Wednesday, May 21, 2008

June Artists: Water Worlds

Many of us, it seems, have a strong connection to water but one that’s constantly in flux. We’re drawn to water, inspired by it, rejuvenated by it, sometimes frightened by it. 

So it’s not surprising that artists are attracted to it—and that their depictions of water are greatly diverse. 

The James Watrous Gallery at the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters plays with this idea in an exhibition opening in June. Works by two artists are shown alongside one another to show how each observes and interprets the water and its surrounding landscape.

The Things We Know (formerly Verismo/Verita) by Lake Mills artist Amy Arntson is a series of hypnotic, crisply realistic watercolors. Most of her paintings include no land as reference; the viewer is left only to focus on the waves and their colors, textures, patterns and rhythms.

In Lake Superior Blues, Madison architectural-model builder Bruce Severson showcases pastel drawings and acrylic paintings that express the moods and feelings he encounters in the landscape of Lake Superior.

Taking a cue from the side-by-side format of the exhibition, I’m posing together Arntson and Severson’s individual responses to a shared set of questions.

Why take on water as your subject matter?

Amy Arntson: Growing up in the Great Lakes region, water has always been a powerful symbol for me. It is intimately connected with the passage of time … of stability and change. It is both fragile and seemingly eternal. Most of my current paintings do not reference the surrounding land. Instead, they focus on light, texture, shape and movement of water. There is no place to stand, only a place to be. Without a horizon line, the implied physical presence of the viewer diminishes. Viewers are encouraged to meditate on the water, projecting themselves into the painting.

Bruce Severson: I lived by Lake Superior a couple years in the late seventies and was really quite taken by the whole lake and its large features—the large boats, the large bluffs. It was quite a magical thing.

In what kind of style do you choose to represent water—and why this style?

Amy Arntson: Influences on my work range from wash drawings of the seventeenth
-century illuminists who addressed the relationship between landscape and the expression of feeling, to an array of twentieth century abstract artwork. Abstract color, shape and texture are an underpinning to all my realistic paintings, as are a sense of place and time and related emotions. The work is created from sketches and photographs of locations I visit in the Great Lakes and other areas.

Bruce Severson: I think it’s probably some sort of impressionistic style but I do think I go back and forth between abstract and realistic. Sometimes it’s both things: Sometimes the details are quite abstract but when you back up its hyper-realistic.

How is your medium of choice suited to rendering water?

Amy Arntson: Throughout my career, I’ve found it 
important to be familiar with a variety of media, so that any choice made comes from a strong knowledge base. I’ve examined a wide variety of concepts in painting, photography and electronic art. Consistently line and wash and watercolor seem most beautiful to my eye, and this is the medium used in my current paintings.

Bruce Severson: I can capture the nuances of colors easier with pastels. However, in a large way, paintings allow another kind of looseness I try to work with. I use quite a range of application techniques; not just brushes, but I make certain implements for applying paint.

What do you hope to express in your work?

Amy Arntson: The title of this exhibition at the Watrous is taken from Aldo Leopold’s statement that “We only mourn the things we know.” I have started to think of my water paintings in the context of global change and potential loss.

Bruce Severson: I try to capture atmosphere as much as the objects. There’s an ethereal quality to a lot of my work. And I also like to work with colors. My show I’m calling Lake Superior Blues, partly because I miss the lake and partly because whenever I observe the water it seems to be a different shade of blue.

What do you hope people get from seeing your work—and side by side with that of another artist?

Amy Arntson: I don't know the other artist or his work but I look forward to seeing his paintings. It is always good to see another artist with a similar interest. Viewers will benefit from two viewpoints.

Bruce Severson: It’s my own landscape, my own eye on it. To me, it’s sort of a language that words can’t describe … Each person will come away with their own feeling. It’s more about that, about sharing a feeling, than anything else.

Verismo/Verita and Lake Superior Blues run June 20 to July 27. For more information, visit

Photos from top to bottom are: Arntson’s Fall Wind, Severson’s Ice Waves, Arntson’s Under Tom’s Pier and Severson’s Thin Ice.

COMING UP: A few events and performances to check out this week.

Some major events take place this week—and long Memorial Day weekend—around Madison.

Get a jump start the holiday weekend this evening at Tunes at Monona Terrace with music by The Reptile Palace Orchestra Balkan Dance Groove.

Friday through Monday, take your pick—or, better yet, check out both—of the World’s Largest Brat Fest at the Alliant Energy Center and the WisCon Feminist Science Fiction Convention at the Concourse Hotel.

On Saturday, Girls and Company: Feminist Works from MMoCA’s Permanent Collection, a collection of feminist art from the 1960s to ’90s, opens at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.

And on Sunday, join or cheer on runners in the Madison Marathon.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Winning Night

The past year’s been a rough one for Madison musician Robert J. He’d been writing, recording and producing songs for two CDs—A Beautiful Blur and The Revenge of the Rowdy Prairie Dogs—and had release plans in the works when he suffered a heart attack in November.

Fortunately, he’s feeling better now with renewed energy for life and music.

And he’s feeling really good following Saturday night’s Madison Area Music Awards, from which he took home six awards for himself and his rock-country-Americana group The Rowdy Prairie Dogs.

Robert J won Pop Song of the Year, Rock Album of the Year and Male Vocalist of the Year while The Rowdy Prairie Dogs garnered the Country/Bluegrass Song of the Year, Country/Bluegrass Album of the Year and Folk/Americana Song of the Year awards/

The local rocker took some time out earlier this week to talk about his winning night.

You've had a lot of things happen to you over the past year. How were you feeling going into the MAMAs?

Health-wise I've been feeling pretty good. Musically, I was excited to have these new CDs and songs heard by my peers here in Madison.

How well did you think your two albums would do at the awards?

Honestly, I looked at each category that I was nominated in and thought, I could easily not win any of these awards. I thought there were a lot of artists and songs that were deserving of the MAMA.

What was your reaction when you found out you had won an award? What about when you kept winning?

After winning the award at the beginning of the show for the Male Vocalist of the year, I thought, alright, I got one. That’s good enough for me. Then it was really great to win the country awards and when they kept on coming I got more and more overwhelmed. After winning the sixth award of the night, I walked offstage, went downstairs to a dressing room and wept.

What award are you most proud to have won?

I would have to say the songwriting awards. Being a songwriter is what I'm most passionate about.

Given all that you’ve been through lately, how does it feel to receive this recognition?

It feels wonderful! To be given a second chance at life and then to have such a show of support from the Madison Music Community, I feel truly blessed and honored and loved. It is definitely a night I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

What's next for you?

We’ll be releasing The Revenge of the Rowdy Prairie Dogs to Americana Radio (300 stations) in North America and Europe in June. Developing my new band, The RPDs. We’re playing some cool shows including Summerfest, The Steel Bridge Festival, a show with The New Riders of the Purple Sage. And I’ve got the next CD written and ready to go, so hopefully we’ll be back in the studio in the fall. I’m also working on a children’s book/song with Glenn Fuller who did such a fine job illustrating the RPD CD.

For more info on Robert J and The Rowdy Prairie Dogs, visit, and To find out more about the MAMAs, visit

The following is the full list of MAMA 2008 winners:

Genre Awards

Blues Song of the Year
The Mud Angels

Blues Album of the Year
Westside Andy/Mel Ford Band

Blues Artist of the Year
The Mud Angels

Classical Song of the Year
Ben Johnston-Urey

Classical Album of the Year
Ben Johnston-Urey

Classical Artist of the Year
Randal Harrison

Country/Bluegrass Song of the Year
The Rowdy Prairie Dogs

Country/Bluegrass Album of the Year
The Rowdy Prairie Dogs

Country/Bluegrass Artist of the Year
Spare Time Bluegrass Band

Electronic Song of the Year
The Dorothy Heralds

Electronic Album of the Year
Null Device

Electronic Artist of the Year
Sensuous Enemy

Folk/Americana Song of the Year
The Rowdy Prairie Dogs

Folk/Americana Album of the Year
Dear August

Folk/Americana Artist of the Year
Sharp & Harkins Band

Jazz Song of the Year
Clear Blue Betty

Jazz Album of the Year
Harris Lemberg

Jazz Artist of the Year
Randal Harrison

Pop Song of the Year
Robert J

Pop Album of the Year
Mark Croft

Pop Artist of the Year
Mark Croft

Rock Song of the Year
The Lucas Cates Band

Rock Album of the Year
Robert J

Rock Artist of the Year
Clear Blue Betty

Unique Song of the Year
The Gomers

Unique Album of the Year
The Gomers

Unique Artist of the Year
Know Boundaries

Urban Song of the Year

Urban Album of the Year
Know Boundaries

Urban Artist of the Year
Felicia Alima

World Song of the Year
JAH Boogie’s Natty Nation

World Album of the Year
JAH Boogie’s Natty Nation

World Artist of the Year
JAH Boogie’s Natty Nation

DJ of the Year
DJ Fusion

Non-Genre Awards

Compilation Album of the Year
The Best of Urban Theatre, Vol. 1

Ensemble Vocalists of the Year
Madison County

Entertainer of the Year
JAH Boogie’s Natty Nation

Female Vocalist of the Year
Laura England
Jessi Lynn

Instrumentalist of the Year
Tracy Jane Comer

Male Vocalist of the Year
Robert J

New Artist of the Year
Blue Beyond

Studio of the Year
DNA Studios

Wish You Were Here Award
Joe Bainbridge

People’s Choice Awards

Cover Band of the Year
The Gomers

Live Music Venue of the Year
The High Noon Saloon

Local Music Radio Station of the Year

Local Music Record Store of the Year
B-Side Records & CDs
The Exclusive Company

Local Radio Personality of the Year
Lee Rayburn

Youth Awards

Youth Vocalist of the Year
Felicia Alima

Youth Ensemble of the Year
Alton Kelly

Youth Instrumentalist of the Year
Jesse Banks

Student of the Year
Joel Weng

Teacher of the Year
Jim Kyle

Special Awards

Meritorious Achievement Award
John Urban

Michael St. John Lifetime Achievement Award
Richard Davis

Launchpad Awards
Village Idiot
Alton Kelly
Pillbox 49

COMING UP: A few events and performances to check out this week.

Tonight, Strollers Theatre kicks off The Miss Firecracker Contest, a Little Miss Sunshine-esque tale featuring a beauty pageant and zany relatives. Audience members are invited—but not required—to take part in the action. And at Barnes & Noble West, Tom Farley presents his book The Chris Farley Show.

Madison Ballet offers Pure Ballet!, an exploration of the dance form through six original works, Friday and Saturday. Also starting Friday, and continuing through Sunday, the annual Syttende Mai Norwegian festival gets underway in Stoughton.

On Saturday, the Alliant Energy Center becomes a meeting place for Madisonians interested in alternative and natural living with the Alternative Health & Natural Living Expo. And the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra and Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra offer a Side-by-Side Concert at Overture Center.

Also, several new art exhibitions open this week: A two person show of ceramics and fiber work by Rachelle Miller and Pat Kroth takes place at Artisan Gallery in Paoli, as do a group show of works on paper and a display of ceramics by Ruth Hansen. All open on Friday. And on Saturday, the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art reveals T.L. Solien: Myths and Monsters, a midcareer retrospective of the UW–Madison art professor and internationally acclaimed artist.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

A Photo a Day

Many artists will tell you the key to being good at their craft is practice, practice, practice. And consistency is also a crucial part of the equation. 

Angela Richardson is learning this firsthand—in an entirely new way—through her latest artistic endeavor.

The Madison visual artist and performer is known in a lot of circles around town (she’s a founding member and performer at Cherry Pop Burlesque, runs Dr. Sketchy's Anti Art School Madison and is often known by the stage name “Olive Talique”).

Yet Richardson is returning to an early love of photography by participating in Project 365 on the photo-sharing website Flickr. The premise of Project 365 is simple: Participating artists must post a photo every day for a year.

Of course, actually doing this isn’t so simplistic. Richardson has found the daily practice of taking and sharing a photograph has had profound and sometimes surprising impacts.

Richardson started her own Project 365 site on January 22 and has since captured such varied subject matter as a bird silh
ouetted in a tree, a piece of chocolate cake, doodles on a notebook page, a pair of legs (hers) in fishnet stockings and hot-pink stilettos, local architecture and myriad faces.

“I don’t have any preconceived notions,” she says of what scenes catch her attention. “I really do approach every day as, ‘OK, I’m going out into the world.’”

But over time—she’s now only about a third of the way into the project—she’s learned to spot a good shot.

“As I go along, my eye becomes more finely tuned,” she says. “When I see a picture, I know to 
stop and take it.”

When Richardson posts a photo, she also offers a written entry “to provide context, share info, vent, crack a joke, tell a story,” she explains on her site. In her words as well as her images, she typically presents a mix of humor, optimism, thoughtfulness and beauty.

When viewed together on Richardson’s site, the photos appear to have been chosen as a collective, not a piecemeal accumulation. That the images complement one another is testament to the strength of each person’s individual vantage point, she says.

“The fact that they look neat together is because it’s seeing the world through one person’s eyes,” she says. “I tend to be optimistic. I try to see the beautiful. I have faith in the world and I look for images that reinforce that.”

Taking the time to capture an image every day, as opposed to breaking out a camera only for special occasions, has had a slowing, almost meditative, effect on Richardson.

“It’s also taught me to look really carefully and pay hyper-attention to things,” she says. “I’ve been really moved by the fact that there’s absolute abundant beauty everywhere. It’s been very joyful in that way.”

Over the past few months, Richardson also has learned to trust the process, that she will get a photo every day, even if it comes later than she’d like. “Images are absolutely everywhere,” she says. “I can’t even escape them—and I mean that in the best way.”

She reached her one-hundredth-photo milestone just before Gallery Night last Thursday, and showcased her images at Winnebago Studios. She also hopes to have a show next year after she wraps the project.

Richardson isn’t sure what she’ll photograph before then or what her feelings on the project will be at that point. But she’s grateful for the chance to be “forced” into working on her photography on such a regular basis and adopting a daily practice.

“I didn’t really question the wisdom of that before, but I didn’t understand what that meant,” she says.

For more information on Angela Richardson—or to see her photography or purchase a print—visit her Flickr page or artist site, or email her at

Richardson’s photos shown above are Sometimes…, This is the beginning of a new story, Contrast and Ha ha ha!

COMING UP: A few events to check out this week

Jazz lovers should check out Tunes at Monona Terrace this evening when MadiSalsa Latin Jazz performs.

Madison Opera offers its first production of tragic opera Lucia Di Lammermoor on Friday and Sunday. Meanwhile Encore! Studio for the Performing Arts debuts its first full musical, Found Money, on Saturday; the production runs through May 24.

The Chazen Museum of Art transforms into a big top on Saturday with circus performers, entertainment and, of course, art. Also on Saturday is the Madison Area Music Awards at the Barrymore Theatre.

Don’t forget Mom this weekend. Olbrich Botanical Gardens presents a Mother’s Day Concert Sunday afternoon, while the UW Arboretum offers a Birding before Brunch walk, Mother’s Day Brunch and Mother’s Day Walk.

And next Tuesday through Sunday, Overture Center presents the musical comedy Monty Python’s Spamalot.