I'm not supposed to take pictures at my new job, but I do it anyways. If I haven't mentioned it already, I got a seasonal job working for Milwaukee World Festival in the Sign Shop.
I wasn't quite sure what I was getting myself into, but I am surprised at how much I like the job, and how much the act of sign making has caused me to rethink the beauty of signage.
The process is pretty simple: put vinyl letters onto Coroplast boards and install them in the park. Sometimes there are large banners, overheads, copious amounts of smiley faces, and other signs that display required indicators such as menus, schedules, and arrows for festival goers. I am given detailed instructions for how to measure and cut signs and where to place the vinyl lettering on the boards. If you have never seen vinyl lettering before, it looks something like this:
Since working this job, I have started to look at letters like they are shapes. Shapes that form to make letters that form to make words that form to make sentences that form to make paragraphs, books, newspapers, magazines, plays, poems, articles, etc. Doing this reminds me of taking beginning drawing lessons. In these classes students are instructed to draw their subjects upside down so that their brains break down the image into separate shapes instead of seeing the entirety of the picture, making it easier to interpret complex details. I sometimes catch glimpses of lettering now and notice it for its curves, coloration, and layout. I don't necessarily think of this newfound relationship with lettering as a recognition of font, but more of a recognition of shape, and the recognition that one letter can carry a lot of weight in a word.
I mean this in a figurative but also in a literal sense. The other day at work I had to carry giant letters and install them at the Midgate entrance to the Summerfest grounds. I was surprised to learn that the letters were made out of wood and attached to the facade of the entryway with magnets and wire. The method and materials seemed a bit archaic, but I enjoyed the feeling of giant letters in my hands. I noticed that one of the "M"s had a chip in it. They weren't too heavy, but still difficult to maneuver over the sides of the boom lift (which was extended to its limit, might I add). They were also difficult to place on the large metal arches of the Summerfest gates. The only guidance we had were the magnet marks left behind from the letters from past years. It was like sitting at a computer and trying to compose a thought but not being able to come up with the right word. Smacking down letters and then hitting "delete." Rearranging until you get it completely right.
When my supervisor came out to check on us, we had gotten it completely right. It didn't take us that long either. About fifteen minutes. He was surprised that we had finished the task in one attempt. We went on to finish a long day, working until about 6pm, trying hard to get everything installed for Summerfest before the weekend.
That night we had giant thunderstorms, and when I came to work the next morning an "E" had blown away, leaving a gap in the second half of the word. "E" was found on the ground somewhere in the park that afternoon, and was reattached a few days later.
Maybe I'm just tired, but it took me about three days to write this post.
Bay View Gallery Night was, unexpectedly, the epitome of "Looking For Art In All the Wrong Places." Before I went, I was trying and failing to make a game plan for what I should actually go and see at the event. When I asked a reliable source what would be a good starting point, I was told that there are actually very few galleries in Bay View, and that most of the art would be displayed in restaurants, coffee shops, etc.
I was really tired, and this seemed like a lot of work. Not to mention the drive over to Bay View (ugh I sound like a Milwaukeean already). But the alternative was sitting at home watching stupid TV and attempting to sleep while the evidently nocturnal mammals that recently moved in above me engage in their nightly stomping rituals.
So me and my two friends Elena and Deborah made the journey over to Bay View. As promised, it was a bit of a chore to locate any actual art. The first place we stopped at that had a true display was The Ink Spot Tattoo on Kinnickinnic. Elena and I were interested in the shop because they were advertising $40 flash tattoos. What better way to spend a Friday night than getting a spontaneous tattoo, right? After viewing tattoo options however, we opted out:
Nothing against Bay View or mustaches, but, neither one of us felt emotionally invested in sporting one of these tats forever. The Ink Spot also had a variety of art pieces on display. My favorite was Works in Fabric & Thread by Matthias Jerome Weisensel:
Not only were these pieces whimsical and charming, but Matthias himself was adorned with a killer mustache that was highly reminiscent of the one in the upper lefthand corner of the picture of tattoos above. I wanted to ask if I could take a picture of his face, but I thought somehow that taking a picture of his art was a more flattering proposition.
After the tattoo shop, we got distracted by ice cream.
Babes provided us with some much needed revitalization, as it was a hot and muggy Midwestern night, and we still had a lot of ground to cover. The next gallery I wanted to visit was Keith Nelson's Usable Space, which was described as being "off the beaten path." An accurate description. As we made our way down Kinnickinnic in the opposite direction of the bulk of the activity, we were enchanted by the pale industrial forest that grew up around us:
The further we walked the louder we could hear the sound of a band clanging from some mysterious abyss above our heads. I was slightly nervous that I was leading the group to a general abyss and perhaps to a sketchy warehouse where we could potentially get murdered, but finally, and in one piece, we reached the gallery.
What I immediately liked about the space was that it still felt like it was a part of an old building that once served an alternative purpose. If you notice in the first picture above, part of a stone wall is still visible underneath the contrived white gallery walls. I have no idea if this was intentional or not, but it made the gallery feel more abrasive and rough than a conventional gallery space. As I discovered, there was more organic space waiting outside.
Kristina Rolander, Missing You
I could still hear the band practicing in the distance. In view beyond the piece was yet another industrial relic. Although we were boxed in on our left and right sides, a slight breeze made its way from above to rustle the hanging letters, and in the dusky light they swung back and forth above our heads. Upon closer inspection, there were tags on the wall displaying the private longings of previous gallery goers:
Dad- I miss looking at maps with you.
If only you could have seen Google Maps. S.
I wrote one myself. Between you, me, and the wall, I missed my cat. Missing You is part of a larger project called "The You Are Not Alone Project" which I am not familiar with but can be viewed on Instagram at #theyouarenotaloneproject. The best part of this exhibition was sitting around and hanging out underneath it. Maybe it was just the atmosphere of good people and a good night, but I would describe this as one of the most pleasant art viewing experiences that I have had in awhile. It was hard to pull away from the hypnosis of the gently swaying letters, but we were compelled to visit a few more spots on the route including one called Palomino Bar.
Palomino was our last stop, and well worth it. At the back of the bar, there was a booth, and although I am still not entirely sure what happened inside of the booth, I had a good time sticking my head inside of it for about 5 minutes.
Outside the booth
Inside the booth
I ended up sticking my head in with a guy I did not know named Vincent, who, according to the two ladies pictured above, was my future husband. I'm fairly certain the candle-lit conversation we had was recorded, and additionally, the ladies provided me with documentation of my handsome husband-to-be:
The piece was called, "An Incredibly Awkward Evening With the Wild Wild Midwest Variety Show." Although I got engaged to a stranger, I didn't think that the piece overall was very awkward, but maybe that's because I ended up getting a free beer from my new hubby. Nothing awkward about that!
With the completion of the beer and an overall good feeling, we made our way back to the car, back over the bridge, and back home to the cat, who greeted us with sleepy winks.
I still don't feel entirely comfortable going into Riverwest bars. Is "everyone stares at you" a good excuse? Because that's mine.
Ultimately I know it's because, as insular as Milwaukee is, Riverwest is ten times worse. It's like a small town within a city that also happens to be tragically hip and inherently cliquey. I am definitely not cool enough for it, which is sad because I'm drawn to the grungy, artistic atmosphere of the place.
That's okay. I'll still go to bars over there every once in awhile just to piss everybody off. And when there's an art exhibit, as there currently is at Art*Bar on Burleigh. My good friend Deborah Levinson, who was also an art major that graduated my year, has recently moved to tiny Milwaukee from big NYC, and I wanted to show her some of the art things that are going on here. Deb, as I call her, contacted me under the pretense that we hang out and drink wine or do art things. Or do both at the same time. Which is why Art*Bar seemed like the perfect place to start.
What is Art*Bar? According to their Facebook page: "Just the ABC's: Art, Booze, Coffee." Nice, I like all three of those things. By perusing their page I can glean that they host art exhibitions, concerts, game nights, and also art making events such as Paintnite which is a step by step painting class hosted by a local painter. "All you have to do is drink and have fun!"
I can totally drink and have fun. In fact I'm really good at it. However, the intentional pairing of alcohol and art is new to me. The first time I had heard of an event that paired art and alcohol in a way other than serving Yellow Tail and Spotted Cow at gallery openings was at Final Fridays at EBCO Arts in Sheboygan, hosted by the Sheboygan Visual Artists. I didn't end up going to the event, but I heard that it was a night of pairing wine with paintings and other art pieces. Then of course there was last week's Fop and Hounds which paired wine with a dog and a discussion of art.
I don't think Art*Bar puts as much thought into whether the alcohol selection matches the current art exhibit. I think it is mostly just a bar that happens to host art events. But I'm a big fan of the idea. I often find myself out on weekend nights wondering why the heck I am just drinking. I like to sit around and socialize but I prefer drinking when I am pairing it with the things I enjoy, like art and music. To be honest, I often feel guilty when I am doing anything that I couldn't potentially use as material for this blog.
Blah, blah, blah, long/nerdy story short, I went to Art*Bar and hung out with Deb and had a great time. We chatted for a few hours about our adventures after school and laughed at about how we are basically as broke as we were when we graduated and how tough the "real world" still is. We commiserated over our experiences in the art world and talked about the things we had learned. We came to the conclusion that neither one of us really misses Lawrence all that much and that even though life outside of school is tough it feels more satisfying in a lot of ways. The whole time we talked, I looked at the paintings on the wall. The current exhibition, "We Came, We Saw, We Painted" is a collection of paintings done by painters in the Wisconsin Plein Air Painters Association. "Plein air" painting is painting done outside rather than in a studio, so there were many outdoor scenes and landscapes. The twist: the exhibition also included a comparison of the same scene painted in a studio rather than outside. For example:
Study of Red, Barbara Hayden- Studio painting on left, plein air on right
*Stop right there.* If you're thinking this is a bad photograph that doesn't really show the difference between the two paintings very well, then you are right. I was, after all, in a dimly lit bar in which I chose to consume alcohol before looking at the art, and therefore none of the photographs I took of the pieces were really all that great. At one point I even took this photograph over two guys who were playing pool at at the pool table:
I haven't exactly mastered the technique of mixing art and alcohol in a way where one enhances the other and vise versa. The other photographs I took didn't even match the apparent concept of the exhibition:
Go Out and Play, Sherri Thomas- Plein air study
Painting Painters, Jenny Anderson- Studio painting
Same scene. One painted outdoors and one painted indoors. But they were done by different artists, which doesn't really make sense if the point of the exhibition is to compare the way an artist works inside a studio from a photograph versus how an artist works outdoors in real time.
Perhaps my miscomprehension was due to the the fleeting way in which Deb and I walked past the paintings and either said "I like the one on the right" or "I like the one on the left," and didn't really spend much time analyzing them at all. But a band had just started, and I was sleepy, and like I said it was dark in there anyways. I'm tempted to go back to Art*Bar so I can figure out exactly what this exhibition was about and whether or not I thought Art*Bar was a good venue for the show. But I really just want to do it during daylight hours when I am completely sober so I can just look at the paintings like I would if I was seeing any other art show. So then I guess it wouldn't really be an authentic Art*Bar experience at all.