Judith Ann Moriarty
Moon over M’waukee

“Friends” at Portrait Society Gallery

By - Mar 24th, 2011 04:00 am
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Video by Kat Murrell

There was a full moon hanging over the lake when I headed home from the opening of Friends at the Portrait Society Gallery in the Marshall Building on Friday, March 18th. It was an almost-spring night when folks gathered to nosh and drink, and such was the case at the upbeat PSG event where big bowls of popcorn waited to be gobbled, then washed down by wine. The trio of artists (John Riepenhoff, FahimehVahdat, and Mona Webb) whose work filled the gallery spaces, exhibited images of their friends, so all in all the event was warm and welcoming.

"Gootch" by Mona Webb.

It was all quite fine, and at evening’s end I had phone numbers and email info from long-lost pals and acquaintances.
PSG is an ever-changing scene, but gallery proprietor Deb Brehmer remarked that portraits are her favorites, though it is true that she often exhibits work that reveals the inner self as much as the outer self. It’s the best of both worlds.

Big splashy portraits in wild colors smiled from the walls surrounding the pink couch (my soft peachy friend, an icon for sure), looking ever so much like artifacts from the swinging 60s. Painting from memory, artist Mona Webb captured the essence of that heady era: a big-eyed kid clutching something undefined, a Native-American wearing a headband and standing somewhere in the Arizona land of the Havasupai tribes, a portrait of a blonde, hair parted straight down the middle.

Back then, Webb hosted “happenings” in her Madison digs. She painted up a storm in those days. It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. It was their time.

John Riepenhoff. Photo by Kat Murrell.

Green Gallery (East & West) co-owner, John Riepenhoff, strapped on a guitar and riffed a few tunes in another room, where a diverse selection of drawings depicting his friends (drawing him, but that’s another story) were framed in white and stacked along the south wall. The north wall was given over to his huge drawing on canvas.

Sketchy and intimate, fifteen digital portfolios of the images are available, with an added bonus, thrown in for good measure: the man himself riffing on a cassette tape.

Etching by Fahimeh Vahdat

The third gallery was hung with small etchings by Fahimeh Vahdat, who gave them a final hand-colored touch. Some were barely bigger than a postage stamp, indicating the artist’s supreme control over her method of choice. Intense, intriguing and intricate, they depict friends she’s known and perhaps (I wonder) may never see again. There’s a covert aura in the work, as if she declined to reveal too much.

Her work is the polar opposite of Mona Webb’s flashbacks. Webb lived large and in-your-face. I’m guessing that Vahdat lives “small,” as her etchings suggest.

We dwell in a world where “friends” often aren’t really friends, but rather cyber buddies or fast-forward faces floating in virtual space. To be at an opening mingling with friends admiring depictions of friends, well, it was tops. The exhibition closes on May 1 and will be swinging on Gallery night in April.

It’s spring. It’s our time.

Friends: John Riepenhoff, Mona Webb and Fahimeh Vahdat remains on view at The Portrait Society Gallery, located in suite 526 of The Marshall Building (207 E. Buffalo St.) through May, 1. For more information and gallery hours, click here.

Categories: Art

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