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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A Sensuous Dance

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  Arthur Thrall prepares for his upcoming exhibition from his second floor studio on Milwaukee’s East Side. With sure footsteps he walks from his printmaking room where his motorized press and English engraving tools rest, to his painting room where an unfinished watercolor patiently waits on a wooden easel. Thrall, a printmaker and painter for 60 years, faithfully produces new artwork that will be on view beginning July 2 at the Museum of Wisconsin Art (MWA) in the exhibit “Arthur Thrall: The Sensuous Line.”

Born in Milwaukee in 1926, Thrall's singular style of art has earned him numerous awards over his productive lifetime and graces the world’s most prestigious museums including the Tate Gallery, British Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. and the Art Institute of Chicago. High-profile national corporations include his paintings in their private art galleries. Yet Thrall has devoted his life to teaching, primarily at Lawrence University in Wisconsin, so his artwork could remain uncommon, unconventional and free from commercial trends.

  Fourteen new works appear in the exhibition, several of which were still on display in his working studio. Pure engravings, hand-colored engravings highlighted with watercolor, and several acrylics on canvas and paper comprise this collection. Once again Thrall’s swelling and fading lines choreograph elegant curves and lyrical rhythms on paper or canvas. A sensuous dance between curvilinear forms and geometric shapes referencing both musical notation and illuminated manuscript creates harmonious modern compositions.

  Thrall’s inspiration for his artwork draws from his years studying and absorbing musical scores and calligraphy along with foreign graphic designs, documents and written languages. He describes it as his ongoing fascination with the “way human beings have scratched and made marks.” Occasionally the auras of human figures emanate from the sweeping looped lines and circles as if waiting to waltz through the picture. A hand-colored intaglio from his series Dress Rehearsal, which is included in the exhibition,considers these evocative but elusive images.

  “The paintings exist as their own entities. They have a life of their own,” explains Thrall. “While the paintings may be a touchstone to something familiar, they exist as themselves.” Thrall works every day from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m., rarely ever tired and certainly never bored. He believes being an artist, imbued with the impetus to create, is “like having a constant low-grade fever—its always there.”

  “The Sensuous Line” opens on Monday July 2. Thrall speaks to his exhibition and lifetime of art at a reception on September 7, from 1:30 to 4 p.m.