardi, Conflict in Colorfact, few of the paintings ever traveled up the basement steps. A printer by trade, when Gilardi retired he was able to work even more consistently on his paintings. His inventive, figurative compositions often have a pun lingering beneath the surface. Gilardi liked words almost as much as images. He fits into Wisconsin’s potent interest in Magical Realism, stemming from UW-Madison in the 1940s with artists such as John _DSC9846Wilde, Karl Priebe and Sylvia Fein. (Gilardi did attend art school there for one semester in the 1940s). There is also a touch of Chicago Imagism in his work, as he shared an affinity for underground comics, satire and popular culture sources.

Since the gallery first showed Bernard’s work and published a catalog, his paintings have entered the collections of the Museum of Wisconsin Art, the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Chazen Museum of Art, as well as numerous private collections. He is destined to become one of the most important artists coming out of Wisconsin, according to Chazen Museum of Art director Russell Panczenko (

This show will feature a group of Gilardi paintings that have never previously been shown.

For additional information or images, please contact Debra Brehmer at Portrait Society Gallery, 414 870-9930 or

The Personal is Political: MARTHA WILSON AND MKE

MARTHA WILSON, I have become my own worst fear, 2009Events:

Opening reception: Saturday, June 8, 2013, 6 to 9 p.m.

Running through:  July 14, 2013

“A Delectable Evening of Imperfection” dinner June 11 and 12: Journal/Sentinel Review


Ashley Janke and Ashley Coffey: White Table discussion, July 11, Imagination Giants.

Reviews: Art net, art in america, Hyperallergic, Shepherd express

wilson-1Portrait Society Gallery is pleased to present an exhibition that brings together the contemporary work of feminist artist Martha Wilson with regional artists responding to her influential practice.

The Personal is Political: Martha Wilson and MKE will feature one room of Wilson’s recent work (2009 onward) and two rooms of local artists’ work. This exhibition is running concurrently with a historic survey of Martha Wilson’s work at The Institute of Visual Arts (inova).

Martha Wilson (b. 1947), a New York based artist, has spent the past 40 years exploring feminist practices. Beginning in the 1970s, working with photography, video and performance, her work has dealt with how human identity is shaped by cultural forces, power relationships, gender, and now, aging. She is best known as the founder of Franklin Furnace (1976), a non-profit space that gave alternative art practices a home.

Also exhibiting are: Laci Coppins, Paul Druecke, Skully Gustafson, Ashley Janke, Niki Johnson, Erik Moore, Joseph Mougel, Amy O’Neill, and Rafael Salas.

The local artists were asked to use the catalog, Martha Wilson Sourcebook, as inspiration for their own work. The catalog was prepared by the artist in conjunction with her touring retrospective (at Inova). The book was reviewed in the May 2013 Art News.

Sourcebook is a non-traditional publication that compiles essays, documents from her work, performance ephemera and assorted influential writings from the 1970s and 1980s. In either peripheral or direct ways, each artist was asked to attach some bit of text or thought from the Sourcebook to their work to create threads of interaction with the legacy of feminism.

MonaMarthaMarge_2009_19x11.5Martha Wilson’s work in the Portrait Society exhibition is photo-based and uses role-playing and self-portraiture to explore themes of visibility and identity, and, in general, how the ‘personal is political.’ Wilson has stated that much of the early feminist theory has been dislodged from current ideologies.  The phrase, “The Personal is Political,” was a feminist slogan in the late 1960s and 1970s. It suggests that individual, small measures count; that the grass roots choices we make have larger ramifications. While this phrase is no longer associated with the feminist movement, its momentum has lead to recycling, commitments to organic food and local food sourcing, and resistance to fossil fuel consumption.

A larger historic survey of Martha Wilson’s work, organized by Independent Curators International (ICI), New York, curated by Peter Dykhuis, and staged locally by Sara Krajewski (Inova director), will open on Friday, June 7, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Inova, The Institute of Visual Arts, 2155 N. Prospect Ave., Milwaukee, WI. It runs through August 11, 2013.

Martha Wilson will be present at both receptions. Portrait Society will also be presenting several performances during the opening as well as another manifestation of The Store, where un-conventional and extraordinary merchandise is created and made available for sale in conjunction with the exhibition. Storekeeper is MIAD printmaking major, Philip Gattuso.


On Tuesday, June 11 and Wednesday, June 12, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.,New York City food theorist and artist Ame Gilbert will stage “A Delectable Evening of Imperfection with Martha Wilson.” 

Ame GilbertMartha Wilson (founder of the NYC alternative space Franklin Furnace) will be in attendance at the Tuesday, June 11 dinner. The Wednesday, June 12 dinner will be a fund-raiser for AWE, Artists Working in Education.

Without giving too much away, the dinner will include three courses: a candle-lit first course called ‘imperfection manifestation;’ a second course called ‘transformation;’  and a third course called ‘reflection revelation.’

Each course relates to the work and ideas of  Martha Wilson and is theatrically staged in a different room of the gallery and served by a costumed wait staff.

Be prepared for an elegant, sumptuous, lively and thought-provoking evening.

20 seats are available for each night. Tickets are $50 for the June 11 dinner and $100 for the June 12th AWE fund raising event. Tickets can be ordered here: MARTHA WILSON DINNER TICKETS.

In conjunction with this dinner event,  artist Paul Druecke has organized a scholarship program.

Livija Patikne Scholarship

Progressive   Liberating   Wit   Reform   Deliberate   Equal

project by Paul Druecke


You are invited to nominate someone for the Livija Patikne Scholarship. Two winners and their guests will receive VIP admission to the June 11 spectacular dinner gala, created by culinary artist Ame Gilbert, in honor of renown artist/feminist Martha Wilson. Martha will be in attendance for the dinner, June 11th, 2013 at the Portrait Society Gallery. Winner will be announced by 5 pm on June 9th.

We will consider all nominations be they earnest, funny, male, female, clever, irreverent, militant, queer, straight, etc. Tell us, in 25 words of less, how your nominee approaches the ongoing battle for progressive liberating wit reform deliberate equal—in any order or combination. Imaginative and novel associations are a plus. The Livija Patikne Scholarship is an equal opportunity award.

Nominations are accepted via email, and at Portrait Society gallery through June 8th. If submitting via email, please use the format of the nomination form below and enter the information in the body of the email.


(About Ame Gilbert:  Ame Gilbert works at the intersection of food and art. She has a BFA from Cooper Union in NYC, culinary training from The New York Restaurant School and a MLS from UWM where she wrote a cookbook for her thesis that left professors in Art, Gender Studies and History wondering how they were supposed to critique a collection of recipes.  Ame has taught at Parsons School of Design—a home spun class called Food is Art that had students cooking dinner in the art studio, and she hosts, cooks and curates for several salons that bring artists, writers, and thinkers to the table to share great food and delicious ideas. Ame is a curator for the Umami Food and Art Festival, has guest edited a food issue for W.W.3 Illustrated, has been published In Gastronomica and the Best Food Writing 2007, and has been a guest on American Public Radio, and Heritage Radio Network’s Food Seen program.)

 Additional links to information about Martha Wilson:

Art 21 Blog: An interview,

New York Times review:

Art in America:

The Brooklyn Rail:


Book Forum Review of Sourcebook:

Shane Walsh: The Available Language and Kevin Giese: Winter Chapel

January 18, 2013 to March 3, 2013

 Shane Walsh: The Available Language presents this Milwaukee-based artist’s recent, portrait-oriented paintings in two rooms of the gallery. Walsh builds small models out of craft materials and rectilinear shapes and translates the three-dimensional structures into paintings that piece together, yet never fully adhere, into a human bust or presence.

get-attachment-1The work is sculptural and painterly, abstract and representational, serious and whimsical – a whir of theory, influence and exploration of processes.  This is Walsh’s first show at Portrait Society. He completed his MFA in 2006 at the University of Washington – Seattle, and currently teaches at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design and the Peck School of the Arts, UWM.

"Corner Display," 2012, acrylic on canvas, 54 x 42 inches.Over the past year, as Walsh explored this theme of the portrait bust, the actual content of his work became increasingly about the presentation, staging and display of the “work of art.”  Early paintings in the series depict just the human bust on a support or small pedestal. Later, Walsh paints the bust displayed in a vitrine, and then eventually, he paints the busts fully installed in a gallery setting. Each step further distances the painting from existing simply as a self-contained, autonomous object. One thinks of Velazquez’ Las Meninas (1656) as an early version of this idea, where the truth of the painting itself is exposed as a contrived staging.

"Full Display," 2013, 56 x 72 inches, acrylic on canvas.Within Walsh’s paintings, we see what happens when an idea is translated into a material object produced in the studio and then restaged in a gallery or museum. Walsh takes us through these visual channels of delivery and display and shows us how each stage affects the viewing of the object. Walsh’s paintings of the colorful human busts almost explode with energy: shapes and patterns float in their own centrifugal odyssey, never staying still. But once he paints one of these heads inside a glass case, the object becomes tamed and harnessed, stilled and captured. Once the objects get painted into full gallery rooms, there is even more coolness and distance.

"Possible Head #8," 2012, 24 x 20 inches.To Walsh, the act of painting is about language and metaphor. He is interested in how readily a brush stroke of orange paint can suddenly signify “mouth” or become an eye. He holds these paintings in states of suspended mimesis, where a mark, color or shape still exist both as abstraction and as referent. It’s both a mouth and a line, clearly and equally. By never letting the marks of the paintings fully settle, he keeps these compositions alive in a purgatory of indecisive identity. Walsh flings shapes, colors, brush strokes and textures at the paintings in a happy tumult. Like a drunken carpenter, he hammers together disparate forms and colors. These objects don’t quite coalesce but still harmonize in a tippy playfulness.

Walsh’s exhibition will include an installation called “The Store,” where Shane Walsh souvenirs (cups, t-shirts, toothbrushes) as well as 4 x 4 inch details from the paintings and 8 x 10 reproductions of the paintings can be purchased inexpensively. In this project, the gallery has stepped into Walsh’s painting world and added one more stage within the making/displaying/selling network.  The Store (named after Claes Oldenburg’s Store of 1961) comments somewhat ironically on the merchandising and packaging of art experiences yet at the same time very sincerely desires every person who visits the exhibition to be able to take a piece of it home with them. Everyone can own Shane Walsh’s work in some way and extend its reach into the world, breaking down a little of the elitism that tends to separate viewers from collectors. More exhibition images here.


giese, tree stitching

Every year in January, Portrait Society invites an artist or collaborative team to build a “Winter Chapel.” These self-styled rooms of meditation are a means of exploring how a space can be fashioned to enhance quietude and spiritual reflection via the secular language of the artist rather than the established vocabularies of formal religions.

This year’s chapel architect is Kevin Giese, an associate lecturer in the art department at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Giese’s work focuses on nature and its repair. His interests are shaped by Buddhist philosophy, a knowledge of and affection for the natural world, and an understanding of traditional wood joining techniques. Giese views his artistic project as one of repair and re-presentation of natural objects; he employs processes that echo nature’s slow and repetitive rhythms as he reconstructs pieces of the physical world in his sculptures and installations. Here is a video about how Kevin made the Winter Chapel.