Art

Every Picture Tells a Story

Every Picture Tells a Story

In becoming a photographer, one makes a choice to be the teller of stories rather than the subject, witness to the deeds of others, a visual historian to a particular moment in time Milwaukee photographer Jim Herrington has stories of his own, of course, but what fascinates is his body of work – and that’s the way he wants it. He has a gift for capturing the essence of his subjects, preferring native settings over studios and just shooting until he captures that perfect moment. “It’s like writing a song. Sometimes it’s there from the beginning and you have to get out of the way and let it happen.” To peruse Herrington’s portfolio is particularly delightful for lovers of American music. There’s almost nobody he hasn’t shot, and he has stories to tell about the rest. He also climbs and has incredible pictures, not so much of mountains, but of mountaineers. Something of a dreamer himself, he gravitates towards others like him, recording their visages for posterity and his own collection. Herrington will show work on Gallery Night at Cedar Gallery, upstairs at 326 N. Water St. But what you won’t get on October 19 is a sense of the stories he’s amassed along the way; how his photos came to be, a sense of the person behind each still image. Some of those stories are told here, in his words; a few others are on his website at jimherrington.com. The rest are his own – as it should be. VS

Martin Ramirez at MAM

Martin Ramirez at MAM

Martin Ramirez is an enigma. For decades, he was classified as one of the three greatest “outsider” artists of contemporary American art, but next to nothing was known about him. In the last ten years, two dedicated biographers have beaten back the darkness surrounding the facts of Ramirez’s life, but this endeavor has lead to other questions. Ramirez was born in the Jalisco region of Mexico in 1895. In 1925, like many others — then and now — he immigrated to the United States to find work. He worked on the railroad in Northern California for five years, sending money home to his wife and four children in Mexico. In 1930, Ramirez was arrested for erratic public behavior, and ultimately institutionalized, first in Stockton and then Dewitt State Hospital. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and lived the rest of his life in the institution, where he died in 1963. Most of these facts were not known when Ramirez was categorized as an outsider artist in the 1970s. It was thought he might have been born in Mexico, it was thought he might have died in the 1960s. It was widely thought that he was a deaf-mute, which is not accurate. The term “outsider artist” was coined to denote an artist that did not take part in the “art world” — one that did not exhibit, did not invite or assimilate criticism, did not discuss their art. An outsider artist might be thought of as someone who refused or was unable to think of themselves as an artist. However, along with basic biographical details of Martin Ramirez’s life, we have learned in recent years that he did exhibit during his lifetime. A professor at Sacramento State College visited Ramirez often and arranged for his art to be shown, both in solo exhibitions and as part of group shows, on both coasts. Ramirez was critiqued. He had visitors in Dewitt that came to see him to discuss his art. One must wonder if Ramirez did think of himself as an artist, especially towards the end of his life. All he had was the hospital, and his drawings. All historical considerations and controversies aside, though, it cannot be denied that Ramirez had a vision of some sort. He was driven to create, whether or not he was an “artist” in classical terms. His drawings, on bits of paper pieced together with a glue made of potato and his own saliva, in crayon and colored pencils and whatever else the staff of the hospital had lying around, have a decidedly dreamlike quality. Viewing them, one enters a surreal realm of horses and trains and women wearing crowns. Everything is stylized, and it’s unclear how much of that is due to the fact that Ramirez was drawing from memory after being in an institution for 30 years, and how much of that is due to his schizophrenia. My favorite of his general themes are the trains and tunnels. He does variations; there are a few […]

Shoot-out at the corner of Superior & Russell

Shoot-out at the corner of Superior & Russell

Artist Jimmy von Milwaukee (JVM) has had his share of ups and downs as a gallerist known for hot times in colorful venues around town, for example his hit-and-run stint as the proprietor of the moveable feasts like Leo Feldman, River Rat Gallery (formerly staged in narrow alleys) and, lest you forget, his annual irreverent Xmas Craft Show. 2007 wasn’t so hot for JVM, who battled AIDS and coped with the death of his dog Spot, who could jump through hoops and often entertained during his master’s wild soirees. Call him a “survivor” – JVM is back at it, this time to curate a River Rat Gallery Night & Day exhibit (Cowboys & Indians), opening October 19 (through January 3/08) at the Palomino, 2491 S. Superior St., in Bay View. Gallery Day can be dull, but if you arrive at 10 a.m. and stick it out, you can rustle some brunch grub. Jimmy Von Milwaukee at the Palomino I’ve known JVM for several decades and early-on wondered about his sanity, and the sanity of the artists he exhibited. Were they eccentrics hankering for publicity, or were they bona-fide artists seeking a place to call their own? In retrospect, I believe they were a bit of each. Despite, or more likely because of his audacious approach to art, JVM managed to charm the late great art critic for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, James Auer, and the media has been feasting on him ever since. He’s 51 now and his edges have softened a bit – but only a bit. Some see him as Milwaukee’s “Andy Warhol.” That may be a stretch, but Warhol was no slouch when it came to cowboys and Indians. Andy Warhol, Double Elvis, 1963 So what can you expect when the exhibit kicks up dust at the Palomino during that most revered of events – Gallery Night & Day? Will it be just another “outsider artist” show, or will it rise above that useless label, a label more or less put to rest when Miracles of the Spirit: Folk, Art, and Stories from Wisconsin, a major book, was published in 2006. One of the artists who received full coverage in Miracles, Bob Watt, will make his Palomino debut with paintings of Indians. There will be an interpretation of Brokeback Mountain and a Warholian salute to Roy Rogers by printmaker Randy James, a hand-crafted “Smallpox Blanket” by Chris Ward, photographs of cattle castration and branding by James Brozek, plus more stuff for your saddlebags: Heather and Jerome Voelske’s cowboy-themed glass items installed on the interior of the north facing bank of windows, Rebecca Tanner’s soft-sculpture Winchester rifles, paintings by Lemonie Fresh, and a sculpture by Matt Fink, known in these parts for his stinging social commentary. JVM has legions of fans and a tendency to exhibit too much work, and the Palomino is already awash with cowboy kitsch, but maybe in this case, more will be more. I’m betting on it. “Cowboy” from a working ranch, Mimbres, New […]

Temporary Beauty

Temporary Beauty

The phrase “art on wheels” conjures images of taxi billboards, tour vans with flaming skulls and purple ponies, fancy ice cream trucks with neon graffiti and occasionally even cleverly wrapped buses. But look a little further – specifically, further down – and these words might also encompass another, much more fleeting form – skateboard deck art. Primarily placed on the flip side of skateboard decks, these graphics are unnoticeable until the skater gives a peek of paint and sticker via a kickflip or railstand. Although it’s tough to appreciate a deck artistically while in motion, decks have still garnered appreciation for their intense graphics that are political, religious, gender-infused; smacking culture around with a flippant force that ranges from the shocking to the quirky and is seldom dull. For this reason, skateboard decks are becoming a focus for many an art gallery in the last few years, forcing them to stop rolling and stay put, fascinating many an art aficionado who might not otherwise encounter a seven-ply piece of North American maple on wheels. It’s authentic American art in its essence, with many of the artists being skaters themselves. Most involved in deck art start at an early age, while they are still learning how to drop onto a board and roll. Twenty-year-old Milwaukee skater and illustrator for Stuck Magazine, Huey Crowley, is a perfect example. “I started messing around with deck art when I was in 7th grade, and I made my first actual attempt for Black Market Skateboards when I was a junior in high,” he explains. “The deck was called ‘Fear of a Black Market Planet’ and had all the members of Public Enemy on it.” His art made it all the way to Japan to be mass-produced. A technical issue kept it from release, but it was enough to light Crowley’s fire. “From then on I was always making stuff for skateboard companies. Skater artists like Ed Templeton really psyched me up to do skateboard art. It’s nice to be able to go out and skate, and when you’re done you can come home and still keep the creativity flowing on a different scale.” Gene Evans of Luckystar Studio also started early in the mixing of skating and paint. “Skateboarding is just something we did in the trailer park I grew up in. I drew and painted on everything as a kid. I’ve always painted over existing artwork – something I still do to this day. I’ve been painting and trading painted decks since I was a kid [in the late 70s].” + Building a Better… Board Most young skaters start out on plain decks – or ‘blanks’ – because they cost less. “The more bland or boring decks (blanks too) are basically for people that just want to skate (or are poor like me),” Crowley explains. Mike ‘Beer’ of Beer City Skateboards owns a shop in Milwaukee that offers both decks with graphics and blanks. Beer said that his blank decks are about $15 – […]

VITAL’S 2007 Photo Contest Winners

VITAL’S 2007 Photo Contest Winners

I think photography as the America of “Art.” It is not a perfect analogy; photography doesn’t arrest undocumented artworks and detain them indefinitely, nor is it engaged in an endless quest to start wars against developing art forms whilst alienating and disenfranchising photographs at home. Photographs are sometimes bought and sold to the highest bidder, but that’s not what I mean, either. Photography is a highly democratic art form. Not everyone is born with the fine motor skills to learn how to draw or the craftsmanship necessary to sculpt or carve wood. But most people can figure out how to press a button on a camera. With a light meter and a little practice, even a manual camera is intuitive enough to understand. The ever-expanding accessibility of digital equipment has even made it possible to eliminate the complicated and costly process of developing your own prints. Now all you need is a printer, or someone whose printer you can use and – voilà – a masterpiece. The ease of photography invites experimentation and ingenuity. Like America, nothing is guaranteed – not everyone can afford those fancy macro lenses, and not everyone has an eye for composition – but photography strives for equality of opportunity. And frankly, that makes the old institutions a little bit nervous. If you were an oil painting, you’d be nervous, too. Look at what happened to Great Britain. And in the grand scheme of things, photography is a pretty young way to make art, and even though a photograph is one of the world’s most powerful tools for telling a story or conveying an image, photography is still fighting for its credibility in the art world. Not everyone trusts photography. It’s too instant. It’s too mechanical. The artist is too far removed from the art. Or so it is still sometimes said. This year, in the spirit of opportunity, we awarded two different awards for each category – Best Professional and Best Amateur. The judges – Cori Coffman, Executive Director of the Eisner Musuem of Art and Design; Deone Jahnke, a local professional photographer who works all over the country and Sonja Thomsen, adjunct professor at MIAD and head of Milwaukee’s Coalition of Photographic Arts – swore to be fair and impartial administrators of their duties. They rated each photograph blind before the law (well, they could see, but it was anonymous) and on video camera themselves, for all to witness at our second Random Exposure opening on June 14 at the Eisner, which will include over 60 of our favorite entries, democratically displayed for your viewing enjoyment. There will also be music, food and more. Look for details on page 18. In your winners, you will see testament to the radical and boundless fruits of this art for the people: color, shadows, truth, comedy, tragedy, apathy and beauty. PORTRAIT BEST IN SHOW Best Professional Jessica Kaminski “Girl in Doorway” Jessica Kaminski received her BFA in Fine Art Photography from MIAD in 2001. Since then, she […]

The 2007-2008 Fine Arts Season Preview

The 2007-2008 Fine Arts Season Preview

By Russ Bickerstaff and Evan Solochek Having survived the uncertainties of a Milwaukee winter, things settle down as our performing arts groups begin to look forward to next season. As usual, 2007-08 events closest to the present happen to also be the furthest from Milwaukee, as spring pushes performances further away from the theatre district for the summer. West of Madison, The American Players Theatre in Spring Green is one of the most consistently satisfying theatre companies in the state. The outdoor repertory group starts its season this June with a production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, which may have a difficult time topping Milwaukee Shakespeare’s outstanding production of the same play earlier this season. With a talented APT cast including Michael Gotch and James DeVita, it’s definitely going to be good. Along with the usual Shakespearian bits, the APT will be performing Shaw’s Misalliance and Tennessee Williams’ Night of the Iguana. To the north and east, The American Folklore Theatre in Fish Creek starts its season in June as well with the world premiere of A Cabin With A View. It’s a musical romantic comedy based on E.M. Forster’s novel of the same name, with the AFT’s usual touches of Wisconsin charm. AFT’s season also includes reprisals of two of its biggest hits: Belgians in Heaven and the irrepressible Guys On Ice. Further in the future but closer to home, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre opens its season in August with a production of Ron Hutchinson’s comedy Moonlight and Magnolias. The impressive cast of Michael Herold, Marcy Kearns, Daniel Mooney and Gerard Neugent relate the story of those strange hours that passed as the script for Gone With The Wind was written. The Chamber’s season also includes performances of short monologues (with Talking Heads, which opens in October) and a play based on the very, very long Dostoyevsky novel Crime and Punishment. The Boulevard Theatre opens its 2007-2008 season in August with David Mamet’s brilliant dramatic tribute to the art of the sale with Glengarry Glen Ross. The Boulevard’s freshly announced season features some clever choices for its tiny space, including the holocaust drama The Last Letter, a play about Clarence Darrow, a romantic French farce and Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well. Shakespeare continues to catch the stage in rather unexpected places as The Milwaukee Ballet’s upcoming season features graceful interpretations of both Hamlet (in November) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (in April). In keeping with the production standards of the Ballet, set and costuming for April’s show should be every bit as impressive as the performance itself. In addition to the familiar standards of the Nutcracker and the annual trip to the Pabst, the Milwaukee Ballet’s season also includes what should prove to be a lavish production of La Bayadere, a sumptuous tale of love and jealousy. And now to raise the curtain on the coming season…. ACACIA THEATRE COMPANY Integrating art and faith, Acacia provides occasion for all to consider their lives in relation to God. Season […]