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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Beauty and Decay in 'Steve Wellman Retrospective'

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University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee graduate student Susan Barnett presents an interesting master's thesis on a contemporary rural artist with scarce name recognition at the Kunzelmann-Esser Lofts Gallery, 710 W. Historic Mitchell St. This fascinating exhibition, curated by Barnett, is titled "Layers and Sediment: Steve Wellman Retrospective."

Outsider artist Steve Wellman works from the American West in Butte, Mont., where he is removed from commercial art markets. The retrospective focuses on works from the past 20 years. Over that time, Wellman has drawn inspiration from the landscape in Montana, which provides an interesting dichotomy in environments.

In the late 20th century, Butte reaped the financial rewards of industry, housing centers for commercial mining and copper smelting. But when the mining industry retreated, it left behind toxic waste sites and what Barnett describes as neighborhoods where "mercury bubbles up from the sidewalk cracks." Yet Butte also borders the mountains and streams of the Rockies, in which clear, crystalline light hovers above.

Industry refuse finds its way into Wellman's art. He incorporates assemblage, painting and sculpture in a modernist approach that expresses these dual landscapes through layers and sediment. His pieces vaguely reference Dadaism, or a Mondrian or Rauschenberg, and include both 2-D and 3-D work and reverse-painted glass. Wellman estimates that 97% of his work contains recycled materials. Barnett's thesis attempts to reflect on Wellman's diverse art images through a contemporary historical context.

Wellman's artwork intrigues the viewer by intersecting collage and found objects, painting and sculpture, pristine land and profound decay, presenting the aesthetics of a ravaged urban society alongside natural beauty. Barnett introduces Wellman to a new audience in this exhibition that runs through April 16. An opening reception takes place 6-8 p.m. March 31. Closing receptions take place 5-9 p.m. April 15 and 1-5 p.m. April 16.

Art Happenings

"Reusable Tote Bags"

Lynden Sculpture Gardens

2145 W. Brown Deer Road

Support environmental efforts at this noon-3:30 p.m. March 27 workshop by creating a reusable, mesh tote bag. The workshop, suitable for all ages, is included with the garden's entrance fee (free for members).

"Pulp Possibilities"

RedLine Milwaukee

1422 N. Fourth St.

RedLine celebrates its new papermaking studio as more than a dozen artists participate in a contemporary papermaking exhibition that honors the process and artistic expression (through April 2).