Heads or Tails: ceramics and Della Wells

5-headsDates: November 18 through December 23, 2017
Opening Reception: 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, November 18, 2016
Gallery hours: Thursday – Saturday, noon to 5 p.m.
Gallery Talk with Della Wells: Sunday, December 18, 2 p.m. FREE.
Bonnie North: WUWM radio interview with Della Wells.
Kat Minerath: The Wisconsin Gazette, review
Diane Bacha: Review, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Portrait Society Gallery is pleased to present two new major exhibitions opening November 18 from 6 to 8 p.m.

della-wells-dolls-2“Alice’s Tea Party and Other Musings of a Little Colored Girl,” is a room-sized installation by Della Wells, who was named 2016 Artist of the Year by the City of Milwaukee. Wells is known for her collages, drawings, fabric sculptures, assemblages and quilts. Her art works are often based on personal experiences and family histories.

For this exhibition, Della Wells has created a room of 150 hand-painted fabric dolls ranging in size from 6 inches to five feet tall, engaged in a tea party. Wells said she loved dolls as a child even though they were white skinned. When an aunt finally gave her a black doll, it became one of her favorites along with the ‘pillow’ doll her mother had given her. Wells thinks that her mother had ordered that doll from a cereal company for 25 cents. She was blond, blue eyed with a checkered dress. When Della began making dolls 18 years ago, she did it to stay in touch with her childhood and her mother, Alice, to whom this project is dedicated. Alice was schizophrenic, but undiagnosed and without treatment until Della was 19 years old, making the artist’s childhood a difficult sorting of fact and fiction.

della-with-dollWells says, “I realized that the root of my mother’s mental illness may have been because like so many black little girls in America, they are not seen as having value. America simply sees them as little faceless colored girls and for many of them, America can be as crazy as the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party in Alice in Wonderland. The dolls are there to help Alice with her journey. Tea parties were important in the African American community, a place to discuss political, church and community business. Sometimes I think of my mother as Alice in Wonderland and would have loved to have had a tea party with her if I could have — if she could have been normal. But she wasn’t.”

Della Wells’ work has been exhibited at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C., and Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art in Chicago, IL. She is a well-respected advocate for black artists in Milwaukee. Her work has been included in various publications including Self Taught, Outsider and Folk art Guide to American Artists, Locations and Resources by Betty-Carol Sellen and Cynthia J. Johnanson.


Heads or Tails is Portrait Society’s second annual ceramic survey, with this year’s focus being human busts or animals. It is an invitational group project where diverse artists were asked to submit work. At least half of the artists participating are not ‘ceramic’ artists per se but were willing to experiment with the medium.

patchyParticipating artists include: Steve Burnham, Ty Bender, Norman Lasca, Carol Rhody, Darlene Wesenberg, Michael Ware, Melissa Johnson, John Riepenhoff, Brian James Bartlett, Nirmal Raja, Kathryn Corbin,  Mike Newhall, Rory Burke, Meghan Sullivan, Debbie Kupinsky, Linda Kowaleski, Audrey Jerabek, Craig Clifford, Demitra Coupolos, Julia Taylor, Claire Loder, Joan and Melitta S. Pick, Sara Caron, Fred Stonehouse, Colin Matthes, Makeal Flammini, Ariana Huggett, Skully Gustafson and Jessica Laub.

michael-newhallIn addition to the group exhibition, the gallery is bringing the work of renowned ceramic artist, Claire Loder, of Bath, England to the US. Claire has been making bodiless clay heads for ten years. Memory, contemplation and melancholy are perpetual undercurrents in her work as well as the transgressive role of comedy. Feminism is also a recurring subject. steve-burnham-headsNotable in these works is her use of texture applied to the simple round and oval forms of the faces. Within this reductive vocabulary, Loder manages to evoke emotion and personality. She received her BA in 1993 from Bath Spa University and earned her MA in ceramics from the University Wales Institute Cardiff in 2006. Portrait Society will also present a suite of her recent drawings, executed for this show.

For additional images or information, contact Debra Brehmer, gallery director, 414 870-9930, portraitsocietygallery@gmail.com.






A Social Forever

Elk_141012_1634_00034A SOCIAL FOREVER: Art Elkon

September 9 through November 6, 2016
Reception: 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, September 9
Interview: Good Morning, Milwaukee, Blyth Renate Meier
Radio interview: Blyth Renate Meier, WUWM
Review, A Social Forever, Art Elkon: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Gallery Night is October 21.

NEW ON-LINE store: You can now purchase prints from this exhibition on-line.

SPECIAL EVENT: Wednesday, October 26, 6 to 8 p.m. An evening with architect Jim Shields in conversation with artist Blyth Renate Meier. Drinks, food, free parking, half-off first purchase of Good Morning, Milwaukee print. Tickets here

Portrait Society is pleased to present three new photo-based exhibitions for its fall lineup.

Each of the three shows brings material form to projects that were not originally intended for gallery walls. Art Elkon’s pictures were disseminated and became popular on Facebook. Blyth Renate Meier’s black and white architectural photos made daily appearances on Instagram, and Tom Kutchera’s vintage portraits of his Empire Fish company workers were meant for a photo album.

20140906-DSCF1268-41Art Elkon was a beloved Milwaukee figure who was a constant presence on the art and music scenes, routinely taking pictures at art openings and other events and then posting files of images the next morning on Facebook.  Almost a parallel to Bill Cunningham, the famous street photographer in New York City, Elkon was a genial, smiling presence who kept an astute watchful eye on social gatherings.  He died of cancer on August 17,  2015 at the age of 58. This exhibition honors Elkon’s legacy and represents the first time most of these images have been printed and made available beyond social networks.

Elk_101215_6473_04901-8Art Elkon grew up in Milwaukee. He attended University School and then the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He worked for an advertising agency, but spent his lunch hours, nights and weekends “on duty” as a self-appointed social documentarian and visual historian.

(Special thanks to Jon Prown, Chipstone Foundation; Tony Nickalls, Portrait Society; Aideen Brown, intern; and Art Elkon’s family).

Blyth Renate Meier: Good Morning, Milwaukee

Reception: September 9

Blyth Renate Meier has been taking a daily, black and white photograph of Milwaukee buildings for several years and posting them on Instagram. Square format, these images offer a play of gray scale tonalities and geometric pattern. They appear both timeless and timely. Now totaling more than 1000 images, Meier’s project has grown into something substantial. This exhibition marks the first time these images have been printed and presented in material form.

Meier, who was born in Milwaukee but raised in North Dakota, has lived in Milwaukee for about 20 years. She earned master’s degrees in art and film at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She is also the co-host of a radio show about film, “The Tiny Film Invasion” on WMSE (FM 91.7) on Thursdays at noon.

Fish Empire, KutcheraThe Faces of a Fish Empire, curated by Naomi Shersty

Opening Reception: Friday, September 2 (Project Space)
Review: On-Milwaukee

Former Empire Fish Company owner and amateur photographer, Tom Kutchera, created this unique collection of employee portraits over a period of 30 years starting in the 1960s. Preserved in family photo albums, these photographs capture intimate portraits that honor the individuals who fed Milwaukee and supplied numerous Friday Night Fish Fries – a Midwestern staple. Through a humanitarian lens, Kutchera’s portraits celebrate those who don’t often get commemorated: the production workers behind the scenes. Contemporary photographer Naomi Shersty curates the exhibit.

Young and Erie


Alexander Kevin Wrencher, Forgetting Shadow Boy, 7 x 11 ft., 2015.

Now through August 28, 2016

Opening Reception: July 22, Gallery Night

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

Review: Kat Minerath, Wisconsin Gazette

Young and Erie presents a group of recent college graduates from various Wisconsin institutions. The exhibition opens on Saturday June 25 and runs through August 28, 2016. The opening reception is Gallery Night July 22, from 6 to 9 p.m.


Caitlyn Doran, Brian’s Bruises, acrylic and graphite on panel, 4 x 6 inches. Sold.

Portrait Society has selected some of the best and brightest artists who are about to begin their professional lives. They include:

Kevin Wrencher (MIAD), Brian James Bartlett (UW-Madison), Jenny Barr (UW-Madison), Romano Johnson (Madison), Deanna Anthony (Parkside), Jacob Jackson Salzer (UW-Milwaukee), Caitlyn Doran (MIAD), Sean Heiser (UWM)


Jennifer Barr, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 30 in., 2016

The exhibition title, Young and Erie, represents the two streets that form the corner where the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design is located in Milwaukee’s Third Ward. It was also the name given to an art publication created in a MIAD critical writing course last semester. Like any recent graduate, these artists are now at a crossroads in their lives as they pursue their careers independent of the nurturing environments of their educational programs. Portrait Society has an active and supportive relationship with MIAD, whose classes frequently meet at the gallery and Director Debra Brehmer has taught art history and critical writing there part-time for a decade. In addition, the gallery is well connected to faculty and students at UW-Madison, affording on-going visits and opportunities to see new work. Gallery artist Shane Walsh teaches in the painting department at UW-Milwaukee and is especially pleased with this year’s graduates.

Predominantly figurative, with an emphasis on re-examining the portrait as a tool of social expression, most of the work in this show wrangles with how to re-invigorate representational painting. This is the first commercial gallery show for most of these artists, and the work is priced accordingly.


Alexander Kevin Wrencher, A God Shadow, 75 x 60 in., 2016

Kevin Wrencher (MIAD 2016)

Kevin makes large-scale mixed media paintings that explore his family background and the sudden loss of his mother when he was a sophomore. Combining dimensional figures on a painted background, Wrencher builds dynamic, enveloping, rhythmic works that move beyond traditional vocabularies of canvas and paint. He also writes poetry.

Wolfmother_BJBartlettBrian James Bartlett (MFA, UW-Madison, 2016)

Brian James Bartlett’s mixed media paintings address the distortion of childhood memories. From a base of old family photographs, he enlarged, collages, transfer prints, draws and paints until dream-like cosmic odyssey’s emerge from the initial source documents. Skillfully rendered, the paintings feel like floating memories, only partially accessible but potently full of fragmented information.


Jennifer Barr (BFA, UW-Madison)

Jennifer Barr first earned a degree in science journalism and technical writing before pursuing her art degree. This combination of interests appears in these paintings of houseplants. Her science background is applied to the act of painting like a formula or set of research terms: “background, plus surface, pot and plant.”


Jacob Salzer, Josh, oil on canvas, 68 x 44 in., 2016.

Jacob Salzer (BFA, UW-Milwaukee)

Jacob Salzer makes large-scale portraits that inhale and exhale between modes of abstraction and representation. He re-invigorates historic references to Alice Neel and Francis Bacon with forays into all kinds of mark-making, pattern and texture.


Deanna Antony, 2016

Deanna Antony (BFA, UW-Parkside)

Deanna’s work explores intersections of painting and sculpture. She builds stretcher supports in unusual shapes and then paints and cuts canvas to interact with the support. Listing Frank Stella, Josef Albers, Tom Berenz and Trenton Baylor as inspirations, Antony’s work also takes a gender dive into influence. She says her palette was most likely established as an adolescent during early encounters with eye shadow kits and lipstick colors. Her taut abstractions could likewise be read as clothes on bodies.


Caitlyn Doran, Growing Twins, 4 x 6 in., acrylic and graphite, 2016.

Caitlyn Doran (BFA, MIAD)

Caitlyn Doran’s delicate small-scale drawings act as stills from imaginary films. Subject matter includes humans with small animal companions and domestic objects rendered precisely in graphite and paint. She says, “Together they tell seemingly ordinary stories of subtle fantasy and amiable cross-cultural exchange inspired by my daily life.”

Romano Johnson - Barak Obama  July '15 60x60-1-1

Romano Johnson, Obama, 2015, acrylic and glitter on canvas.

Romano (Mano) Johnson (Madison)

Romano (Mano) Johnson technically did not recently graduate with an art degree, but he could be considered an emerging artist and a lifelong student. This has been a banner year for him. His work was included in the John Michael Kohler exhibition, Wisconsin Wild and Tame, and will be in the upcoming Wisconsin Triennial at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Johnson makes acrylic and glitter paintings, often featuring black icons such as Michael Jackson, Prince, Obama and Martin Luther King. Dynamic and inventive, Johnson’s work is influenced by his love of music.




Agency, Industry, Infinity

Robin Jebavy and Rosemary Ollison

Joy of Life

Robin Jebavy, Joy of Life, oil on canvas, 72×84″, 2013


Rosemary Ollison, detail, crazy quilt, 2016.


Rosemary Ollison, quilt

April 1 through May 28, 2016

Hours: Thursday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. and by appointment
Review: Mary Louise Schumacher, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Review: Kat Minerath, Shepherd Express
Interview: Robin Jebavy at Art City Asks
Radio interview with Robin Jebavy: Art a Go Go

Portrait Society is pleased to introduce two artists, Robin Jebavy and Rosemary Ollison, in an exhibition that explores domestically situated productivity.

Robin Jebavy (b. 1981), who earned her MFA from the University of Iowa in 2008, creates large scale, complex paintings from still life arrangements of glassware. Jebavy repeats, enlarges, and multiples the clear reflective objects into ornate, pulsating, compositions. The domestic and private realm of glassware, with homey notions of preciousness and utilitarian beauty, becomes induced with a visual and mathematical language that generates increasing expansive and abstract visual fields. Through the repetition and expansion of patterns, Jebavy’s compositions move from an initial simple reference of still life objects toward something infinite and enveloping. Her work was most recently featured in a solo exhibition at the Lynden Sculpture Garden in March 2015.


Rosemary Ollison, installation view.

Rosemary Ollison began making art in 1984 and also works from a domestic ideology. Similar to Jebavy, she collects and arranges things: glass, bracelets, leather, beads, bones and jewelry. Ollison then repurposes these materials into sculptural veils of Rosemary Ollison, installation, Portrait Societypattern and beauty. Ollison has re-designed her small apartment with ingenious compositions of fabric rugs, quilts and pillows; towering duct tape sculptures; hanging curtains of woven leather; and inventive drawings. She also designs clothing, writes
poetry and actively keeps journals. Allison says she creates in dialog with God: “When I am creating I am satisfied, I am free! I no longer just exist, I am alive! I do not feel worthless, hopeless, alone, sad, afraid, ashamed, guilty, down hearted, unloved, uncared for, doubtful, and discontented and the like. . .I can see the real me in my works.”

A four-channel video installation by Milwaukee’s Ted Brusubardis will accompany Ollison’s exhibition.

Rosemary Ollison, wall of %22Me Too%22 drawings

Installation view, Rosemary Ollison, Me Too portraits, 11 x 14, ink on paper.


Robin Jebavy, Rainbow, acrylic on canvas, 41 x 68 in., 2015.

Robin Jebavy, Amber still life, acrylic, 63 x 38 in.  Robin Jebavy received a B.A. in Visual Arts and Philosophy from Bennington College in 2004, and an M.F.A. in Painting and Drawing, with a Sculpture minor, from the University of Iowa in 2008. She has received many awards, fellowships and grants for her work. Jebavy has recently been offered a residency grant at Vermont Studio Center, a residency fellowship at PLAYA in Summer Lake, Oregon, and was selected as a Robert Johnson Fellow at VCCA for a 2014 summer residency and was awarded a Mary L. Nohl Suitcase Export Grant to fund her solo show at ICON Gallery in Fairfield, IA. She has also had solo exhibitions in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Milwaukee, WI. and in Waterford and Waukesha, Wisconsin. Her paintings have been included in group exhibitions in Des Moines, Fairfield, and Iowa City, Iowa; and in Delafield, Kenosha, Milwaukee, and Waukesha, Wisconsin. Robin Jebavy maintains a studio in Waukesha and teaches drawing at Carroll University.

IMG_0291Rosemary Ollison is a self-taught artist who lives in Milwaukee, WI. She began making art in 1984 and for the next 25 years, explored numerous media. She has exhibited her work at the UWM Union Gallery, Indianapolis Public Library, Walker’s Point Center for the Arts, Uihlein Peters Gallery, Peltz Gallery, and Alphons Gallery. This is her first exhibition at Portrait Society Gallery.

image by Heidi parkes

“Learning to Live with Abundance,” installation. Video and sound by Ted Brusubardis.

Ted Brusubardis is a trained percussionist, artist and composer. He earned a BFA from UWM in Economics, and Art & Technology. He uses formal elements of sound design, documentary filmmaking and music composition in his multi media pieces. His work depicts the investigation of identity, through constructed narratives. Brusubardis’ art has been presented locally and nationally, including the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, Walkers Point Center for the Arts and Whittier College in Los Angeles. This is his second video installation at Portrait Society.







A person is a noun

(Temporary change in gallery hours: Until the end of the spring semester, the gallery will not be open until 2 p.m. on Thursdays. We apologize for this schedule change). 

A Person is a Noun: Contemporary Portrait Photography

January 22 to March 19, 2016
Opening reception: 6 to 9 p.m. Gallery Night, January 22, 2016
Portrait Society Gallery
207 E. Buffalo Street
Milwaukee, WI 53202
Review: Kat Minerath, Shepherd Express
Radio interview: Riverwest Radio
Feature article: Lenscratch
Review: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Dean Jensen Gallery
759 N. Water Street
Milwaukee, WI 53202
Bamberger, smoker

Tom Bamberger, untitled, 1980s.

A two-part exhibition that looks at the contemporary portrait in photography takes place at Portrait Society Gallery and Dean Jensen Gallery from Jan. 22 to March 18, 2016, with opening receptions on Gallery Night, January 22 from 6 to 9 p.m. at both spaces.

Lois Bielefeld, todd_katie_lucca_scout_006

Lois Bielefeld, “Todd, Katie, Lucca, Scout,” 2015, from Neighborhood.

Large-scale, black and white, hand-printed images from the 1980s by the well-known Milwaukee based photographer and former photography curator at the Milwaukee Art Museum, Tom Bamberger, join a new body of work called Neighborhood by photographer Lois Bielefeld at Portrait Society. In addition, video and sound artist, Ted Brusubardis, presents a video installation in conjunction with the gallery’s annual Winter Chapel project. Recent UWM photo grad Nick Smith has a series of  work called “Batter” in the Project Space.

Tom Bamberger

Tom Bamberger, untitled, c.1980s.

Dean Jensen Gallery features  a group of young artists who include: Delaney Allen of Portland, Oregon; Natalie Krick of Seattle, Washington; Lisa Lindvay of Chicago; Tom Zust of Sydney, Australia and Kyle Seis of Milwaukee. A selection of work from Sally Mann’s “Family Pictures” series is also included.

Tom Zust, self portrait

Tom Zust, self portrait

The portrait is no longer a predictable utilitarian representation. With social media and cell phone cameras providing continuous means of image rendering and expressivity of ‘self and other,’ the art world has likewise taken enormous leaps into experimentation. There is a heightened awareness of how photographic portraiture can become not just self-exploration but socio-political and cultural discourse. The ever-expandable role of portraiture now transgresses into means of exploration, reflection, investigation and analysis.

Tom Bamberger, Ann

Tom Bamberger, untitled, 1980s.

The two exhibitions were organized by Debra Brehmer and John Sobczak.

Notes on the artists

Tom Bamberger, former photography curator at the Milwaukee Art Museum and one of the city’s most prominent artists, will be showing a group of work from the 1980s. The pictures were made with studio lighting, a 35 mm camera, and an unusual very slow film —ten stops slower than the slowest and sharpest commercial film at the time.  The film was officially called SO 424, a Laser Recording Film.  It required special chemistry to achieve a continuous tone effect. Bamberger created a Point Light source enlarger to preserve the details.  The resolution was many times higher than conventional pictorial films.
Bamberger says, “I wasn’t interested in being old fashioned.  I just wanted the surface, the details, of the photograph to appear to be a solid, like marble.”

His work is included in many public collections, including The Museum of Modern Art, NY; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Art Institute of Chicago; and Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Lois Bielefeld is a photographer who recently returned from a 10 week residency in Luxembourg, which was awarded by the Museum of Wisconsin Art. She earned her BFA in photography from Rochester Institute of Technology and lived in New York City from 2003 until 2010, when she returned to her home state of Wisconsin. She divides her time between fine art and commercial photography. Much of her work is sociological in nature, exploring diverse types of people within their private domains. This new body of work features people and families at night in carefully chosen places in their neighborhoods. This is her third exhibition at Portrait Society. Her previous major project, “Androgyny” presented portraits of androgynous individuals as well as videos and a sound installation staged in a full-scale constructed bathroom. Bielefeld has been the recipient of a Mary L. Nohl Individual Fellowship.

Ted Brusubardis is a trained percussionist, artist and composer. He earned a BFA from UWM in Economics, and Art & Technology. He uses formal elements of sound design, documentary film making and music composition in his multi media pieces. His work depicts the investigation of identity through constructed narratives. Brusubardis’ art has been presented locally and nationally, including the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, Walkers Point Center for the Arts and Whittier College in Los Angeles.

Delaney Allen of Portland, Oregon presents a selection of photographs from his series “Painting a Portrait”. His diaristic sequences of pan-genre images are interspersed with text that form lyrical meditations on personal loss, loneliness, and the pleasures, terrors and contentment of solitude. He received his degrees from the University of Texas-Arlington, the Pacific Northwest College of Art, and is an alumnus of Alec Soth’s Little Brown Mushroom Camp for Socially Awkward Storytellers. He has been exhibiting internationally since 2010 and his books are included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Beniecke Library at Yale University, and the Tokyo Institute of Photography.

Natalie Krick of Seattle, Washington presents a selection of photographs from her series “Natural Deceptions.” In a close collaboration, Krick photographs her mother with a spirited generational banter.  Her images focus on the relationship between feminine artifice, roles, and age as rendered in the saturated, strobe lit, jet-set paparazzi urgency of Krick’s fashion inflected aesthetic. Krick received her degrees from The School of the Visual Arts in New York and Columbia College Chicago. She has been exhibiting internationally since 2011 and was recently awarded the Aaron Siskind Foundation Individual Photographer’s Fellowship. Recent commissions include New York Magazine and The California Sunday Magazine.

Lisa Lindvay of Chicago, Illinois exhibits a selection of photographs from her ongoing series “Hold Together”, an intimate depiction of her immediate family as they contend with the burden of their mother’s deteriorating mental health.  Lindvay’s father and siblings are active collaborators, adding to the narrative complexities within the photographs, and challenging the veracity of familial structures through the editorial privileges of documentary photography.  Lindvay holds degrees from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania and Columbia College Chicago. Her work has been included in numerous national and international exhibitions including the Turner Contemporary, Margate, UK and the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian, Washington, DC. She was also a finalist for the 2011 Aperture Portfolio Prize.

Sally Mann of Lexington, Virginia, is well-known for her ”Family Pictures,” many of which included in her seminal book “Immediate Family.” The intimate and romantic images, made with a large format camera fitted with an antique lens, document the life of her three children growing up in the rural environs of Virginia and were the object of considerable scandal upon their debut. They continue to exert a major influence on contemporary photographic portraiture. Mann’s work is represented in most important public collections including the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art. Her recent book “Hold Still” is a New York Times bestseller and has been nominated for both the National Book Award and the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction.

Tom Zust of Sydney, Australia, has images from his ongoing series of self portraits. Zust is critically engaged in the relationship between identity, artifice, and photographic depiction. Inspired by fashion, advertising, and commemorative and documentary portraiture, he prods us with humor, sincerity, and verve to question the ways we editorialize and negotiate our own identities in comparison. Zust is a recent graduate of the University of Western Sydney. We were pleased to debut his work in last years “Independent Phrases & Subordinate Clauses: Photographs by Dane Haman, Jon Horvath and Tom Zust”

Kyle Seis of Milwaukee, Wisconsin continues his analytical investigations into the nature of medium itself, constructing photographs that manifest a trifecta in subject, image, and process.  Seis is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and has been the recipient of a Midwest Society for Photograph Education and a Mary L. Nohl Individual Fellowship.

I made this for you: Small gestures in clay

Harvey Opgenorth - Space Volcanoes 2015

Harvey Opgenorth – Space Volcanoes 2015

Dates: November 20 to January 8, 2015
Reception: 6 to 9 p.m. November 20, 2015
Screening: Friday, December 18. Ron Taylor film about sculptor Adolph Rosenblatt, 5 to 8 p.m., free.
Gallery Hours: Thursday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m.
Related essay: Orphans and Rejects
Review: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

installation, rotter, psgPortrait Society Gallery is pleased to present its first ceramic-based exhibition. Figurative and commemorative ceramics as well as functional vessels will combine into a handmade exhibition featuring small-scale works, perfect for the holiday season.


Colin Matthes

Exhibiting artists include: Rory Burke, Adolph Rosenblatt, Colin Matthes, Harvey Opgenorth, Darlene Rzezotarski Wesenberg, Gary John Gresl, Rudy Rotter, Debbie Kupinsky, Craig Clifford, Gerit Grimm and Meghan Sullivan.

The malleable, amenable intimacy of clay allows for a range of sculptural expressions as artists deal with its textures. Some, like Gerit Grimm, create figurative works with an almost skin-like velvety surface. While others, such as Colin Matthes, retired UWM professor Adolph Rosenblatt and the self-taught Manitowoc artist Rudy Rotter, allow the many marks from the pushing, prodding and pinching of the clay to lend a hand-hewn expressive spontaneity to the work. Both Rotter and Rosenblatt have significant bodies of work in the show. This is the first time an exhibition has focused primarily on Rotter’s ceramics.

adolph rosenblatt, head

Adolph Rosenblatt

What unifies this exhibition is the small scale and primarily figurative aspect of most of the work. Matthes paints simple graphic faces on his hand-built vessel forms. Rosenblatt is well-known for sculpting portraits from life, using the clay like a drawing material. The gestural surface of his work matches the gestural physical quality of each figure. Artist Darlene Rzeztarski Wesenberg creates intimate sculptural scenes and portraits that show people in their environments. New portraits of Mary Nohl, Joseph Pabst and the poets Antler and Jeff Poniewaz will be included.

In addition, Portrait Society has spearheaded a special project where twenty artists were invited to paint portraits of fellow Wisconsin artists (dead or alive) on ceramic plates which were hand thrown by potter Scott Dercks of the Milwaukee Potters Guild. This project was coordinated for the gallery by Rachele Krivichi. All of the plates will be for sale.


B. Mad by Elly Hazard


Didier Leplae by Peter Barrickman


Skully Gustafson by John Kowalczyk


Ron Bittocks by Keith Nelson.


Rafael Salas by James Pederson


Colin Matthes

Orphans, rejects, the flawed, 1

Orphans and rejects, sculpture


Rudy Rotter, family group, 1980s

adolph rosenblatt, cards

Adolph Rosenblatt, card players at beach


Adolph Rosenblatt, Girl reading

Revealing Nature: Pedro Velez and Greg Klassen

Dates: September 11 to November 14, 2015
Opening Reception: Friday, September 11, 6 to 8 p.m.
Gallery Hours: Thursday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m.

Location: 207 E. Buffalo Street, FIFTH FLOOR, Marshall Building, Third Ward, Milwaukee
Social media: #RevealingNature


Muse in Parking Lot

Pedro Velez, “Parking Lot Muse (Frances)” dimensions variable

Pedro Vélez and Greg Klassen present new bodies of work at Portrait Society Gallery, September 11 through November 14, 2015, in an exhibition titled Revealing Nature.  Curated by Claudia Arzeno and Debra Brehmer, the exhibition brings together two artists who individually consider the entwined relationships between the artist, his or her influences, creative production as well as the relationship these have to both human nature and the natural world.

IMG_7328Vélez, one of three Milwaukee-affiliated artists in the 2014 Whitney Biennial, is known for his paintings and photo collages that use social media references to express commentaries on cultural, political and racial issues. This body of work, Revealing Nature: Pedro Vélez Social and Private Portraits, steps away from these previous explorations and delves into more personal and intimate subject matter. (Additional images from the exhibition)

IMG_7411 In this new series, Vélez looks at the idea of the artist’s muse- in other words, the artist’s source of inspiration. What does this influential person, thing, place or idea say about his or her nature? The artist has revisited past photographic work as well as personal relationships, romantic relationships, break ups and places in order to analyze what tends to spark his creativity.  In an effort to be more self-aware, Velez asks himself why he keeps going back to certain people as sources of inspiration.  The findings were then translated into new portraits, flower paintings, abstracted depictions of the body and intimate photo collages that function as a fractured narrative in which the dynamics of personal and platonic relationships are blurred.

Ros pelo dream state

Pedro Velez, “Rosalyn Mártir as Judith (Dream State),” Dimesions variable

Vélez has re-examined previous work while analyzing past romantic and non-romantic relationships, pinpointing their effect on his work. Subsequently, he has gone back and re-photographed these subjects, creating paintings from the photographs that are most significant to him. The artist has found that certain people are constantly repeated in his work while other people with whom he has had important relationships are barely featured. These muses are not the passive figures of Greek and Roman times, but instead active important protagonists in Vélez’s work.

IMG_7409Rosalyn Martir, a friend of Vélez’s has been the subject of multiple photocollages, including a piece referencing Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, which was censored here in Milwaukee. Mónica Rizzo, one of the artist’s former romantic partners, has also been featured in a variety of pieces—one of the most well known being Ann Lee Lives!, a controversial protest piece where she embodied the popular purple haired Japanese figure, Annlee. Vélez considers Walter Robinson, whom with the artist worked closely at Artnet, as an important muse. This was reflected in the series of work he created for the 2014 Whitney Biennial. Tony Fitzpatrick, and his work, have also surfaced as important muses, as one of the pieces in Revealing Nature illustrates.

In addition, Vélez has realized that over the course of his career, it has not only been people who have served as inspiration for his work, but places and ideas as well. For example, political issues and the city of Chicago, where Vélez long-resided, both constantly serve as sources, or muses, for new artworks.

Greg Klassen, sketch book.

Greg Klassen, sketch book.

Greg Klassen is a Milwaukee-based artist. Klassen’s notion of “Revealing Nature” places the artist, the studio and the natural world in a dynamic relationship that explores how ideas of growth, inspiration, survival, decay and creativity come to fruition. He breaks down the walls between art production and the forces of nature. For example, Klassen has buried his painted canvases in compost piles to let the natural processes of decay color and shape his compositions. He has also brought plants into the studio, tossed them into piles of studio debris, set up a home-made watering system and allowed nature to take its course. This exhibition will feature a room installation, a series of sculptural sketchbooks and a series of collages. Klassen has said of his work, “My art is the design of experiments, the staging of serendipitous expeditions.”


Pedro Vélez
Pedro Vélez’s recent exhibitions include the 2014 Whitney Biennial in New York; Morally Reprehensible at 101 / Exhibit, LA; #DrunkDictators, an “On The Wall” installation at Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago; Ransom Notes and Surrender Flags at AREA, Caguas Puerto Rico; No Regrets at Oliver Francis Gallery in Dallas.

His work as both an artist and writer has been discussed in the LATimes, Chicago Tribune, Al Jazeera America, Huffington Post, New York Times, Artforum, Mutual Art, Frieze, Artspace and The Miami Herald among many other publications. For 10 years Pedro Vélez maintained a regular column about the art scenes in San Juan and Chicago for Artnet Magazine. In addition, his writing has been published in Newcity, New Art Examiner and Arte al Día.

Pedro Vélez’s work merges his interest in art criticism (including his own writing) and journalism into what he calls “visual essays” that take the form of large sculptural paintings, photographic collages, and limited edition posters and postcards resembling the look and feel of movie posters. Velez also incorporates text in his work, based on hashtags lifted from Twitter, that are scathingly critical as well as poetically cryptic. Taken together, Vélez’s multi-disciplinary approach creates a vibrant, stream-of-consciousness commentary on a variety of issues, encompassing race, politics, and other aesthetic concerns.

Greg Klassen

Greg Klassen (b. 1965) earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and did advanced study at Kunst Akademie Dusseldorf, Germany. He was one of the last artists to study under Gerhard Richter in the 1990s.

A major exhibition, Perishable Atlas, was staged at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Institute of Visual Arts in 2011. He recently exhibited a collaborative  project at Usable Space, Milwaukee. Other exhibitions include the Watrous Gallery, Walker’s Point Center for the Arts, Jurgen Kalthoff Gallery (Germany).

Portrait Society Gallery

Portrait Society is a progressive, contemporary art gallery in Milwaukee, WI dedicated to the issues surrounding the genre of portraiture. Established in 2008, the gallery showcases both current and historic artists who work broadly and loosely with the conceptual ideas embedded in portrait traditions.