By Charise Dawson
One Milwaukeean has no trouble likening medicine to art.
Dr. Curt Kommer, a Milwaukee artist and physician, will exhibit his artwork in his first gallery show at Lakeshore Gallery. The exhibit, Travelogues, a collection of oil and acrylic paintings, runs May 2 through May 31.
According to Kommer, being an artist is like being a doctor: both roles require discipline and detail. “When I sit down, I can bring a lot of focus in it. A lot of the qualities of a doctor require the same focus and detail that artists need.”
During his work as a family physician, Kommer made house calls to former UWM Professor of Art Joseph Friebert. The two discussed art and the late Friebert asked Kommer to show him his paintings. His encouragement inspired Kommer to continue showing other people his artwork.
“He passed away about two years ago. I know he’d be so proud of me,” Kommer said.
For the internationally known artist, painting was Friebert’s lifetime work. According to Kommer, he was still painting at 89 years old and reworking pieces he had done 30 years ago.
“I used to be so sensitive about revising my work. You don’t want a physician who isn’t a perfectionist. You want him to get it exactly right the first time. But in art, you can start over. Friebert showed me that art is a living thing. It evolves. As it develops, we may change our minds,” said Kommer.
Kommer, a Chicago native, had never left the city until he was 18. As a Chinese interpreter in the military, he took watercolor classes in Asia to relax. Ten years ago, his wife bought him a set of oil paints. He now uses oils and acrylics to create textures in his paintings.
He received his M.D. from the University of California at Davis. Kommer has been with Columbia St. Mary’s since 1985. He is semi-retired from his family practice and works half-time in urgent care.
Since his semi-retirement, Kommer wanted to see if any gallery would consider showing his paintings. Roger Tsang at Lakeshore Gallery was the first person he approached, and though Tsang really liked Kommer’s work, Cranston in the Third Ward was the first to show his art.
Kommer and Tsang kept in touch, and about a year ago, the gallery showed and sold some of Kommer’s artwork. He was delighted when Tsang offered to have an entire show of Kommer’s work at Lakeshore Gallery.
Kommer, who paints in the back bedroom of his house, said that seeing his paintings on the wall of the gallery, professionally lit, was thrilling. The exhibition is the first time the artist has seen all of his paintings in one place.
“I’ve got some butterflies,” Kommer admitted about his first opening night reception at Lakeshore Gallery, a chance for art-lovers to meet the artist. “I don’t know if they are expecting me to walk around with a pipe and talk about every detail of each painting,” he joked.
“I thought it would be pretentious to sign my name across a piece,” said Kommer, who instead signed his name in Chinese characters. While in the military, Kommer visited Hong Kong and met a vendor who carved a Chinese chop of his name in a block of wood. The characters roughly translate to “Student of Confucius.”
Kommer paints from photographs taken on his journeys. He first blocks the piece out on a canvas, then fills it is with paints. The artist said he is drawn to color and texture.
Though most of his paintings are of landscapes, the exhibit also includes florals and portraits. One of his favorite pieces, a very expressive painting called Darkness and Light, was inspired by a Zoloft anti-depressant medication advertisement. The woman in the photograph made Kommer wonder, ‘Is she thinking, or is she depressed?’ VS
Travelogues runs through May 31 at Lakeshore Gallery, 4401 Oakland Avenue in Shorewood. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday 10am-6pm and Saturday 10am-5pm. For more information, call
(414) 964-2540 or visit Lakeshore Gallery online.