Fred Bell and Livija Patikne
It’s satisfying to be someone who has reviewed the work of Milwaukee artists for almost three decades and still fall hard for a painting, in this case, Fred Bell’s “Alone,” a luscious rendering of strawberries, currently being served at Portrait Society Gallery in the Marshall Building. It is proof positive that an artist who burst upon the scene a few years ago has survived through ups and downs and still has the stuff to now and then knock my socks off. I’d almost given up on Bell and had started to think that well, his poodles, chairs, houses, and portraits all had a similar look…competent, but not earth shaking. It left me wondering where Bell’s soul was lurking.
“Alone” changed my mind. It’s sensational. I also fell for “Open Door,” and the perfectly placed “Cigarette,” an image of a woman alone on a couch, smoking. Michael DiMilo, the art director and illustrator for Culver Brands, purchased the strawberry painting I yearned to take home. He spoke to me about the “turbulence” in the painting, a “mix of formalism and abstraction.” DiMilo and his spouse also recently acquired (from PSG) a wild painting by Bernard Gilardi. The portrait of Lincoln fits in with their collection of Lincoln memorabilia and says a lot about collectors who see the merit in two works that are polar opposites.
The focus of this exhibition (Fred Bell and Livija Patikne: A Conversation) is to pair artist James Brozek’s superb prints that were culled from slides of a lady named Livija with Bell’s paintings. PSG owner/curator, Debra Brehmer, more than rose to the challenge. Livija, a buttoned-up 50s lady, favored flowers, flowers of all kinds, odd little arrangements set in vases, perhaps in memory of her deceased husband. The pairings of Brozek and Bell are not meant to suggest that the artists are being copy cats. Viewing their work side by side, to my eye at least, is about admiring singular efforts rather than comparing one to the other.
The tie that binds so beautifully, is the acute sense of solitude, of time ticking while artists listen and record. Brozek, Bell, and Brehmer. It couldn’t be better. And thank you Livija Patikne, wherever you are, sitting on the grasses of summer, wearing a dress patterned with flowers.
(Special ed. note — Jim Brozek says about these images: “I imagine and believe, the two florals in vases are yearnings in her to celebrate being alive. The self-portrait, which I trust is by and of herself, is shown to the world as she yearns to be seen. Don’t know what I can say for my intentions, other than I’m susceptible to images.”)
“Fred Bell and Livija Patikne: A Conversation” continues at the Portrait Society Gallery now through March 29, 2012 at the Marshall Building, 207 E. Buffalo St. @ Water, 5th Floor (Milwaukee).