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Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2011

'About Face' Displays Jan Serr's Versatility

Renowned Milwaukee artist exhibits at Inova

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Throughout her career, renowned Milwaukee artist Jan Serr has displayed exceptional versatility in subject material and mediums. “About Face: Jan Serr,” an extensive retrospective at Inova/Peck School of the Arts, highlights Serr's considerable talents through more than 100 works of art, including drawings, lithographs, monotypes, paintings and photographs.

“About Face” takes viewers to where Serr began, at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where art professor John Colt inspired her to be a figurative painter. A video included in the exhibition provides an autobiographical touch, as Serr explains, “The work reflects a diary of myself.”

By “diary,” Serr is speaking of numerous self-portraits, clothed and nude, that reveal intimacies regarding both Serr's point of view and a universal narrative. Several small self-portraits are seen in the series titled “Intimate Interiors” (monotypes with lithographic ink), which primarily date from the 1990s. Putting on Necklace and Drying Off reflect personal moments and private rituals. One responds to these images as one would to Mary Cassatt's prints of women and children bathing.

The 2002 “Dance” monotypes mounted on a long wall in the gallery display Serr's vision of body movement through spontaneous renderings. The series depicts a dancer's fluid limbs flowing in space, with lithe, ghost-like spirits appearing to spiral and whirl on the paper.

Serr's larger-than-life portraits present compelling and powerful visual comments on the human figure. Works featuring bathers, painted in the 1960s with pop-art hues and broad strokes, place viewers directly in the scene, standing beside these sun worshippers. Other, more recent figures, in neon colors, appear to illuminate the quick-fire emotions emanating from people's personalities.

A 2011 grid features nine familiar faces from the metro area, such as Julilly Kohler and Suzan Fete. The portraits show bold confidence, but are warm and inviting.

Throughout the comprehensive exhibition, which continues through Oct. 1, viewers interact with facial expressions and figures not as a voyeur, but as a human being connecting to that space on canvas. One leaves the exhibition pondering Serr as an individual, as she grows older and matures, as well as the innate grace, strength and joy that Serr uncovers in the human form.