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Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2010

Artwork to Contemplate at Portrait Society Gallery

Art Review

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The work of Milwaukee architect Phillip Katz inspired the symmetry, shadow, light and seating for a space in the Portrait Society Gallery that invites the public to pursue serenity. His experience directly influenced the spiritual vision in the gallery’s “A Winter Chapel,” a project that introduces a transcendent interior to commune with art and the winter weather.

The Portrait Society’s Gallery B space cohesively integrates several artists, including owner Debra Brehmer. Under Kendall Polster’s direction, Brehmer welded tall lanterns illuminating the ledge outside the south window wall—three primal, ever-changing electrical votives corroding in the cold and snow to symbolize life-changing forces.

These lanterns focus attention on a painted low chest used for an altar and surrounded by walls framed in ebony sheets of tar paper striated with roof markings. The textured paper adds continuity to the adjacent earthy brown walls lined with Marsha McDonald’s acrylic paintings recalling Lake Michigan sunsets and sunrises.

McDonald’s landscapes meld the abstract and realistic, creating images with smooth, sanded finishes that harmonize with the room’s design. Their Zen-like presence enhances Gallery B’s subtle rectangular benches, which provide relaxing seats for meditation.

David Niec’s naturalistic beaver sculptures, placed around the chapel’s perimeter, recall the solitude of northern Wisconsin. The sculptures reveal actual beaver-chewed wood that Niec collects and then either pieces together or additionally carves. One piece with a hollowed-out top resembles a baptistery and makes for a sublime finish to the gallery space, with lanterns glowing in the background.

The complementary exhibit in Gallery A affords alternative contemplation. In Boris Ostrerov’s solo show, “Boris Ostrerov: New Work,” the recent Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design graduate presents nine new images. His wall-size artwork mounted in the painted black gallery characterizes the juxtaposition in negative and positive space, contrasting the spontaneous and the controlled.

Compositions using spatters and drips together with opaque inky patches faintly recall a tradition perfected by Helen Frankenthaler, only more restrained and primitive through the use of sophisticated black and white. Ostrerov’s ink paintings continue to develop while his lyrical, calligraphic smaller-scale drawings seek to define an intriguing personality and artistic process still in progress.

The tiny exhibit in the Portrait Society’s hallway is called “The Fred Bell Show,” a fascinating exercise that keeps oil painter Fred Bell creating fresh, themed images each month. January and February’s creations include self-portraits and doorknobs seen from distorted perspectives, revealing silly, serious and spiritual paintings to coordinate with the two primary exhibitions.

Portrait Society Gallery’s “A Winter Chapel” and “Boris Ostrerov: New Work” continue through March 13.