Fumes at Green Gallery East
In 2003, a relatively low-profile local artist named Peter Barrickman showed his work in an exhibit at the Flying Fish gallery in Riverwest. The gallery is gone, and the proprietor, Faythe Levine, went on to found Paper Boat Boutique & Gallery, the indie craft fair Art Vs. Craft, make Handmade Nation, globe trot, etc. Also in 2003, Barrickman was awarded a Mary Nohl Fund Fellowship for Individual Emerging Artists. The Nohl Fund awarded him an Export Grant five years later. Not bad for a chap who earned his University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee BFA in Film & Video in 2002.
Barrickman remains dedicated to art-making and maintains a studio at Green Gallery West. That’s where I first saw his work a few years ago, and the images have stuck in my head ever since. I guess I should disclose that I recently purchased “Cave,” but not from his current show. It’s a beauty.
So here I stand outside of the Green Gallery East at 1500 N. Farwell Avenue, on a sweltering day, the air heavy with pollution. GGE is housed in a rehabbed pizza joint across the street from the Pasta Tree, just a block or two south of Maharaja, on a route slammed with traffic, sirens and barking dogs. Perhaps you’ve seen the garish station wagon, nasty with Old Testament rants, its loudspeaker blaring as it tools around town. It’s usually parked just north of GGE, which actually funks things up a bit, adding some sleaze to the hottest gallery spot in Milwaukee. Can a year have passed since I watched the abandoned take-out place transform into a sleek new venue, helmed by John Riepenhoff and his cousin Jake Palmert? These two are lean, young and hungry, prowling to be part of the future of art in Milwaukee and beyond.
As I stand underneath the ‘50s-style metal canopy sheltering the entryway, a male voice thrums nearby, rather loudly I think. Perhaps it’s coming from the house – the one with the junk wagon – next door? No, it’s the voice of Barrickman himself, issuing forth from an mp3 player directly overhead. It runs 24/7, enhanced by colored lights at night. Isn’t this a bit showy, and in a densely populated neighborhood, obviously invasive?
“Oh, the traffic noise on Farwell drowns out the voice. I doubt if the neighbors hear it,” says Palmert. The show closes on August 30, and the voice goes with it. If you drop in for a visit by car, there is plenty of parking, thanks to a generous area provided by the attorneys occupying the majestic property behind GGE. If the gallery is closed, you can still get a sense of the space and the installation by peering in the big panes of glass.
Inside all is hip and über-cool. Underfoot, slices of white ‘70s shag carpet are set in trapezoidal shapes; overhead, white bulbous paper lamps, sort of James Bond-ish, soften the scene. I was told that on opening night, only white wine was served so as to avoid red wine stains on the pristine shag. Fair enough; it is one thing to develop a great space, quite another to stay focused when mobs arrive and spill their drinks. As I write this, Jake Palmert waltzes by wielding a rag mop – the better to clean up with after a farewell party for a young artist leaving for grad school in Los Angeles. (Good luck, Cat Pham.)
Barrickman’s six large paintings (each 54 x 48 inches) occupy the main gallery, but the room isn’t cramped, even when stuffed with viewers, as it always is during their openings. A smaller, adjacent gallery/workspace has an assortment of works by Barrickman and others, including a trio of gorgeously great Garfields by Paul Slocum.
Generally I’m not one for clutter, neither in my home nor on a canvas, and I initially felt that Barrickman shines brighter when he pares down his images. But his work reflects the worlds and dreams of a generation nurtured on TV, movies, and the jitters of endless sensory experiences of the high-tech.
Peter Barrickman, Lodger, 2008. Acrylic on canvas.
Are Barrickman’s six successful? With the exception of the “Lodger 2008” (acrylic on canvas) they are all jumpy and slightly skewed, suggesting that the canvas, be it collaged or not, is about to burst forth into virtual space. “Christmas in Data Entry” may be the best example of the nerved-up hand and head of the artist, mainly because it references his film training. I can imagine him standing in front of this oil and paper on canvas trying to contain an energy he might otherwise have channeled through an 8MM home film.
Peter Barrickman, Christmas in Data Entry.
My favorite is “Borrowing a Rake 2009” (acrylic, pencil and paper on canvas), a greyed-down mish-mash of dots, conceived, I guess, to suggest winter is almost upon us, which in this city it almost always is. Here and there, the collaged elements lift off the canvas, which gives me an impulse to step forward and hold everything down. Perhaps the loosely applied collage elements are what the artist intends… maybe to hint that everything is transitional, though somehow I don’t quite buy that. On the other hand, in a world of art where anything goes, would I dare suggest the aforementioned elements need an additional dollop of gloss gel medium?
Peter Barrickman, Borrowing a Rake, 2009.
John Riepenhoff and Jake Palmert are determined to hype Green Gallery East to the max. They promote themselves lavishly, shamelessly, and in this case, via Snapmilwaukee.com, though when I asked them about the “self-promotion” aspects of Snap, they said they were going to do everything to avoid beating their own drum (or snapping their fingers). Yeah right. If that’s true, they must be out of step with the times. Think about it: why should they avoid promoting themselves when the whole world is into it?
Go to the site and determine if they are, indeed, incestuous. And then ask yourself, “so what?” Since when haven’t artists been in bed with marketing types, be they gallery dealers, the media, curators or wealthy collectors who promote via mass cocktail parties and gatherings at their club? The internet has changed everything, but really, this has been happening all along. The web just makes it easier.
On September 12, the leaves of brown come drifting down during the opening of “Sauce Policy,” a two person exhibit at GGE. Sarah Clendening, an L.A. based painter & sculptor, will be up front with Eric Wesley in the backroom, but don’t let backroom fool you. It’s all top shelf – almost. But they’re getting there, and bless the souls who try to elevate this thing called “art.”
Go there. Visit www.thegreengallery.biz or call 414-226-1978 for more info.