Friday, May 30, 2014

I Usually Show Up Early

As of the time I will actually be posting this post, I will have been a resident of Milwaukee for exactly one week.

It's great.

I feel a million times happier, like the difference between night and day- night being the year of things that I tried that didn't exactly work out quite right, and day being Milwaukee, my new apartment, my new job, and my new life. I never in a million years thought I would end up basically back home, and back to the city I grew up a mere half an hour away from. But I feel absolutely no regrets about the decision, and as far as I'm concerned, anyone who can't see all of Milwaukee's charms is missing out.

That being said, it's still hard to throw yourself into the middle of something that wasn't exactly expecting you, or doesn't really care if you're there or not. What I mean is, Milwaukee's been changing and growing the whole time I've been away from it. People have done a lot of hard work to shape it into what it is now. People that have been here for awhile, maybe went to school together or didn't feel compelled to leave it like I did, and have changed it from a city that was known basically for the Brewers and Summerfest to a city with something that everyone can enjoy in some capacity. I realize that I have walked into the middle of a rapidly transforming place that's pretty damn comfortable with the direction it's headed, and, like I said, it doesn't give a shit if I'm here or not.

So basically, I'm going to have to be a bit annoying for awhile, and just keep showing up at things and throwing myself into things without embarrassment or apprehension. I have to look like I belong here. And I think I do. I just have to give it some time.

With that in mind, I showed up at an art event last night wearing a full-on Cheetah dress. Maybe it wasn't exactly appropriate, but I felt more comfortable wearing it than I would have in Sheboygan, that's for sure.

The event was the May "Fop and Hounds" at the Portrait Society Gallery. As I have mentioned before, I think gallery owner Debra Brehmer is pretty cool, and I thought I would check out the event. "Fop and Hounds" is a fun way to combine three really awesome things: art, wine, and dogs. For this monthly event, a person who has a strong voice about some art topic is chosen to host a discussion for the current exhibition at the gallery. The catch is, this person has to have a dog. For this "Fop and Hounds," UWM's Rebecca Holderness was chosen to host with her dog Asher, a Boykin Spaniel from Tennessee. Holderness teaches in the theater department, but her knowledge of found objects in relation to set design and playwriting seemed to fit comfortably with the current show, "Arrangements," by Keith Nelson.

Holderness with furry friend Asher

I'll elaborate on the discussion later. Another very important aspect of "Fop and Hounds" is, of course, wine, which is selected monthly by a wine expert to fit the personality and breed of the dog. This month's pairing, a Lacrime di Morro d'Alba, 2012.


Confession: I used to work at a winery, but I actually have no idea what this fancy title means. I can safely say, however, that this wine was pretty damn good. Not quite dry enough for my tastes, but Asher himself is not a very dry dog. An amicable pup with a taste for cheese, the wine fit perfectly with Asher's southern charms and warm affections. I probably had one glass too many.

As the discussion wore on, I listened, but I mostly thought about my own things, as I am prone to do when left to concentrate on something for very long. The piece that we were focusing on was this beautiful found object cityscape by Keith Nelson, which somehow seemed to fit in perfectly with my current excitement/ nerves about being back in Milwaukee:

Keith standing with his piece

Keith's "Arrangements" are made from debris that he finds in dumpsters, on the streets, and just plain old lying around. Each object has a story, and Keith collects these special scraps until he creates a flawless composition like the one you see above. Here's a better view:

At one point during the discussion I asked Keith whether or not he thought his pieces had anything to do with portraiture, since they were being shown at the Portrait Society. I guess I didn't exactly care what his answer was either way, to be perfectly honest. To me this piece is a portrait. The debris comes together to create a portrait of a certain time and place in the world. The time being now, and the place being Milwaukee. The piece is even reminiscent of the Milwaukee skyline: Sort of dull. Not impressive like Chicago or New York. But still nice to look at when you get that dusky light that bounces off the lake. Also, in some ways I think this piece encapsulates what a lot of people ignorantly think about Milwaukee. A bunch of scraps. People who don't want to live in an actual big city. Humble Wisconsinites. No vibrant colors or characters. 

I thought those things too, until I came back here. But now I know better, and I see these scavenged goods as the people I know and the people I have yet to know who have come together to make Milwaukee what it is right now. A portrait of a place that I feel happy to call home. 

And yes, I showed up to this event a half an hour early. I just don't know how to be late for things!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


Don't have much to write about this week. Check back next week when I've got more paint on the wall and more cat in my lap. 

"Everything is constantly evolving."
-My good friend Peter Ehlinger

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

B Strong. C Art.

This past weekend was adventure weekend with my best friend Josh. Because of the stupid Megabus not having a Friday night trip MPLS>MKE anymore, he had to bus it out to Madison. So I drove there from Sheboygan and hung out for a total of 2.5 fruitful hours. I met up with my "aunt" Debra who is actually my mom's cousin, but out of convenience tells me to refer to her as my aunt (it's a lot easier than explaining how closely-knit the Tompkins genes are anyways).

Debra works for American Girl and has a heavy hand in choosing the artists for the art gallery at the American Girl building in Madison. Debra is one of those people whose entire life is a work of art. She has an artistic job, she does her own art, and her house is a little art haven. She used to live in NYC like a real artist, and has lived in Madison for a long time actively enjoying the arts scene there. Whenever I go to Debra's she has some cool new art thing to show me. I've always enjoyed this room in the back of her house that is packed with artistic odds and ends of all shapes and sizes:

In the past I remember being intimidated that Debra was so cool, and so well-versed in art. I sort of just followed her around in a daze while she showed me tons of art stuff that I didn't realize was awesome. (This one time she took me to a wig fashion show in Madison. I was like sixteen years old. I had no idea how cool that was...). This time I finally felt like I was on her level in regards to namedropping local artists and other art stuff, and it was pretty cool to talk about artists and art we had seen in the past year or two. My favorite thing Debra showed me were these little dog and cat sculptures that were made in a workshop with Milwaukee artist Steve Wirtz

Wirtz makes simple wire armatures for participants in his workshops who then have the delightful task of coating them in papier mache to bring them to life. I liked them so much that Debra gave me one to take home (I chose the cat of course). 

Another artist I really liked was one found in the bathroom:

This oil and pastel composition was done by artist Mary Ann Wakeley who Debra claims is her current favorite artist. Wakely is represented by Guy Lyman Fine Art and Saatchi Art.

I was also charmed by this sculpture that Debra obtained in artist Rachel Miller's (no website found) "free pile" outside of her studio. 

The ceramic pieces are actually removable and can be rearranged like a child's toy. It reminded me of  certain Arts/Industry artist Justin Richel whose whimsical Endless Column (2013) is also stacked precariously.

Fortunately, Richel's ceramic goodies are not removable, or I'd have a lot of trouble keeping kid's hands off of them during tours (more than I already do, that is).

I left Debra's feeling excited that I'm going to be living so close to Madison now, and that I can visit the galleries there more often. Also, so that I can go and visit Debra. I think I take it for granted how many artists I have in my family. Everyone's always like "Network, network, network!!" But all I have to do is email my "aunt" and I feel like I've made a connection. Also, Debra is a cancer survivor who made the most of having cancer by wearing extravagant wigs (hence the aforementioned wig fashion show) and keeping an overall good attitude about it. Cancer's mean. You gotta remember that anyone can get it, and not everyone survives it.

After adventure weekend was over I had to head back to Sheboygan to work a Sunday ARTery shift at the arts center. I wasn't too happy to work on a Sunday or to leave my new blissful Milwaukee life, which I felt kind of guilty about, but I ended up having a good time. There was a family that came in, a dad and two little girls, who had driven up to Sheboygan from Chicago for Mother's Day. The dad was quite talkative and I chatted with him for a good portion of my shift. His two little girls were pretty precocious. They argued a lot with each other and insisted that I procure materials that we don't actually have at the arts center. I improvised by giving them two wooden boards that we were going to otherwise recycle and told the girls to make a Mother's Day present out of them. That seemed to make them happy. When they were done making their gifts and it was time for them to go, their dad majorly surprised me by A.) giving me a hug, and B.) handing me this pin that he got this year at the Boston Marathon:

He said, "It's not about being from Boston, it's about being American, and remembering the bombings that took place last year. Thank you so much for a wonderful day. If it weren't for people like you and places like this, then where would we be?"

Compliments are tricky things. Sometimes I wonder if people give them out so that you will feel guilty and act better than you actually are.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Weeds, people

Feeling like I needed to get outside, I volunteered this past weekend at the Urban Ecology Center (UEC) in Milwaukee. This place was really cool. Like most of the things I have "discovered" lately, it was one of those places I knew about in high school but didn't really care about or think about until now because now I'm a grown up or something like that. I found the volunteer event on a website called Newaukee that posts frequent artist and volunteer opportunities from around the city.

Not only did I feel like I wanted to be outside, but I wanted to connect with and meet some new people in Milwaukee since it's about to become home (again) pretty soon. I certainly picked the right event. Fourteen people showed up at 9:00 on a Saturday morning to help out and get their hands dirty. I immediately struck up a conversation with a woman who had just moved to Milwaukee from Philadelphia and was volunteering so that she could also meet some new people.

Before starting, we got a tour of the center. I purposely picked this place because it is in Riverside Park which boasts a variety of public art pieces. You can read a list of all of its features here. For my part, here's what I observed:

The center is accessible from a bike trail, and serves as a stopping point for many bicyclists hoping to take a break and get some water.

Once you get inside, everything feels kind of rustic. It sort of felt like I was back at the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone National Park.

If I hadn't taken the tour, I would have never known that the floor is actually a recycled gym floor.

Recycling was a major theme at the center. These are classroom chairs made from recycled paper rolls. 

Some other indoor art projects were this slide, painted to look as if you are careening down into Lake Michigan. This is actually one of the entrances into the center.

Also scattered around the building were these clocks, made from recycled materials and donated to the center by a volunteer.

On the top of the building, there is a rooftop garden built to control the temperature inside, and also, of course, for growing things. 

Farther down away from the center is an outdoor project made by artist Richard Taylor which contains the names of those who contributed $1,000 or more to an area called the Milwaukee Rotary Centennial Arboretum.

As you walk into the arboretum you are greeted by this archway which leads to the winding paths that take you down to the river. 

In a lot of ways, the UEC reminded me of JMKAC. It relies on recycled materials and donations. Everywhere you look there is a new project. People come there because it makes them happy, and so that they can see and do something new. The success of both places is largely due to the dedication of volunteers. 

Volunteers who water plants, hammer down tarps, and pull weeds. But mostly just pull weeds. As the morning wore on, I started talking to people less and less. It turns out the woman from Philly was really into biking, and she weened herself off of me to talk to someone who was also really into biking. I eavesdropped on several people's conversations, but didn't really engage much. I became very invested in pulling out every last bit of garlic mustard. I didn't really look up. I just kept my eyes on the green stuff. 

When the day was over I walked around, took some pictures, and went back to my car by myself.

Later on I saw this mob of people parading down North Avenue in support of the legalization of marijuana in Wisconsin.