Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Beauty in Both Sides

Even though we’re in middle of a winter storm, there’s no reason we can’t turn our thoughts to vibrant colors and thriving flowers.

It’s precisely this appreciation for all—even dissimilar or contradictory—aspects of life that artist Richard Bolingbroke wants people to appreciate. And it’s what the British-born, San Francisco-based artist shares through his artwork.

An exhibition of Bolingbroke’s vibrant watercolors is on display at Obrich Botanical Gardens Sundays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., through January 4. The show, Rituals and Meditations, marks the last stop on a three-year cycle that’s taken the paintings to Milwaukee and several southeastern states.

Bolingbroke taught himself watercolor painting by working on still lifes in his San Francisco studio. But after some time painting flowers, he tired of exclusively happy and beautiful subject matter. “I was only seeing half of what life is representing,” he explains.

He began incorporating other objects and imagery into his compositions. Of particular interest to him were bones and skulls—items that inevitably evoke thoughts of death and decay.

“I’m exploring the sides of life we don’t normally look at,” he says. “It’s not about death, it’s about the processes of life.”

Bolingbroke finds such imagery richer with artistic possibilities. And he thinks they’re just as aesthetic as flowers. “Beauty is not just in life but in death,” he says. “All processes of life have inherent beauty in them.”

Through his artwork, Bolingbroke hopes to change the way people see the world around them. He wants them to learn to find beauty in all facets of life and points out that recognizing one naturally leads to appreciation of another.

“We wouldn’t enjoy summer so much if we didn’t have winter,” he says.

Bolingbroke may be living in San Francisco, but that sentiment is spoken like a true Madisonian.

Photos are courtesy of Olbrich Botanical Gardens.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

January Artists: Buggin' Out

It’s beautiful with an edge, the artwork made collaboratively by Jennifer Angus and John Hitchcock for SuperBug, a new exhibition opening January 23 at James Watrous Gallery of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters.

The work combines hand-drawn images of insects by Angus, an associate professor in design studies at UW–Madison, with screen-printed layers of patterns derived from virus and bacteria by Hitchcock, an associate professor of art at UW–Madison.

Together, the artists explore the patterns—both visual and biological—of “superbug” bacteria. Their intricate, layered work is aesthetically appealing but also hints at a darker side by raising questions about health and disease in the twenty-first century.

Angus took some time before the exhibition’s opening to talk about the project.

How did this exhibition come about?

John Hitchcock and I started as assistant professors at the UW in the same year—2001. We met before school even started at a new faculty gathering. We became friends right away since we are both artists and both were new to Madison. Coincidentally it happened that we both teach screen printing. John teaches screen and relief printing in the art department and I teach what is essentially the same process in the design studies department, although most of what I print on is fabric.

In that first year John and I decided to have our classes do a collaborative project. It was successful and we did it for two more years. Our students demanded that if they had to work collaboratively then so should we! So we did! We did the same project as the students and found that we enjoyed working together. We have similar interests in the environment, pattern and minority cultures. It was easy for us to come up with ideas we wanted to discuss and make work about.

What is it about “superbug” bacteria that intrigues you?

For some time John has been interested in the connection between disease and the fact that disenfranchised people seem to get sicker more often. His experience is firsthand having grown up in the Wichita Mountains of Oklahoma next to the U.S. field artillery military base Fort Sill. In contrast I have a more literal interest in “bugs,” more properly known as insects, as they are the main material in my installation work. As a result we often use the literal image of an insect to refer to the transmitter of diseases.

We are interested in that transmission and how subtle yet deadly it can be. I grew up in Toronto, Canada. When SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) hit Toronto and Hong Kong simultaneously, my family’s daily lives were affected. Never has the world known such a potent disease. People standing in an elevator for less than one minute were infected and died. It is truly frightening. Warnings of an impending flu pandemic have been coming for years and it’s only a matter of time before it hits.

Superbugs are of course the scourge of hospitals. I think we are again drawn to the drama of their name, SUPER bugs, and their silent, deadly nature.

What draws you to subject matter such as insects?

I teach textile design at the UW yet I have been working with insects for the past ten years. I spent several years in the late ’80s and early ’90s in the area known as the Golden Triangle (where the borders of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar, formerly Burma, meet) researching tribal dress. At that time I discovered a particular garment known as a “singing shawl,” worn by young women of the Karen tribe that is embellished with metallic beetle wings in place of beads or sequins. It was very exciting to find something utilized that was so naturally beautiful and readily available. Since then I have found other groups that use whole beetles or the wings applied to garments, headdresses and baskets.

Today I am amazed at the beauty, adaptability and the incredible camouflage of insects. The bottom line is that insects are a very potent material. We all have a reaction to insects because we all have experience with them. They have the power to provoke a reaction!

What ideas are you seeking to present in the show and what do you hope visitors walk away with?

Quite simply the enemy is rapidly gaining on us and our lines of defense are rapidly breaking down. The simplest act may have deadly consequences that will have a domino effect.

I had a little bird,
Its name was Enza.
I opened the window,
And in-flu-enza.

The rhyme suggests innocence lost not unlike “Ring around the Rosey,” which refers to The Black Death plague of 1347. Beyond insects John and I always use pattern as a background or backdrop. We take the images of deadly virus and form them into to beautiful lacy designs. The use of pattern is strategic because it also alludes to the history, recurrence (e.g. Black Death, flu pandemic 1918) and transmission of disease. Disease itself is often spread from person to person thus repeating the deadly chain of events again and again.

SuperBug runs Jannuary 23 to March 8 at the James Watrous Gallery of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters. An opening reception will be held January 23, 5:30–7:30 p.m., with an artists’ talk starting at 6:30 p.m.

IN THE MAGAZINE: The January issue of Madison Magazine comes out tomorrow. Here’s some of the arts content you’ll find within the pages:
• A write-up on the Dane County Cultural Affair’s Commission’s 2009 art calendar—along with a photo of a gorgeous landscape painting.
• A piece by editor Brennan Nardi on Craig Wilson, a local photographer known for his aerial portraits taken with cameras attached to flying kites.
• A House of the Month feature on a downtown couple with an excellent—and eclectic—art collection.
• A profile on Catherine Capellaro and Andrew Rohn of Walmartopia fame who are returning to the Madison stage in January.
• A poem by Madison poet laureate Fabu on President Barack Obama (listen to her poetry podcast).
• Our monthly Overtones section with picks on the can’t-miss performances, concerts, exhibitions and festivals taking place in January.

Tomorrow is also the launch of Spectrum, a special magazine celebrating diversity in Madison. And there’s lots of arts and entertainment to be found in it, including:
• Profiles on Club TNT, African Storytelling on Wheels, The Figureheads, Multico, ROARrrr, Dane Dances and La Movida.
• A piece on Native American dancer Art Shegonee and photographer Tom Jones.
• A look at young artists shaping the future of creativity in the city.
Madison Magazine and WISC-TV editorial director Neil Heinen’s tribute to jazz superstar Richard Davis.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Keeping Tradition Alive

The great thing about holiday traditions is the familiarity; the comfort of knowing you’ll be able to enjoy something again and again.

Certainly, A Christmas Carol and The Nutcracker are two traditions honored and beloved in Madison and many other places across the country. And Children’s Theater of Madison and Madison Ballet have the unique task every year of giving audiences the play and ballet they look forward to while also keeping the works fresh and exciting.

CTM’s producing artistic director Roseann Sheridan and Madison Ballet’s artistic director W. Earle Smith recently took some time out to share the latest on their holiday productions—what’s new, what’s improved and what they’ll never change.

Roseann Sheridan

Why do you do this production every year?

A Christmas Carol is a true classic and including the show amongst the holiday offerings for any city demonstrates the cultural vitality of the city. The trio of offerings that Madison provides: the theatrical production of A Christmas Carol, the ballet production of The Nutcracker and the symphony production of the Holiday Spectacular truly speaks to the vibrancy of Madison and the value the community places on the arts.

This is the “signature piece” of CTM. To me, that means it represents our core values: building community, artistic excellence and nurturing an appreciation of theatre in young people. The center of the story is Ebenezer Scrooge who learns to embrace the child within himself and along with that the spirit of joy, exuberance and generosity.

This production has become a tradition for CTM and for our community. For thirty-three years, this company has presented this play, and each year dozens of children, youth and adults participate in the production. In addition, the play allows for actors from eight to eighty to be onstage, and so it supports our commitment to mentorship and to accessibility.

Most of all, the show has all of the elements we love: a great story, family-friendly, a large community involvement onstage and off, and timeless themes of the value of family, friendship, kindness toward all people and a celebration of youth.

How do you keep things fresh and interesting—both for your organization and for audiences?

For the organization, each production is a unique combination of people who create a special family for the time they are together. New actors bring new energies and ideas. Returning actors bring a familiarity with the story and the process; a certain level of comfort and ease. The story itself offers new insights each year, and there are always different choices we can make with characters, special effects, costumes and more. No two years are alike, no two productions are alike—each presents its own set of challenges, its own opportunity to try something new, to better the product or the approach from before. For the audience, each year has something new to offer; in addition to new actors in some roles there are also some new elements like a dance or some added songs.

What’s new this year?

This year, the fun addition is that of local celebrities in cameo roles such as Mayor Dave on opening night, Al Toon and various radio and TV personalities … They will be a party guests in one of the scenes. At various times the other characters onstage interact with them and include them in the festive “parlor games” typical of Victorian England. They will have a couple of lines and also the chance to ad lib—and the other actors onstage will play off of what the guest says. It’s a simple but very fun addition to the show, and one that will retain the integrity of the play as well as give the audience a chance to see a familiar face in a different role! They will be taken backstage at intermission, we’ll have a costume for them to wear, and they’ll have another character onstage who will “escort” them through the scene. There’s enough room for surprises without it getting out of control. And I think the audience will really enjoy the spontaneity of the scene.

Also, there are some new actors in various roles. And the music and singing is stronger than before. Some kids have grown up a bit and are playing older character roles. And there are some new adults in roles such as the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Christmas Present, Scrooge’s younger selves and others. It’s a very strong cast led by veteran Robert Spencer as Scrooge and featuring many of the best actors in Madison: Bill Bolz, Donovan Armbruster, Carl Cawthorne, Georgina McKee, Scott Haden and more. These are actors who are well known to Madison audiences from their years of performing with local theaters here from the Rep to the Bartell companies. And of course, there are all of the kids in the show—twenty-three of them—and the energy and enthusiasm and TALENT they bring.

What will you never change about the production?

What will never change is the story, the timeless tale of Scrooge’s transformation from a miserly curmudgeon to a generous jolly fellow who learns to care for others as well as himself. The other thing that will never change is there will always be GHOSTS! You can’t tell the story without some ghosts! And a bit of spookiness along with it, of course. And, of course, Tiny Tim. The story has to reflect the contrast between the young boy and the old man. For CTM—and I think for all theaters—the inclusion of children in the show is very important. They represent so much and their presence, I think, is critical to the story. I firmly believe that no matter how many times you see the show, the story is what makes you lean forward and wonder “what’s going to happen next.” It’s a great story.

What do you hope audiences come away with this year?

I hope they come away with a feeling of great satisfaction of time well spent together and that they are wonderfully entertained. I hope they feel that they were swept into the world of the play and they get to forget about anything troubling or complicated about today for those two hours they are together in the beautiful Capitol Theater. This is not a play that asks you to think; it’s a play that is accessible to everyone, entertaining and, yes, even magical. I also truly hope the audience comes away with a sense of pride of what this theater—CTM—represents in the community and has succeeded in achieving: quality work by talented local performers, both seasoned and novices; time-proven ability to overcome artistic and financial challenges; and a commitment to being an integral part of Madison’s artistic community. There is much to be said about supporting the artistic work of our local companies, and this production brings it all together through the people onstage, the audience watching and the remarkably high production values. The scale of the show fits the grandeur of the space. And the quality of the acting fits the quality of the story. I know people will be engaged from start to finish, and that they will walk away smiling and feeling uplifted.

W. Earle Smith

Why do you do this production every year?

The Nutcracker is the number-one selling holiday production in the country. The imagery, the music—it’s everywhere and instantly recognizable. That’s what this time of year is all about—icons and traditions that feel familiar. It’s a classic tale, so it’s perfect for families, but it’s elevated to an artistic level that attracts the dance audience as well. It is something for everyone.

How do you keep things fresh and interesting—both for your organization and for audiences?

To a point, The Nutcracker is so popular because it doesn’t change tremendously year to year. Our audiences keep coming back for the familiarity. That being said, I have worked to challenge myself artistically though each of my ten years with Madison Ballet. The dancers change and mature each year and individually they bring something very personal to the stage that I try and capture.

What’s new this year?

The Nutcracker looks all new this year. I’ve made big changes to the story and the choreography. The version of the story that we’ve told in the past implies that Clara’s adventures are a coming-of-age tale. This year we won’t imply that, we will show it. There will be a point when Clara becomes a young woman, and her romance with the Nutcracker is played up, too. This is a luxury of Madison Ballet’s company being in its second year. The choreography has benefited in the same way. Portions of the second act that were typically performed by four or five dancers have become solo roles. I’ve also made changes to “Snow” and “Flowers” that will make the talent of our company dancers impossible to ignore.

What will you never change about the production?

The magic. There is an audible gasp when the curtain rises on the show, and that is my intention. I work to create a vivid world on stage that audience members, young and old, can lose themselves in and embrace the opportunity to dream.

What do you hope audiences come away with this year?

A sense of joy. We are facing challenging circumstances in our economy. Many of us have never experienced anything like this before. Madison Ballet certainly feels it as a nonprofit arts organization. But through it all, we deserve to find reasons to laugh or smile and celebrate time with our family and friends. I hope people leave the theater thankful that they were able to cherish some of those moments with us.

A Christmas Carol runs December 12–21 at Overture Center. Performances are Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15–$32. ctmtheater.org

The Nutcracker runs December 19–21 at Overture Center. Performances are Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m., plus a Christmas Eve show at 1 p.m. Tickets are $13–$60. madisonballet.org

Photos are courtesy of Children’s Theater of Madison and Madison Ballet.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Element of Surprise

Shocking events happen around us every day. Violence, noise, fighting, confusion. These overwhelming forces are such normal parts of modern life that we can become desensitized to them, hardly even notice their presence.

That’s why it amazes me that we can still be started by something as seemingly benign as a two-dimensional image.

Barbara Probst’s photographs aren’t in-your-face graphic. Rather, by setting two images side-by-side, she requires the viewer to compare and contrast them. It’s the differences and connections we notice that evoke an “aha” experience—that wonderful moment that can’t be achieved simply by seeing something shocking or controversial.

Probst, a New York- and Munich-based photographer, has a new exhibition, Exposures, on display at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art December 6 through March 8.

In the series, which Probst began in 2000, she groups together photos showing a single action but taken simultaneously from different points of view. She captures her images through a system of radio controls, synchronized cable releases and other photographers at times.

The varying viewpoints illustrate not only the many ways a single moment can be depicted but also how it can be experienced. And noticing that the seemingly dissimilar images are actually of the same event—and one distinct moment in time—is a surprising realization.

In Exposure #39: N.Y.C., 545 8th Avenue, 03.23.06, 1:17 p.m., for example, a color photograph shows a woman striding through a beautiful mountain setting. But the accompanying black-and-white image reveals that the same woman is actually on the roof of a New York skyscraper in front of an alpine backdrop.

Others works don’t startle as much as show how drastically viewpoint informs the feel of a work. Seeing a woman and two girls walk across a street in Exposure #11a: N.Y.C., Duane & Church Streets, 6.10.02, 3:07 p.m. from an aerial view seems more objective than its sister image, a tender close-up of one of the girls grasping her guardian’s hand as they cross the intersection.

And Exposure #40: N.Y.C., 545 8th Avenue, 03.23.06, 1:42 p.m. evokes (in me, at least) a sense of nervousness due to Probst’s choices of viewpoints. One image is an upside-down photo of a young woman skipping. The other exposes how close she is to the ledge of a skyscraper. They’re interesting photos on their own. But together, the disorientation of the first image coupled with the new information the second provides makes me think the woman is going to topple over the side of the building.

Other viewers may have different reactions to Probst’s work. But it’s definitely worth checking out the exhibition to see what surprises are in store for you.

EVENT: On Friday, Barbara Probst will discuss the Exposures exhibition and describe her artistic process at 6:30 p.m. at MMoCA. The event is free for MMoCA members and $5 for nonmembers.

Images—Exposure #39: N.Y.C., 545 8th Avenue, 03.23.06, 1:17 p.m.; Exposure #11a: N.Y.C., Duane & Church Streets, 6.10.02, 3:07 p.m.; and Exposure #40: N.Y.C., 545 8th Avenue, 03.23.06, 1:42 p.m.—are courtesy of MMoCA.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Mood Music

There’s nothing like music to get you into the spirit of the holidays. Two seasonal concerts held this week—and right after Thanksgiving to start the next round of celebrations—are sure to do just that. Consider this your invitation to each.

What: Middleton Holiday Pops Concert
Who: Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the Middleton High School Concert Choir
When: Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m.
Where: Madison Marriott West
How much: Saturday: $25 adults, $22 seniors, $15 students, $8 children; Sunday: $19 adults, $16 seniors, $10 students, $5 children
Why: When the WCO joins forces with eighty student singers from Middleton High School, the result is rich, festive music. Highlights this year include Bridge’s A Christmas Dance ‘Sir Roger de Coverly’, Richman’s Hanukkah Festival Overture and Blake’s The Snowman.

What: Christmas Lights
Who: Oakwood Chamber Players 
When: Friday at 2 p.m., 5:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Where: Oakwood Village West Auditorium
How much: $20, $15 seniors, $8 students
Why: If you liked the Oakwood Chamber Players’ 2002 Christmas Lights CD, you’ll probably love hearing them in the intimate performances they’re best known for. Traditional and non-traditional music will feature excerpts from Bohmler’s Visions of the Child, Stevens’ Christmas Medley No. 1 and Jolivet’s Trio for Flute, Bassoon and Harp.

Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

December Artist: Coming into Focus

William Wolberg is a doctor and professor emeritus with the departments of surgery and human oncology at UW–Madison. But he’s also an accomplished photographer dedicated to showing the beauty of the southern Wisconsin landscape through its details, shapes and ever-changing light.

A series of Wolberg’s nature photographs is on display through December 30 at the UW Arboretum Steinhauer Trust Gallery in a show called Prairie Portraits.

Wolberg offers some reflections on the challenges and triumphs of his work.

On his interest in nature …

My childhood home in Nakoma had endless woods and pasture as a backyard. As I roamed through the Arboretum, I had the good fortune to observe some of the icons of nature ecology at work. This, together with an interest in hunting and fishing, formed a foundation for my appreciation of the out-of-doors.

On his start in photography …

Because of my scientific interest, I became an academic surgeon and led a very structured and demanding life. The scientific world of academic surgery is objective and discoveries are analyzed statistically. When I ventured into the photographic world and using my scientific background, I naively tried to understand what constituted a perfect photograph. To my disappointment, I found that photographic evaluation defied scientific methodology. The perfect photograph does not exist because photography is subjective and each photograph is seen differently by each person. So I lowered my goals and set to learn not what constituted a perfect photo but rather what made one acceptable.  

On the landscape …

I found that my favorite, landscape-nature, photography ranked way down on the contemporary critics’ hierarchal scale. In contrast, the eleventh century Chinese artists ranked landscapes on top of their hierarchal scale. Why the decreased popularity?

I believe that part of the explanation lies with the observer since photography is communication between the photographer and the observer. Regardless of how the photographer feels, the bottom line is that the perfect photograph exists only in the eye of the beholder. The observers’ feelings are determined to a great extent by the observers’ past experience. I’m attracted to landscape-nature photography because of the intellectual renewal that I experienced during my wilderness treks.

On the success of a photograph …

To quote Ansel Adams, “Either the photograph speaks to a viewer or it does not. I cannot demand that anyone receive from the image just what was in my visualization at the time of exposure. I believe that if I am able to express what I saw and felt, the image will contain qualities that may provide a basis for imaginative response by the viewer.”

My sense of photographic accomplishment comes from the elation that I experience when I discover a new scene, feel its presence, snap the shutter and print the photograph. After this, I can only hope that picture will evoke similar feelings in the viewer.

Photographs are by William Wolberg and courtesy of the UW Arboretum Steinhauer Trust Gallery.

IN THE MAGAZINE: The December issue of Madison Magazine comes out tomorrow. Here’s some of the arts content you’ll find within the pages:
• In our special pet section, learn about Marcia Sparks, a local painter who renders dogs and cats in a vibrant Pop style.
• A profile on Leotha Stanley, who leads the Mt. Zion Gospel Choir each year in the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Christmas Spectacular.
• A poem by Cathy Conger (listen to her poetry podcast).
• Our monthly Overtones section with picks on the can’t-miss performances, concerts, exhibitions and festivals taking place in December.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Comfort Theater

When Danielle Dresden and Donna Peckett thought about Madison’s historic Greenbush neighborhood, a multitude of interwoven elements came to mind. They thought of the tight-knit community, the struggles its residents faced, the families’ stories, the culture, the food.

It was with all of these ideas that Peckett and Dresden, artistic directors of TAPIT/new works Ensemble Theater, created the new play Mangia, Mangia—Family, Food and Life in the Greenbush.

“It’s about food and culture, and how food connects us to culture,” Dresden says.

In the play four actors—women of different generations including Dresden and Peckett—take on a variety of roles. The characters’ stories are interspersed over two acts, without being held to chronology, to offer a slice of life in the Greenbush.

Peckett and Dresden interviewed former residents to get their personal stories of the neighborhood, then sifted, winnowed and sometimes combined elements to create material for the play. They also took inspiration from Catherine Tripalin Murray, who has collected recipes and photos and written cookbooks based on the Greenbush.

A partner in the production is Teresa Pullara-Ouabel of Bunky’s Restaurant, who prepares samples of the recipes featured in the play to share with audiences. The food, along with the storefront theater setting of TAPIT/new works, helps create an intimate, family-style atmosphere.

In addition to showing the role food held for Greenbush families, the play highlights how residents honored their families and culture even through financial hardships.

“I think we have so much to learn from those times and those people, how less is more,” Dresden says.

Dresden and Peckett believe the timing of Mangia, Mangia is appropriate for the current economic challenges. The play serves as a reminder to keep optimism and hope alive.

“There are a lot of lessons to take back from the Greenbush,” Peckett says. “God knows we need something.”

Adds Dresden, “My goal is to evoke and share a rich and wonderful past and recreate—if only briefly—a sense of that community, and to do so long enough for us to learn something to take back with us.”

The two collected many stories through their Greenbush research that they weren’t able to fit into the play. But they’re hoping to offer a production of “leftovers” sometime soon.

Mangia, Mangia opened November 7 and runs through the 23 at TAPIT/new works, 1957 Winnebago St. Tickets are $17 and include food samples, and performances take place Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 4 p.m. For more information, call 244.2938 or visit tapitnewworks.org.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Looking Back, Moving Forward

Memories, nostalgia, personal pasts and shared experiences—all of these elements have helped shape Daniel Ostrov’s glass art and kept him connected to his native Madison.

While he now lives and works in Philadelphia, Ostrov got his start in art growing up on Madison’s west side. He credits Geof Herman, a teacher who leads the ceramics program at James Madison Memorial High School, with getting him interested in three-dimensional art. He recalls spending time after school in Herman’s studio throwing pottery.

And although Ostrov had a love of art—not to mention a natural talent for it—he didn’t plan to pursue it when he entered Tulane University in New Orleans. He wasn’t sure exactly what field he wanted to go into, but he began taking glass classes as electives. And he kept taking them. “I was in the art room a lot,” he says.

Once again he found inspiration in a teacher, this time Gene Koss, head of the glass program. “He’s a pretty intense guy,” Ostrov says. “It’s funny because he’s actually from Wisconsin.”

It was at Tulane that Ostrov began creating large-scale works—something Koss and graduates of the program are known for, and that had long intrigued Ostrov. “I’ve always been interested in making things that were of human scale,” he says. “I’m not really into dainty work.”

But in order to make large glass pieces, Ostrov had to master the medium, not an easy task given its physical and mental demands. “It’s a very intense working process, almost like playing a sport,” he says. “You have to be very focused for a set amount of time. You’re totally focused and totally there. I really like that about glass.”

The medium soon led him to Tyler College of Art at Temple University in Philadelphia, from which he earned an MFA in sculpting earlier this year. However, it was anything but an easy journey. The program was demanding and the critiques brutal. “Tyler really broke down a lot of the ways I’d been making work,” Ostrov says.

A benefit was a new way of creating glass art. He wanted to make work that viewers could move through, finding different spaces and vantage points along the way. “It was not easy but I was really going for an idea of making art that was not just observed but experienced,” he says. “I wanted there to be an element of discovery,” he says.

Ostrov also gravitated toward ideas of memories and nostalgia, particularly the longing—but impossibility—of returning to the past. “I became really fascinated with the idea of nostalgia,” he says. “I think of it as longing for the past, longing for homeland—a lot of the ways I think of Madison.”

But in his second year at Tyler, he took on a broader view of nostalgia. In his artist’s statement he writes, “One of the essential human dilemmas is the yearning for, but inability to return to, the past. I see this desire manifest in two ways: the nostalgia for a lived past, as in specific memories from childhood, and the universal longing for a lost age of civilization. I am specifically interested in this longing for ‘the lost era’ because it is a memory shared by many that none actually physically experienced.”

In incorporating these ideas into his artwork, Ostrov turned to nautical imagery. Old wooden boats and waterways reminded him of how people used to travel and trade. This led to thinking about shipwreck imagery, a notion he’s still exploring in his work.

This Friday, November 7 through November 29, Ostrov—along with painter Dennis Nechvatal and needlepoint artist Mary Bero—will showcase work at Grace Chosy Gallery (and a percentage of proceeds will be donated to American Children’s Hospital to buy art for the surgical waiting area). Some work comes from his MFA thesis show at Tyler.

And while Ostrov won’t be at the show’s opening on Friday from 6–8 p.m.—he will be in North Carolina for another exhibition of his work at the Craven Arts Council and Gallery—he will unveil a new piece incorporating glass forms and a steel box. “This one I see as a bit more abstract,” he says. “It doesn’t delve into those themes as much as my thesis show.”

Ostrov has a show going up at the end of January in Brooklyn, New York, and another in Philadelphia in June.

But here’s hoping he creates more memories to share with his hometown.

Images are courtesy of Daniel Ostrov.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Year of the Landscape

If the Madison area is lacking in anything, it’s certainly not talented artists. Fourteen are featured in the Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission’s 2009  Art Calendar. For their tenth anniversary calendar, the group has returned to a beloved subject: the local landscape.

Here’s a peek at the art highlighted in the year to come:

January: Cross Country Skiers by Dangy Quisling Myrah
From the icy blues and purples of the trees to the skiers’ vibrant coats, this image makes me want to get out and enjoy the great, chilly outdoors.

February: Down the Valley by Leslie DeMuth
There’s something special about winter sunlight in Wisconsin. Perhaps it’s the way the light plays off the snow.

March: Winter Landscape by Patrick Farrell
This painting perfectly encapsulates March, the way snow and ice turn to rain and clouds. It shows the beauty that’s often overlooked this time of year.

April: Contour Farming—Late April by S.V. Medaris
Pastel seems the ideal medium for conveying the freshness of the local landscape in April. Bright yellowy greens signal the start of the season.

May: Dream Flying Over Koshkonong by Doug Hatch
There’s always an excitement in the air as spring comes into its own, and these streaks of vibrant red seem an embodiment of that.

June: Into a June Evening by Jonathan Wilde
The water in this painting looks particularly refreshing, as humans and animals alike know how humid a June evening can be.

July: Elegant Grasses by Lee Weiss
It’s fun to see an unusual—and beautiful—look at a familiar summer scene.

August: Farm View with Watermelon and Tomatoes by John Sayers
Rich color and strong light pay homage to some of Wisconsin’s most beloved summer treats.

September: Reflecting Pond by Mark Arnold
Mellow greens and blues make for a pleasant meditation on the local countryside.

October: The Marsh by Linda Koenig
October equals orange for many people, and this watercolor celebrates this expressively.

November: Fertile Ridge by Larry Welo
I love how this etching captures the intensity and grittiness of November—certainly not the most delicate of months.

December: To Grandmother’s House We Go by Georgene Pomplun
Who wouldn’t want to take a drive through such gorgeous scenery?

Calendars are $7.50 and available at a variety of Madison-area museums, galleries, municipal halls and retailers. Find a list at culturalaffairscommission.com.

Still want more? Then be sure to check out the Tenth Anniversary Art Calendar Retrospective, on display November 1 through January 31 at Overture Center’s Playhouse lobby. The show celebrates the first decade of the art-filled planners, with ten large frames created by Tandem Press filled with all the images from each calendar. An opening reception is November 10, 5–7 p.m., and this is also when the 2009 calendar will be officially introduced.

Images are reproductions of the artists’ work, courtesy of the Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Fit to Print

I got the chance to tour Tandem Press recently, and I couldn’t have visited the artistic laboratory at a better time.

Activity bustled throughout the factory-like building, which Tandem shares with the state’s car fleet facility, on the city’s near east side.

In the organization’s offices, row upon row of framed prints lined the floor, waiting to be picked up and shipped to two major shows Tandem is participating in, the IFPDA Print Fair 2008 held October 30 through November in New York City and Ink Miami 2008, taking place December 4 through 7.

Also adding excitement was the presence of artist Judy Pfaff, an internationally known sculptor and installation artist who also creates large-scale prints—projects Tandem is known for being able to accommodate thanks to its twelve-by-fifteen-foot press and other equipment.

Pfaff, who has come to Madison several times since her first trip in 1992, was working busily on a print even though she and several of Tandem’s master printers had spent the entire weekend here in the cavernous room filled with presses. They were hurrying to finish works that would be sent to the Miami and New York shows.

Tandem employs seven full-time staff members and relies on the help of four students from UW–Madison, with which the organization is affiliated. All work extremely hard, says executive director Paula Panczenko. “I don’t know how they do it,” she says. “They are just amazing.”

But it’s precisely for this type of diligent work and collaboration that Tandem Press was intended (and named).

In 1986, UW art professor Bill Weege proposed that the art department establish a fine art press, one that would be self-supporting through the sale of prints. He wanted students to gain printmaking experience and artists to have the opportunity to experiment with the medium. Tandem opened the following year.

Panczenko says it’s no coincidence that UW–Madison’s printmaking department is now regarded as the best in the country and that its graduates go on to be leaders in printmaking, teaching and making art. “I think Tandem contributes to that,” she adds.

The organization is also proud of the artists who have come to work on etchings, lithographs, photogravure, digital prints and many other forms of printmaking. Included are David Lynch, Art Spiegelman, Gronk, Robert Stackhouse, Miriam Shapiro, Janet Fish, Robert Cottingham, Jaune Quick-To-See Smith, Sam Gilliam and Sam Richardson.

Next week, Tandem welcomes Nicola López, who will hold a lecture and artist reception November 14 at 5:30 and 6:30–8 p.m. She’ll be followed by Richard Bosman, Joan Snyder and Suzanne Caporael in later months.

This spring, Tandem—which curates exhibitions at the Dane County Regional Airport—will showcase a collection of works that blend science with art. It’s a theme Panczenko anticipates exploring further in the future.

And the organization is also looking forward to moving closer to the UW campus. Plans are in place to relocate to a state-of-the-art facility just east of the Kohl Center. Collaboration with the university will be simpler in the new home, but Tandem will continue building on the successes it has built.

“There’s a great history of printmakers here,” Panczenko says.

The public is welcome to visit Tandem Press Mondays through Fridays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., as well as by appointment. For more information, call 263-3437 or visit tandempress.wisc.edu.

Images Year of the Dog #10 and Untitled #8 are by Judy Pfaff and courtesy of Tandem Press.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

November Artist: Living in the Moment

Paula Swaydan Grebel has considered herself an artist for only a decade. But, really, she’s been one her entire life.

She grew up in California drawing, making art, taking classes in school. “I always did something with the arts,” she says. “It was my way of playing. I would doodle—and I still tend to do that—when I was bored.” Later, she earned a BFA from California State University, Long Beach, where she studied under well-known L.A. artist John Lincoln.

Yet Grebel didn’t work as an artist right out of college. Instead, she took a variety of other jobs, even working as a nurse for eleven years. But still, art was always there. “I never stopped drawing,” she says. “And I had great nursing notes.”

When she noticed herself wanting to draw all her patients, she knew art was calling. And she decided to follow it.

Over the past ten years, Grebel, who lives in Plymouth, Wisconsin, has come to specialize in oil paintings, particularly plein air studies and still-life works. She showcases nearly thirty pieces at an exhibition, In the Moment, running through the end of November at Bungalow 1227.

Her focus on plein air painting was an easy choice. “I love to be outside,” she says. “I love the light and sounds and smells. I love to travel.”

She works outside as long as possible throughout the year—and can even paint al fresco in the winter, as long as the sun is shining, it’s not too windy and the temperature is at least thirty-two degrees, she says.

When conditions aren’t favorable, Grebel moves indoors and switches to still-life work. But she tries to keep the spontaneity of her outdoor art, sometimes throwing random objects on a table to paint or asking one of her kids to choose a subject for her. “I like that chaos,” she says.

Grebel has been complimented on her ability to capture a moment in time in her work. “Part of what helps me is not to pre-plan,” she says. “If you pre-plan on your canvas and grid it out, the moment’s gone.”

She also holds back from using too much detail because she doesn’t like making photo-realistic paintings in which every element is crisply delineated. “That’s telling me too much,” she says. “I want mystery.”

By revealing her impressions of a single moment to viewers, Grebel strives to show the beauty of the world and new ways of looking at it.

“I hope that I create an emotional response of joy or something that’s positive—that it’s a good soulful experience,” she says. “The true job of an artist is to learn to see.”

IN THE MAGAZINE: The November issue of Madison Magazine comes out tomorrow. Here’s some of the arts content you’ll find within the pages:
• A tidbit on the Chicago-based Giving Tree Band, which recorded a green album at the Aldo Leopold Legacy Center this summer. (Read more in this July 2 post.)
• Associate and style editor Shayna Miller’s Window Shopping column on paper goods and artsy gifts at Anthology.
• A profile on Valerie Kazamias, the force behind MMoCA and the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s annual Arts Ball.
• A poem by Andrea Potos (listen her poetry podcast).
• Our monthly Overtones section with picks on the can’t-miss performances, concerts, exhibitions and festivals taking place in November.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Cold Comfort

Today feels like fall has officially arrived, and it appears the chiller weather is here to stay.

While I could bemoan the temperature drop, this weekend I’m going to regard it as an invitation to step into Overture Center and be whisked away by the Madison Symphony Orchestra for a few hours. While escapism via the arts is fun any time of year, I think it’s enhanced when the word beyond the theater is cold and dark.

MSO has a rich program in store this weekend, a concert of Copland, Elgar and Holst featuring guest conductor Chosei Komatsu and cellist Alban Gerhardt. Performances are Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Music director and conductor John DeMain met Komatsu in 2007 at the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de Costa Rica, where he is artistic director; he’s also music director of Japan’s Central Aichi Symphony Orchestra. This weekend serves as Komatsu’s Madison debut, and he will open with Aaron Copland’s An Outdoor Overture, a work DeMain describes as an embodiment of the American spirit.

The second work, Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto, will showcase the talent of guest performer Gerhardt, a young German cellist quickly making a name for himself in Europe and beyond. On the MSO website, DeMain describes how the cellist and concerto are a natural fit. “I’m excited to bring back Alban Gerhardt, one of the most sought-after European cellists, for the Elgar Concerto. It’s not just one of the most important cello concertos; it’s also a great audience favorite because of its delicacy and melancholic beauty.”

And a highlight is sure to be Gustav Holst’s The Planets, one of the most popular classical music works—and considered to be inspiration for John Williams’ Star Wars music. Dramatic and powerful, it showcases a range of emotions. Says DeMain, “It will be thrilling to hear this work performed live in Overture Hall, where all of its moods will blossom.”

As much as I enjoy an evening or afternoon musical getaway, I particularly love that in Madison anyone who wants to can have this experience. It’s not just for music lovers of a certain age or income level. In fact, MSO is making it easy and fun for young adults to attend concerts with its Club 201. Under this program, a joint effort between the Symphony and Madison MAGNET targeting Madisonians ages 21 to 39, classical music lovers can get discounted tickets and an invitation to a post-concert party at a local hotspot. After this Friday’s concert, Club 201-ers will head to Fromagination for wine and a Wisconsin cheese tasting.

But what if you don’t fall into the young music aficionado category? Or you’re already booked up this weekend? Well, there’s another related program open to public tomorrow. An Open Dress Rehearsal takes place 7–9:30 p.m. at Overture Hall. It’s free but only 250 spots are available and advance reservations are required (call 257.3734).

Here’s a look at the rest of MSO’s 2008–2009 Season:

November 7–9: Barber, Brahms, Tormis and Shostakovich featuring conductor Anu Tali and violinist Sarah Chang.

December 5–7: Christmas Spectacular featuring conductor John DeMain, soprano Jamie-Rose Guarrine, tenor Gregory Turay, the Madison Symphony Chorus, Madison Youth Choirs, Mount Zion Gospel Choir and Madison Area Concert Handbells.
Club 201: Holiday Party. December 5 at Barriques.

January 16–18: Mozart, Sibelius and Prokofiev featuring conductor Daniel Hege, violinist Hanning Kraggerud and narrator James DeVita.
Open Dress Rehearsal. January 15, 7–9:30 p.m.

February 6–8: A Feast of Beethoven featuring conductor John DeMain and pianist Olga Kern.
Club 201: Beethoven & Beer. February 6 at Café Montmartre.

March 6–8: Borodin, Stravinsky and Dvořák featuring conductor Yoav Talmi and violinist Julian Rachlin.

April 3–5: Wagner, Saint-Saëns and Brahms featuring conductor John DeMain and pianist André Watts.
Open Dress Rehearsal. April 2, 7–9:30 p.m.
Club 201: Spring Romance. April 3 at Fresco.

May 1–3: Verdi Requiem featuring conductor John DeMain, soprano Karen Slack, mezzo-soprano Kristine Jepson, tenor Arnold Rawls, bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen and the Madison Symphony Chorus.

Photos of Gerhardt and Komatsu are courtesy of the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Water Works

Sometimes a stroke of bad luck turns out to be a very good thing.

For Henry Drewal, a professor of art history and Afro-American studies at UW–Madison, his blessing in disguise took place in Ghana in 1975. A specialist in Yoruba art—which he first became interested in while working in Nigeria with the Peace Corps in the sixties—he had just received a grant to conduct research in Nigeria. But when the border closed unexpectedly, he found himself stuck in Ghana.

That’s when he began to notice shrines, temples and statues dedicated to Mami Wata, a water deity believed to bring health, wealth and good fortune. “Everywhere I turned, she was there,” he says.

Intrigued by what he saw, Drewal quickly adjusted his plans.

“The more I stayed there the more I saw how vibrant Mami Wata worship was,” he says. “So I stayed and worked on that topic.”

And he’s continued working on the topic for over thirty years. All of this research has culminated in Mami Wata: Arts for Water Spirits in Africa and Its Diasporas, an exhibition exploring five hundred years of the visual culture and history of water deities.

Drewal curated the exhibition, which was organized and started at the Fowler Museum at UCLA in April. From October 18 to January 11 it will be showcased at Madison’s Chazen Museum of Art. Then it will travel on to the National Museum of African Art in Washington, DC; the Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Virginia; and the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University.

The exhibition reveals the great diversity of media used to honor Mami Wata. Sculpture, masks, costumes, paintings, prints and multimedia works show the many faces of water spirits. And that the works come from west and central Africa, the Caribbean, Brazil and the United States show how widespread worship of Mami Wata has become.

“There are other visual and belief histories with movement across time and space,” Drewal says. “But water has always intrigued us, especially the sea.”

Not surprisingly, the nature—and imagery—of Mami Wata worship changed as it traveled and was met with new influences. For instance, in the fifteenth century European ships and coins made their way to Africa, merging images of mermaids with hybrid aquatic creatures found in indigenous rock paintings, masks and sculptures.

“It really starts to flourish in Africa at this first contact,” Drewal says.

As enslaved Africans were moved across the Atlantic, their traditions became part of local spiritual practices. And the image of the snake charmer was incorporated into Mami Wata visual culture in the late 1800s after a German poster reached West Africa; it was soon interpreted as an African water spirit. Later, traders from India brought prints of Hindu gods and goddesses to Africa, where they were adapted into female and male water spirits.

While his research on Mami Wata is intensive, Drewal is not the only scholar interested in the subject. In fact, he invited many of his colleagues to write articles for the exhibition catalog. And he’s also about to publish a large edited volume with forty-six contributions from academics, priests, artists and photographers offering unique perspectives on Mami Wata. The book will include a DVD with images, music, poetry and film clips.

And while many Madisonians likely aren’t familiar Mami Wata, Drewal thinks the city is a natural host for the exhibition.

“We live on an isthmus,” he says. “We live between two bodies of sacred water.”

The Chazen is holding a variety of events related to Mami Wata. For more information, visit chazen.wisc.edu.

October 17: A Carnival of Water Creatures
“Mami Wata’s Big Splash!” Lecture by exhibition curator Henry Drewal. 6 p.m., room L140. Free admission.
Mami Wata Costume Reception in Paige Court, 7–9 p.m. $8 members, $12 nonmembers, $5 UW students with I.D.

October 18: Celebrate Water Spirits!: A Family Day 12–4 p.m. Free admission. Children under 12 should be accompanied by an adult.

Sunday October 19: Exhibition Catalogue Signing 2:15 p.m. In conjunction with the Wisconsin Book Festival, curator Henry Drewal will give a brief reading and sign exhibition catalogues.

Docent-led Drop-in Tours
Tuesdays, 4 p.m., November 11–December 16. Meet in Paige Court.

Lectures on Water Spirits
• October 23: “Arts for Water Spirits in HaitianVodou.” Lecture by Marilyn Houlberg, professor, School of the Art Institute of Chicago. 6 p.m., room L150.
• October 30: “Mermaids and End-Time Jezebels: New Tales from Old Calabar.” Lecture by Rosalind I. J. Hackett, distinguished professor in the humanities (professor of religious studies), University of Tennessee. 6 p.m., room L150
• November 25: “Undercurrents: Secrecy, Initiation, and other Sightings of Mami Wata below the Radar.” Lecture by Amy L. Powell, UW–Madison Ph.D. student in art history. 6 p.m., meet in Gallery VII.
• December 4: “Osun and other Yoruba Water Divinities in the African Diaspora.” Lecture by Bolaji Campbell, assistant professor, Rhode Island School of Design. 6 p.m., room L150

Artists Talks
• November 13: “An/atom/y of a Story,” Obiora Udechukwu, professor of art, St. Lawrence University, N.Y. 6 p.m., room L150.
• November 20: “Cool Women and Hot Combs,” Sonya Clark, chair of Craft/Material Studies, School of the Arts, Virginia Commonwealth University. 6 p.m., room L150.

Water Matters: A Lecture Series
Organized by the UW Aquatic Sciences Center and the Department of Art History to enhance public awareness and understanding of water resources in a changing climate. Free and open to the public. For more information call 608 262-0905 or visit aqua.wisc.edu.
• October 21: MadTown Singers. Keynote address: “The Sacredness of Water,” Patty Loew, associate professor of life sciences communication, UW–Madison. 6 p.m., room L150.
• October 28: “Conversations on Race, Privilege, and the Environmental Movement,” Carolyn Finney, assistant professor of geography, University of California at Berkeley, and Kaylynn Sullivan TwoTrees, artist/activist. 6 p.m., room L150.
• November 6: “History of Wild Rice and its Restoration,” Anthony Kern, associate professor of biology, Northland College. “The Past, Present and Future of Great Lakes Fisheries,” Jim Kitchell, director of the UW–Madison Center for Limnology. 6 p.m., room L150.
• November 11: “Water and the Law: Two Wisconsin Ojibwe Cases,” Larry Nesper, associate professor of anthropology and American Indian studies, UW–Madison. 6 p.m., room L150.
• November 18: “Wisconsin Groundwater Resources,” Anders W. Andren, director of the UW–Madison Aquatic Sciences Center. “Global Warming and its Implications for Wisconsin/Great Lakes Waters,” John J. Magnuson, director emeritus of the Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. 6 p.m., room L150.

Film at UW Cinematheque
Free admission. 4070 Vilas Hall, 821 University Avenue. Doors open at 7 p.m. Titles subject to change. Find more info at cinema.wisc.edu.
• October 24: Mammy Water (La Pêche et le culte de la mer), 1953, and the documentary Le Niger. 7:30 p.m.
• October 25: Faro, la reine des eaux (Faro, Goddess of Water), 2007. 7:30 p.m.

Film at the Wisconsin Union
Free admission. Contact 262-1143 or union.wisc.edu/film for more info.
• November 8: Lady in the Water, 2006. 11:59 p.m. Union South, Main Lounge.
• November 10: Big Fish, 2003. 7:30 p.m. Memorial Union, Play Circle
• November 20: Incident at Loch Ness, 2004. 7:30 p.m. Memorial Union, Play Circle

Jazz at the Chazen
November 21: The Onus Trio. 7–9 p.m., room L150.

Images are courtesy of the Chazen Museum of Art.