Portrait Society Show Packs Emotional Punch
“Inside/Out” is about art, music, life, by three very different artists.
“Inside/Out”, the latest exhibition at the Portrait Society Gallery features artists Thomas Haneman, M. Winston and Ted Brusubardis, all of whom do work that is salve for the soul. As I enter the first of three rooms that comprise the gallery, I become visually entwined in the vibrant work of Sheboygan artist Thomas Haneman. For years, Haneman has had debilitating depression, but three years ago he found the right medications and is now able to create an amazing garden of imagined and remembered plants and flowers. The backgrounds in his work, either mottled or solid colored, have a quiet mood unto themselves and are a subtle accompaniment to the cornucopia of flowers and vines which pop and pulsate with curves and corpulent juiciness in the foreground. The colors are ultra-saturated and seem to swell with a renewed sense of life. Haneman uses acrylics and begins by painting the entire composition in white over the background color. By doing this, when applying vibrant hues in transparent layers, the white intensifies the color by acting as a reflector under the transparent, stained-glass like paint.
The next space is lined with M. Winston’s gum wrapper-sized abstract watercolors on paper, each piece uniformly framed in black. I have to get very close to see these intimate moments of color and time painted with honesty and assurance. I feel like I’m looking trough a miniature opening into another world of remembered vacations or imagined oases. There are vague hints of landscapes, but this work is more about the emotional connection of layered paint and color than earth and sky. Looking at the way Winston used the watercolors, I notice very little water was used to create glazes or transitions. Rather, a brush with a small amount of paint was used to make scratchy semi-transparent passages which dance, skip and glide on the surface of the paper. These paintings are the meditations and memories of Winston, who is currently an inmate within the Wisconsin Department of Corrections with six years remaining on his sentence.
The last and largest space emanates with piano music which infuses the entire gallery. Both entrances are sealed with black curtains hung from floor to ceiling. As I enter, I notice the starkness of the space. I have never seen it without artwork on the walls and I feel a sense of isolation. As I take a seat in the corner, I think of M. Winston in his cell. There are four different videos playing on four screens of Milwaukee based artist Ted Brusubardis’ piece, “Lietus in 3 Movements”. The four-channel video shows his son playing a composition the youth himself wrote and then Brusubardis’s father responding to that composition. The importance of music runs deep in the Brusubardis family history; access to a piano during their time in a German relocation camp strengthened their belief in the life sustaining and healing energy of music.
On one screen, the youth starts his piano solo with determined vigor like a seed pushing through soil. On another screen, he is lovingly watched by his grandfather and teacher. The remaining two screens show the hands of the two. When the youth is finished, the elder switches places and now the grandson admires his grandfather. The elder starts with a whisper on the keys and then proceeds with aged confidence in response to his grandson’s composition. The video is mesmerizing in its juxtaposition of live action and slow motion sequences, the mutual admiration between generations so palpable. I feel my eyes start to swell with tears while witnessing the final sequence of the video, a duet comprised of footage from both performances which is edited and composed by the artist himself. As I emerge through the black curtains I leave the gallery teary eyed, with a renewed sense of the healing and transformative power of art.
“Inside/Out”, at the Portrait Society, 207 E. Buffalo St., Suite 526, through September 14.
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