I had to think back several decades to recall when I first saw Michelle Grabner’s paintings. Yes, it was at a Walker’s Point Gallery, run by Kent Mueller. I was intrigued by one of her pieces in which tiny odd figures populated a landscape in mostly blue. The painting was finished in a very high gloss gesso, lending it an air of a hand-crafted piece preserved under glass. Preserved, preserves, canned. Memorialized?
Her current exhibition, Cottage Works, at Green Gallery East, 1500 N. Farwell Ave., opened to the public on Gallery Day, January 21. Sparse and scrubbed to a minimalist virginity, it’s a perfect package for this gallery, a venue also sparse and scrubbed. It reigns supreme until Feb. 26.
Much has changed for Grabner since her Walker’s Point days. Admiring words have been written about her and galleries and notable museums (including the Milwaukee Art Museum) and private citizens have collected her work. She’s taught, traveled. Though her work slants toward the homespun, the handmade, there is not a hint of hee-haw in her concepts. She’s hardly the type who would tell you she’s “loved art since first she held a crayon clutched in her baby-fist.” Her series of “Gingham” acrylic paintings, some in crayola colors of orange, red, and yellow, are far more sophisticated than their “cotton fabric” name suggests.
Beautiful, but not perfect (on panels), their charm is in their slightly off-kilter imperfections. From a birds-eye view, they could be cloths on picnic table tops or pristine rectangles of fabric suitable for square-dancing skirts. Contrasted with the gingham glories are panels of deconstructed fabrics, re-constructed by Grabner to show the nature of weaving. She’s chosen, wisely so, to preserve their bleached and ghostly presence with a coat of gesso, rather than placing them under glass where their cottage work heartbeats would cease.
Green Gallery East is terrific. Reliably terrific. Go there. Plenty of parking behind the gallery. Yes.