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Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014

Seductive Summer at Portrait Society

Three solo shows at Third Ward gallery

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“Summer Art Orgy” at Portrait Society Gallery is playful, exuberant, sensual and lives up to its seductive title. The exhibition unfolds theatrically in a series of three solo shows, beginning with Romano Johnson’s “Silver Art Bible.” He paints monumental pictures of pop stars and motorcycles with inventive and literally glittering verve. Michael Jackson, Tina Turner and Prince (now off view for inclusion in the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Contemporary Art Society auction) have ancestral precedents in Byzantine religious icons, but Johnson is not bothered with such configurations. He arranges his iconic figures like jewels set in abstract swirled settings, and while these famous faces have an immediate cache, Johnson’s painterly charisma meets them on an equal level.

Johnson’s work is the opening salvo, but slip like a breeze through a pierced, blue plastic curtain into “The Juice,” a room installation by Skully Gustafson. Paintings, photographs, sculptures, a small stage and the walls of the room are universally decorated with vibrant color and pattern. In this postmodern wonderland, painted rabbits appear on the floor and biomorphic ornaments hang from the ceiling. Gustafson emerges like a contemporary mythological Pan, recreating the freedom of the artist’s studio as an arena for play. Gustafson also sees it as a form of archaeology, revealing the layers of creative imagination. While remaining light, the density of images reflects the multilayered character of his art and persona as an artist.

Erik Moore, Gustafson’s partner and collaborator, shares in the creation of complex layers of identity in an alternately theatrical, darker mode. The final gallery in the exhibition is lined with “Half Human,” a series of stunning black-and-white photographs where solo creatures of animal masks and nude bodies emerge from shadows. The light in his compositions is intense and dramatic, and with succinct eloquence, Moore takes us to a place where the ethereal psyche and physical body meet.

“Summer Art Orgy” arcs from Johnson’s bold superstars to the enveloping world of Gustafson and finally draws us into the gripping haunt of Moore. Before summer is out, indulge your senses in one of the best shows this season. “Summer Art Orgy” continues through Sept. 13 at Portrait Society Gallery in the Marshall Building, 207 E. Buffalo St., fifth floor.