Reflections on Knowing Kelli Hoppmann

It is said that all artists are, throughout the length of their careers, basically painting the same painting over and over again. Kelli has been painting about human strength and weakness for over thirty years.

Her themes of love, sin, politics, and redemption are repeated in paintings with titles such as “The Three Graces”, “Who Invited the Fascists”, and “The Reluctant Anarchist”. Kelli is ever curious about what makes us human, and reminds us about what makes us animal. I met Kelli while finishing an art degree at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Both young painters, she was a few years my senior, thus done with schooling and figuring how to manage a life in the arts.

With little money, neither of us had proper studios, but I learned from Kelli that it did not matter so much where you painted as long as you did it. She was always disciplined, painting or drawing more days than not, putting in at least four hours in her “studio” (read: closet) most days. She always made sure to find the time to get that much better, all while working a regular job to make sure she also got to eat.

Getting to know Kelli, I discovered she grew up in Madison, stayed on to receive a BFA in painting, then moved to New York City for a few years before returning to Madison, which is when I met her. For someone who has stayed so close to home, she has an endless curiosity of the world around her and is able to find inspiration in the familiar, draw drama from the ordinary, and see things that most of us overlook in our everyday lives.

Kelli brings the world to her through reading voraciously. Books are in piles around her home, and by looking at the varied titles we get some insight into her influences. The books in her home range from: history books about Nazis, true crime, Buddhist tradition, biographies, philosophy, natural science, and of course the dictionary. While staying well-read she manages to remain down to earth as ever; reading poetry after cheering on the Packers in football.

I’ve heard Kelli refer to herself as a frustrated writer or poet, and her paintings are poetic dramas played out in two dimensions, theatrical in their ability to create tension and narrative, while making the personal universal. The figures in her allegories often don elaborate costumes, surrounded by lush environments, beautiful patterns and vivid color. Sometimes we get to live vicariously through these characters, attending fantasy parties, drinking too many martinis, smoking forbidden cigarettes, and all manner of poor decision making. These parties and other such tableaus seduce us into their world, making it hard to look away even when the topics might be challenging.

Anthropomorphism is one of her favorite devices to expose our animal nature. Innocents are rabbit prey to the devious fox predators, the clever are crows while the boorish become just that.  Villains will be attired in as beautiful of costumes as the heroines and heroes of these dramas. The flatness of the panels that Kelli paints upon will often be reiterated with flat patterns and shallow depth of field that lends itself to the sense you are viewing a performance and the background is a stage set.

I’ve known Kelli for about as long as she’s been a painter, and during that time the steady stream of work coming from her studio has been both impressive, and at times hard to grasp. Even when she had two young children at home, she still managed to produce a notable amount of work. I’ve never known her to have a dry spell or creative block. Given her influence is the entire world this is not surprising. This book has been a wonderful chance to reflect on her career so far, and has made me even more excited about where she will take her art in the years to come.

-Theresa Abel
Owner, Art Director
Abel Contemporary Gallery

John S. Miller - Artist Talk

If you weren't able to join us for the artist talk with John Miller, we wanted to provide another way of hearing the excellent discussion. As many of you saw, we shot some video for the event, and have since cut it down to a really nice selection. For those of you interested in the full talk, we've included a link to the full audio below.

Enjoy, and make sure you catch John's show before its final day on June 4th!

Staff Pick – sly collaboration by Don Kauss (and Briony Morrow-Cribbs)

sly collaboration is a wonderful example of how Don Kauss makes the lost and discarded parts of our past shine with a new life. Years ago Briony Morrow-Cribbs shipped us a beautiful sculpture of a cat skeleton and opossum skull each posed within small wooded compartments and covered in intricate hand cut etching. Unfortunately the piece was damaged in shipping and was beyond repair. The work was so beautiful we couldn't bear discarding it, but it couldn't be shown, so we turned it over to Don Kauss. Don lovingly wrapped the shattered pieces of the sculpture and carried it off to his studio where he breathed new life into the piece. Contributing his own artistic touches to the work he added tubing, clock parts, gears, string, clips, springs, and a spiky sprig of mesquite. The piece metamorphosed into its new life as sly collaboration. It is a perfect example of Don’s seamless integration of disparate elements brought together in effortless complexity.

I find this piece particularly intriguing because it showcases the connection we saw curatorial between these two artists when we paired them for this exhibit. They both honor the past within their work. Briony uses the traditions of printmaking combined with stylistic references to 19th century naturalistic illustrations to discuss concepts of human nature and our animal instincts. Meanwhile, Don collects the flotsam and jetsam that has been abandoned or discarded and combines these elements in new and unexpected ways. Both artists use animals, bones, muted tones and precise line work to create an edge of unease, while simultaneously depicting the exquisiteness of the subject matter. This tension between attraction and revilement is a delicate balance to strike within a work of art, and both artists seem to flourish under such demands.

- Ann Orlowski
  Assistant Director  

Staff Pick - After Shiko's: Hara, A Line at the Foot of Mt. Fuji

Carol Chase Bjerke’s new work is an excellent showing of what can be done in and out of constraints. It feels almost silly even saying that, as Carol’s work has, for as long as I have seen it, existed outside of the bounds of the photography I was familiar with. She’s built a long history of using unorthodox cameras, developing techniques, subject matter, and even developed a new medium in the realm of photography with her limnographs. With these three new pieces she upheld that desire to work beyond the medium, but did so within a surprisingly narrow frame of reference.

“Hara, A Line at the Foot of Mt. Fuji”, printed in 1964 by Shikō Munakata, serves as the direct inspiration for Bjerke’s piece. I would go further to call it a translation from the media of woodblock to limnograph. Looking at the two side by side it becomes clear that Carol’s technique has something to offer the composition.

I think the most interesting distinction between the two is the presence they each give off. Shikō’s mountain is imposing, dense, and one gets the feeling, too large to even fit in the frame he has given it. We’re seeing only a cropping of Mt. Fuji’s grandeur, and yet its power is unquestionable. Carol’s mountain is powerful to be sure, but there is a softness there. The streaking where the developing fluid breaks away reveals an aging, flawed, and resoundingly beautiful peak. Unlike Shikō’s piece there’s vulnerability accompanying intensity.

 

I have not seen Mt. Fuji in person, and as a man born and raised in the midwest I spend very little time with mountains. The closest analogue I have spent any real time with are the bluffs at Devil’s Lake in Wisconsin. As a kid we would go once a year to take in some scenery, swim in the lake, and climb the rocks to the top. The height of the bluffs always seemed staggering at around 500ft. From the bottom nearly impossible to take in the entirety of the scope of it. Mt. Fuji is 12,388. Always good to give yourself perspective.


Aedric Donovan
Gallery Associate

Staff Pick - Rick Hintze and Allan Servoss

Yunomi

Yunomi

Rick Hintze represents the qualities of functional ceramic that I absolutely adore. He combines the best traits of tradition, with the push for exploration in his work.

His influence from the Japanese masters is evident both in the form and glazing of his work. There is an amount of careful variation cutting through the standardization, the tradition of which can be related back hundreds of years to the first followers of the wabi-sabi, the movement of aesthetes that pushed for an acceptance, and appreciation for the imperfection and transience of existence. Hintze has found a way to let this imperfection and variation into his work in different, almost opposite ways in his different styles. On one side we have the explosion of ash and iron and slip. The slip cracks and crawls across the surface in a hundred different directions, and is accented by a soft undulation in the clay.

 
Here and There

Here and There

Servoss’ work hits close to home in a different way. The sprawling cornfields, lonely farm-houses, and towering trees dredge up memories of my beginning years in the Illinois countryside. In the middle of nowhere by all approximations, the only thing different about my memories and these scenes are the notable lack of hills. His paintings remind me of the tremendous beauty and mystery that can be found in the most innocuous of locations. Despite the unnerving qualities found in the work, on a whole I find them to be strangely comforting.

Looking at the two technically, I find many similarities in the handling of Allan’s colored pencil to Rick’s glazing techniques. There is so much hidden detail in the subtly shifting colors. The individual strokes and flicks of his mark making, just as with the cracking glaze, pull together into a cohesive surface. No clearer is this seen than in the bark and branches of Allan’s trees. Small splits of wood mirror the ceramic surface to an uncanny level.

IMG950458.jpg
IMG950459.jpg
 

Digging into these comparisons further I keep finding little pieces of each artist’s work connecting with each other. Little things, the right tone of blue-green glaze hitting the hue of the grass in Allan’s nocturn. The ash on porcelain pooling into a glassy ocean ice, not unlike Allan’s “World’s Edge.” The iron line-work on one of Hintze’s vessels meeting the horizon line of a corn field. Having walked through the show dozens of times now I can only describe it as magical.

Teacup

Teacup

Along the Northern Edge

Along the Northern Edge

Staff Pick - Wake Up, Island

The prints for the wonderful children’s book Wake Up, Island, written by Mary Casanova and illustrated by Nick Wroblewski have been on view in the Cooler throughout the last few months. Now that the show is coming to an end I realize it was past due for me to write about these wonderful prints. If you didn’t have a chance to see the show or are not familiar with this book it is a beautiful story about a small island in the Northwoods as dawn breaks and the landscape and wildlife greet the day. The book is filled with Nick’s amazing color reduction prints, each turn of the page reveals another familiar animal; moose, squirrels, deer, bees, bears, and birds of all kinds are greeting the day each in their own way.

Nick was kind enough to not only share the wonderful prints he has labored over for the past two years, but also some of the wood blocks used in creating the prints. As a printmaker myself I have always loved seeing the plates used to create a print. So much insight can be gleaned about an artist’s process from their tools. Nick’s blocks are meticulous, clean, uniform and orderly. His careful planning and preparation are evident.  It is fascinating to compare the beautiful carving on these blocks to the marks on the reversed impression of the corresponding print. Each mark carved into the plate is like a painter's brush stroke, or the trace of the potter's hand on a wheel thrown vessel. The marks carry the artists visual vocabulary and are unmistakably his creation.

Nick has an exceptional ability to capture the landscape, distilling down the most essential parts and enhancing elements in just the right way. He has created a vernacular within his work that lends itself to depicting the landscape of this region. He knows just where to let the wood grain do the work of creating texture and where to carve away the surface to build space within a two dimensional plane. It is a testament to his ability to capture the essence of a place when I hear people talk about the show and insist the little island is the same little island they know and love from childhood, or how much the images remind them of the landscape right outside their cabin up north. Nick’s images combined with Mary Casanova’s prose have captured something timeless and created an imagined world that feels real beyond the pages of the book.

- Ann Orlowski
  Assistant Director

 

 

Staff Picks - Craig Clifford: "Heads, Tails, and Nesting Series"

"Tails" part of the "Heads, Tails, and Nesting Series"'

"Tails" part of the "Heads, Tails, and Nesting Series"'

Last week my daughter Lucy and I visited the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art to see the Wisconsin Triennial. Every three years the Museum in downtown Madison chooses artists from around the state to showcase the depth and breadth of talent to be found throughout Wisconsin. I was excited to explore the many works from artists who were both familiar and unknown to me. There was a great variety of work. Michael Kautzer’s piece “The Blue Little Red Barn” was a favorite of Lucy's. But beyond this large interactive “playhouse” we saw a great variety of work including some compelling photographs of Suzanne Rose depicting industrial buildings presumably taken at dusk or dawn, the light fading in the background and the artificial light from the buildings ablaze. The quirky latch hook “paintings” of Christopher Rowley also caught my eye. These works play with a material often thought of as a hobby craft and more often sold in kits to direct the maker to create a predictable finished product, but the artist is creating his own playful pop art inspired compositions.

 

"Heads, Tails, and Nesting Series" installed in the Cooler

"Heads, Tails, and Nesting Series" installed in the Cooler

I was also excited to see the ceramic sculptures of Craig Clifford at the Triennial.  It is nice to see artists you know and admire get recognition in the Wisconsin art scene at large. In addition to the show at MMOCA Clifford also has a wonderful show in the Cooler at Artisan. His collection of works from his “Wisconsin Bird Project” include carved wall sculptures of birds found throughout the state. Some of the works are sound sculptures with motion activated bird calls which resonate through the space.

Detail of "Heads" by Craig Clifford

Detail of "Heads" by Craig Clifford


Of all the wonderful works to be found in the Cooler I am most drawn to Clifford’s “Heads, Tails, and Nesting Series.” Each sculpture is comprised of dozens of slip cast forms of found objects, often bird figurines which can be found on the shelves of your local thrift store or your grandmother's curio cabinet. These cast forms combined with and other bits of ephemera create undulating textural compositions in clay, which is set off by ceramic frames covered in rich velvety black flocking.   One composition comprises of birds all pushing their heads beak first out of the frame as if stuck together buy the sheer volume of this mixed up flock trying to push through a too small opening. You can almost imagine hundreds of other birds behind those shown waiting for their chance to push past the frame and into the open air. The reverse can be found in “Tails” which displays the tail feathers of these same birds as they push and struggle through the open frame seemingly flying back into the space behind the frame. The center panel is a jumble of familiar objects which could be found around the home, miniature teapots, doll parts, ceramic shards. These elements evoke ideas of the “nests” we make in our personal lives. Birds work hard to make nests that are unique within individual species, choosing particular materials and arranging those materials in specific ways to create individual spaces to raise their young. But the nesting Clifford is displaying is more reminiscent of the nests humans make when choosing items to decorate our home and create an environment that is individual to us through the items we choose to display. For me these three panels elicit feelings of my personal nest and the need to sometimes push out of its confines while at the same time knowing there is a familiar place to return to that is safe and familiar.  

- Ann Orlowski
 Assistant Art Director

Lucy at in "The Blue Little Red Barn" 

Lucy at in "The Blue Little Red Barn" 

MMoCA Triennial 

MMoCA Triennial 

Staff Pick - Richard Jones: Flower Viewing Cabinets

Sometimes a work of art just strikes a chord with you as a viewer. It hits all the notes that make your heart sing, and sticks with you like a tune gets stuck in your head. This is precisely what happened when I first saw the Flower Viewing Cabinets by Richard Jones. Back in June Theresa and I arranged some studio visits with a few artists on the Eastside of Madison. It is a particular treat for me to visit artists in their studios. I gain such insight into how other artists work through the creative process and transform an idea into a finished piece.

Visiting Richard Jones at Studio Paran is a perfect example of this creative process at work. Walking in through the main door you enter the Tokonoma Gallery Space. This space is filled with a collection of blown glass vases and bowls set along the left side of the space tucked between movable walls. Long sleek tables run down the middle of the space displaying a few ongoing projects, including some of Richard's Pedestals for Art of the Found World, which are hand blown glass structures meant to showcase the treasures of everyday life such as a stone picked up on the beach or a feather found on a walk through the woods. Next to the tables was a small unassuming model for a big project Richard has been thinking about, the Flower Viewing Pavilion, this movable structure resembles a Japanese tea house which can be moved to different locations and will house a single flower. The intent of this pavilion is to allow an intimate moment to reflect on this one flower. In Richard's words the project is a “testament to the abiding value of noticing small things.”

This same sentiment is evident in the Flower Viewing Cabinets which are on view at the Artisan Gallery as part of our Objects of Utility Show. These small wall hung cabinets embrace the Japanese aesthetic of Wabi-sabi, a concept that embraces simplicity, intimacy and impermanence. Inside each cabinet is a hand blown and carved glass vase in which a floral arrangement is set. The door of each cabinet is etched and carved with patterns which reveal and obscure different parts of the contents inside. It was my privilege to create the floral arrangements for these pieces for the opening reception of our exhibition. The elements Richard set forth in each of his cabinets guided my decisions for the flowers within. What elements do I want to conceal, which do I want to reveal? How will the shape and size of the vase affect the placement of each flower? What role will color play as it diffuses through the frosted glass surface? All of these elements need to be considered. This collaborative response between object, nature, and viewer added a wonderful depth of meaning to an already beautiful piece of art.

Ann Orlowski

Assistant Art Director

Workshop with Tom Jaszczak and Maggie Finlayson

A few weekends back, June 11th and 12th, I had the chance to participate in a workshop with two of the artists we show here at Artisan, Tom Jaszczak and Maggie Finlayson. Their work is some of my favorite in the world, and their complex handling of surface was one that I had always been fascinated by.

 

Both Tom and Maggie work not only in the ceramic tradition, but are also pulling heavily from the works of painters from the 30s-50s. While Jaszczak specifically references the works of Mondrian (going to far as to quote him on his website), Finlayson’s influences are not so easily derived. I personally draw connections between her work and that of Rothko, but that response is one of feeling and color, and not a wholly complete one. These are artists that I’ve always had a connection to, and they’ve proved there’s something to be said for creating a connection between the functional piece and the abstract surfacing.

 

Tom's Work at Eureka Pots

Tom's Work at Eureka Pots

The drive up from Madison was lovely, save for the hour of zero visibility rainstorms, and an uneventful traffic stop for a faulty headlight. We made a detour to Menomonie to drop off a friend, and then made our way to Minneapolis proper. The actual location of the workshop was about 40 minutes South of the city at the home and studio of Donovan Palmquist and Colleen Riley. The two of them could not have been better hosts, and just being able to see their collection would have been worth the trip. Hundreds of pots filled every inch of shelving, including some of my favorites potters, and a few of the artists here at the gallery: Nick DeVries, Ryan Myers, Zac Spates, and Tom Jaszczak. Although I didn’t see any of Maggie’s work which is just silly, and I hope Donovan and Colleen picked up a piece.

 

Maggie Finlayson cup and saucer

Maggie Finlayson
cup and saucer

Our day started with watching Tom throw and then square/pentagon off some of his classic five-sided pitchers, mugs, and three sided bowls. While doing so he and Maggie ran an informal Q/A of what their lives as full time artists were like, the differences between Penland and Archie Bray, and the classic piece of mind questions that aspiring artists ask of professionals (yes they still get to eat three meals most days, etc). Having seen many, many potters proficient at the wheel, and even beginning to approach something resembling efficiency myself I’m still amazed by what people can do with that tool, and he was no exception. After watching that performance we took a brief coffee break, wherein I was able to talk with the two of them about their recent time working abroad, and their path that led to ceramics.

A piece of mine from the firing

A piece of mine from the firing

I’ve always been fascinated by what brings people into this field, and what drives them to make the work that they do. Growing up in Canada, Maggie didn’t have many opportunities in clay until she came to the University of Minneapolis. Tom’s interest in clay was slightly more ingrained in his Minnesota roots. He speaks fondly of the crisp, but clearly hand-hewn aesthetic of Mark Pharis, as well as other potters working in a similar fashion. The history of Minnesota potters is a deep one, and these two have carved out a space for themselves in its canon.

 

Aedric Donovan

Gallery Associate

 

Staff Picks: Pete Scherzer - The Yellow Jar

Showing with us for the first time during the Functional Ceramics show Manoa, Hawaii based artist Pete Scherzer shares his impeccably wheel thrown vessels. I first came across Scherzer’s work on a recent trip to the twin cities. Always on the look out for new ceramics I made a stop at Northern Clay Center. If you are a ceramics lover and find yourself in St. Paul, Minnesota this place is a must see. They have a huge variety of work on display, but my attention was immediately drawn to Pete’s work. He uses a deep red clay body, throwing beautifully thin forms with wonderful little unexpected details such as an extra little flair at the base of a perfectly pulled handle, or a subtle undercut on the foot of a bowl. Then there are the glazes, Pete uses thick opaque brightly colored finishes that break over the edges of the form allowing the red clay to show through. The work stuck with me, so when Theresa and I sat down to plan our functional ceramics show and we thought about who we should invite, he seemed like the perfect artist to include. Pete sent us so many beautiful pieces for this exhibit. There were mugs with thick pink glazes, and bowls with creamy finishes set off by flashes of blue, green, and rusty orange. Then there was the little yellow jar. This perfectly round vessel glazed in his trademark yellow is like a little sunny globe. A perfectly fitted lid sits atop this little round body, and the inside of the lid is glazed with the same bright yellow finish. This little added detail displays Pete’s attention to every aspect of the piece from the throwing, to the trimming, to the glaze. The piece looks simple and effortless, but upon closer inspection it is evident it was created by a very skilled hand.

-Ann Orlowski
 Assistant Art Director