Monday, July 6, 2015

Roguish Rhinelander

This past weekend, I went up north to my cabin in St. Germain, Wisconsin, and I saw a lot of animals:

-a raccoon
-a water snake
-several eagles
-a blue jay
-several herons
-a 500,000,000 year-old half plant/ half animal called a "Byrozoan"
-mosquitoes (lots of them)
-and, this:

It is actually quite remarkable to me how many animals I saw, considering I was only up there for about 48 hours (not including drive time).

I also went to a gallery I have never been to before, in Rhinelander, WI, a town I have visited probably several hundred times before. I had heard about the gallery a couple years ago from an artist who visited Lawrence, but did not get a chance to see it until recently. The gallery is called Art Start, and has been in existence since about 2012.

The reason I connect this gallery to all the animals I saw over the weekend was that the theme of the current exhibition was animals, or, more specifically, "Animal Dreams: Of the Earth, Water, Sky, and Imagination." Much like I was surprised at the amount and variety of animals I saw over the weekend, I was surprised at the amount and variety of art that was in the tiny space:

There was art by artists I was familiar with, such as Steve Wirtz, formerly of Milwaukee but now based in Michigan, whose work could be classified as predictably "Northwoods," but with a little twist:

Steve Wirtz, Dreaming of Walleye

There was also art by artists I had never heard of before that was ballsy, provocative, and nothing like the art I have seen at other gallery spaces in northern Wisconsin:

Sarina Brewer, Stag Party

Sarina Brewer, Nine Lives

Sarina Brewer, Up From the Ashes

Sarina Brewer, Untitled

Sarina Brewer, Lamb Chop

The above pieces fall into a category of art that has been gaining popularity recently called "rogue taxidermy." All of the animals pictured above were indeed living things at one point. Nine Lives is actually a kitten that died very young and was taxidermied upon request by its owners to help cope with the loss. The other pieces have similarly macabre stories, such as Lamb Chop, which is made from the innards of the lamb (the part of the animal that is not usually taxidermied). 

Somewhere in between Wirtz and Brewer, there was a middle realm where the art was avant-garde yet comfortable in this fledgling gallery space:

Jennifer Davis, Birds

Jennifer Davis, Fish

Michael Noland, The Devil of Wisconsin

There were only two small rooms in the whole building, but I stayed for over an hour looking at the art.  On my way out I made sure to grab a calendar of events happening at the gallery over the year, even though I knew that I probably would not be able to make it back to the gallery again this year. 

In fact, I really don't make it up north much at all anymore. During my short weekend visit I reminisced about the days when I used to be able to go to our cabin with my parents for weeks at a time. In my adolescence these visits seemed like torture, but now I regret the time that I spent wishing that I wasn't there. Everything about the weekend was blissful to me this time: the quiet outside my window, the sound of tree frogs in the distance, the deer that crept up to the porch around dinner time, the smell of the pine trees and the ferns. I am so lucky to have this little place in the woods where I can escape to from time to time, and I was positively giddy at the discovery of an art gallery that wasn't showing kitschy paintings of loons or taxidermied bobcats in my favorite place on earth.

Recently, this weekend not excluded, I have spent a lot of time wondering whether I am doing my self a disservice by continuing to live in the place where I have lived for most of my life, while my friends and acquaintances move around the country and the world, seemingly on to bigger and better things. It is in the times when I go back to where I spent a good deal of my childhood that I realize there is always something new to discover, no matter how many times you've visited a place.

"John James Audobon (1785-1851) is best known for "The Birds of America," a book of 435 images, portraits of every bird then known in the United States - painted and reproduced from life-sized, hand-engraved plates. Its creation cost Audobon eighteen years of monumental effort in finding the birds, making the book, and selling it to subscribers. His story is a dramatic and surprising one. Audobon was not born in America, but saw more of the North American continent than virtually anyone alive. He was a merchant, salesman, teacher, hunter, itinerant portraitist, woodsman, an artist and a scientist. He was, in a sense, a one-man compendium of American culture of his time. And his growing apprehension about the destructioin of nature became a prophecy of his nation's convictions in the century after his death."

-[wall description, Art Start]


  1. Thanks for visiting ArtStart - we are so glad you enjoyed it!

  2. Thank you so much for your interest in my work and for this wonderful post. I have forwarded it to several people! I'm on several social media sites now, please track me down! – I post new work and gallery exhibitions. Thanks again ~

    All the best,
    Sarina Brewer