Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Sources of inspiration: MARN mentors and National Parks

Extraverts draw energy from social interactions and introverts find themselves sapped by the same situations. Instead they are nurtured by solitary pursuits. Likewise some artists find inspiration from and amongst other people while others head as far out of town as possible and immerse themselves in nature. Two divergent exhibitions currently on display in Milwaukee illustrate these tendencies.

From long experience I know that I will be unable to visit half the venues on my “must see” list for gallery night and day, which is coming up this weekend. Therefore, I took the opportunity to visit these two shows, which are a bit off the beaten track, ahead of the weekend.

Sculptures by Ann Baer
Vanguard Sculpture Services, a foundry and gallery on the north side, is hosting the annual exhibit of work done during the past year by MARN mentors and their protégées. Sponsored by MARN (Milwaukee Artist Resource Network), the program pairs artists with similar interests or disciplines who then commit to meeting together for a year. Their relationship is intended to be a mutual exchange or dialogue, each drawing inspiration from the experience of working with the other.

Yelling Man, Rhonda Gatlin-Hayes
The drawback of visiting this show outside of official opening or gallery night events was the absence of the musicians and the “platforming” (which I must confess is a new category for me; can’t say what it actually is.) However, the visual arts on display are quite diverse, including painting, printmaking, sculpture, mixed media, and video.

One that struck me in particular was a series of projected images entitled “The Sequence Collection” by Jason Altobelli. Each projected image in the series is composed of several still photographs collaged together. The relationships amongst these disparate images were often enigmatic and I found the impulse to create associations intriguing. There was no way to capture this piece in one still image.

Hidden Face, Kyle Jeske
It is a testament perhaps to the power of the mentor/protégée relationships that I found it hard to distinguish the work of the protégées from that of the mentors. Something is working here!

 The other exhibit is at the Schlueter Art Gallery, on the Wauwatosa campus of Wisconsin Lutheran College. It couldn’t be much more of a contrast with the MARN show. The six artists in the show have all taken advantage of the opportunity to retreat into the remote wilds of nature through a U. S. National Park Artist in Residency. The show was curated by Kristin Gjerdset, a Wisconsin Lutheran faculty member who herself has participated in multiple National and State Park residencies.

Great Basin Triptych, Kristin Gjerdset
U. S. National Parks Artist in Residency programs are offered in over 29 parks, monuments and wildlife refuges. They generally provide participating artists with minimal accommodations and maximum access to nature and the unique features of each park. In return the artists are expected to provide some kind of public program for park visitors and to donate a work of art that was inspired by their residency.

Mosquito, Joyce Kostenmaki
The work of the six artists in this show is remarkably consistent both in content and quality. Inspired by their surroundings, traditional nature studies and landscapes prevail, as might be expected. The parks represented range from Great Basin in Nevada and Rocky Mountain in Colorado to Isle Royale, MI, in Lake Superior.

It was eye opening to see how many of these artists have been granted residencies year after year. At least two of their number have done no fewer than a dozen stints in one or more parks. This was of particular interest to me personally, not only because I myself often find inspiration in the natural world, but also because I have applied to be an artist in residence to at least five different National Parks.

Spring Melt, Diane Bywaters
“Summer Arts: Inspired by the National Parks” runs through August 2 at the Schlueter Art Gallery, 8815 W. Wisconsin Avenue, Wauwatosa. For more info, see Wisconsin Lutheran College.

The “MARN Mentor/Protégée Exhibit” runs through July 30 at Vanguard Sculpture Services, 3374 W. Hopkins St., Milwaukee. For more info, go to the Vanguard website or MARNmentors.

Ps., if you go to Vanguard and find the front door locked, as I did, don’t be stymied. Go around to the left side loading dock. They have a buzzer there—and they will let you in.

Full disclosure: I have been a MARN mentor in the past—but I have not (yet!) been accepted as an artist in residence at a National Park.

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