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Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2009

Portrait Society Gallery: From ‘The Intimate Page’ to ‘Flock of Birds’

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“Every portrait tells a story, and that story usually involves some kind of lie,” writes Debra Brehmer, director of the Portrait Society Gallery. “Every portrait then is a fight, or you could say a prayer that calls out from the most troubled condition of our humanity, our temporality. Portraiture wants what cannot be had: life to stop without being dead. It’s an art with a built-in condition of failure.”

Like landscapes, portraiture is sometimes categorically (and unfortunately) dismissed by curators in favor of more abstract, allegedly more exciting “isms.” I like a Jackson Pollock as much as the next guy (which is to say that I can mutter muted words of appreciation while laughing hysterically on the inside), but sometimes it’s refreshing to experience art that bears some resemblance to the subject matter.

Brehmer will open two concurrent shows beginning Nov. 13. “The Intimate Page” will offer actual pages from artists’ sketchbooks, many with textual notes, revealing the artists’ thoughts as they go through the creative process. Emerging artists will be represented, in addition to such well-known names as Ruth Kjaer and Jason Yi.

Speaking of well-known artists, “Flock of Birds,” presented in Gallery B, will combine the small-scale bird paintings of Milwaukee artist Michael Kasun with a new series of chicken paintings by Amy O’Neill, a Milwaukee ex-pat now residing in Boston. The chicken paintings chart a return to the playfulness of O’Neill’s early work, following a more recent, somber period. Explains O’Neill: “A few months ago, I had an urge to change my subject matter from dark and gloomy doll babies to something else, something lighter to push away the storm clouds that had settled over my studio. I needed something interesting and curious and weird.

“So I drove to a small organic farm in eastern Massachusetts and spent an afternoon with 250 free-range chickens—an activity which, if you have never partaken, I highly recommend,” she continues. “I enjoy painting chickens because they are interesting to paint. These paintings are simply chickens, inspired by chickens. They remind me of why I am a painter: I love the act of painting pictures.”

“The Intimate Page” and “Flock of Birds” will run through Jan. 4, 2010. It’s not irrelevant to mention that these smaller-size works are inexpensively priced for the new economy.

The Portrait Society Gallery is located at 207 E. Buffalo St., Suite 526. Hours are 1 to 4 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays.

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