Visual Art

Crazy About Color

Pat Hidson’s joyous abstracts belie her struggle to make it as an artist.

By - Apr 25th, 2023 03:12 pm
Emersyn’s Study, 2021 by Pat Hidson. Photo courtesy of MOWA.

Emersyn’s Study, 2021 by Pat Hidson. Photo courtesy of MOWA.

Painter Pat Hidson has been making art at a professional level for more than 40 years. She is a bundle of energy and that intensity reverberates from every one of her recent works in the current exhibit at MOWA St. John’s on the Lake.

Take a painting like “Emersyn’s Study,” which refers to her eight-year-old great niece’s room during the COVID-19 lockdown. It’s an abstract painting, but evokes a room that’s full of books and charts and games and all the things a little girl collects, studies and plays with. The austere gray room becomes a riot of intense colors and swirling shapes undulating and licking the surfaces of each other. It is a joyous jungle of imagination.

Hidson’s artistic journey was not an easy one. She grew up in Edmonton in western Canada and moved to Milwaukee in the early 1980’s. She had one child at the time and started teaching English and Art at Washington High School. She taught in the Milwaukee Public Schools full-time and as a substitute teacher for several years, while raising two children. She stopped teaching when her third child was born.

The oldest of five growing up in a home where the father was often out of town and the mother worked full time, Pat took care of everyone — handling household chores, cooking and child rearing. As she once put it, “I was born old.”

She developed a “can do” energy and ability to embrace multiple challenges of juggling children, work and artistic production.

I asked Hidson when she started considering herself as an artist. Like many women artists, her endeavors were often relegated to the sidelines. But her first solo show at the Universalist Unitarian Church sold out and was the affirmation she finally needed as an artist. Hidson says she had two very important mentors; Christine Guenther and Waldek Dynerman. Both saw her talent and were supportive and encouraging.

Hidson has always loved dance and was in a modern dance company at the University of Edmonton. After relocating to Milwaukee she maintained an informal involvement with dance by teaching at Lincoln Center for the Arts and taking classes with Debra Loewen and performing with Teri Carter. She still dances as she works in her studio. This sense of music (she is a big opera fan) and movement resonates in her work.

Portrait Society owner and curator Debra Brehmer, who represent and has exhibited Hidson’s work, says that Hidson’s paintings “seem to combine the structure of the built world — our home interiors, sitting rooms, studies, and kitchens, with an unbridled explosive energy derived from nature.”

Nature is important to Hidson. She and her husband Jim Brozek live in a Glendale home along the wild banks of the Milwaukee River where she has created a beautiful garden. The yard is a haven for native plants, birds, critters and nature in all its glory. The undulating organic shapes are repeated in various ways in all her compositions and spill over from interiors to exteriors.

All 14 works in this show, entitled “Compositions,” are abstracts created in the past 3 years. The size of the works range from 36”x 36” to 40” x 48’’ — and is determined by whatever can fit in her husband’s car. The vibrant, intense color, bold shapes and organic forms are reminiscent of Henri Matisse, but not an imitation. The colors, patterns and flattening of space recall some of his later abstractions created by paper cutouts.

I was also reminded of Wisconsin artist Ruth Grotenrath’s show (exhibited a few months ago at the Warehouse), whose work also dealt with some of the formal issues that are evident in Hidson’s work. I assumed she was an influence on Hidson. Surprisingly, she was unfamiliar with Grotenrath’s work until this show. Both artists are influenced by Matisse, but with a decidedly female vibe, a woman’s eye for domestic spaces.

Hidson said her style developed through the years of essentially turning visual lemons into lemonade, drawing an electrical cord with the same intensity and liveliness as a trailing vine in a garden, finding what’s unusual in the seemingly mundane, capturing the joy of everyday life.

“Her translations of these observed worlds hold a sense of release as if she is finally giving the old couch and its partnered end table their proper due,” Brehmer says. “It feels as if any room that bears the imprint of a loved one is almost too much to consume, too saturated with life and love that it must be broken down through a process of painterly abstraction.”

“Compositions,” works by Pat Hidson, are on display through May 21 at MOWA at St. John’s on the Lake, 1840 N. Prospect Ave.

“Compositions” Gallery

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us