Sunday, March 2, 2008

Holy Cow!

By Aisha Motlani
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Whimsical: Capricious, fanciful, subject to erratic, unpredictable behavior. The result of an unrestrained imagination. A word which, I believe, is applied to art that we neither like nor understand but which we're nontheless afraid of criticizing. It's kind of like using the word "eccentric" to describe that rich and crazy aunt we're afraid to insult lest she cut us out of her will. It also happens to be a word that's been used often to describe the wild and wacky paintings of cows and ballerinas by late Milwaukee artist Schomer Lichtner currenly on display at the Elaine Erickson Gallery through March 22.

It might be considered sacrilege for a youngish upstart like me to insult the paintings of a local and esteemed centenarian, so I won't. The gentleman liked to paint holstein cows swaying to some strange bovine rhythm, and bandy-legged ballerinas - who am I to spoil the fun? All I ask is that people stop waving words like "whimsical" about to cover up the fact that they have nothing meaninful to say about his work.

Moving on to his wife's work, also on show at the Erickson; it's certainly a tad less "whimsical" than her husband's. It has a textile quality, the arrangement of objects reminscent of a coloful and layered patchwork or tapestry.

They're not the only artistic couple exhibited here. The late Joe Friebert and Betsy Ritz' s paintings are also included and are composed of a palette just as subdued as Schomer and Grotenrath's is riotous. Friebert's works are gloomy arrangements of figures with obscured features, slouching about dissolutely in packs. One painting by Ritz stands out; a group of three black women huddled together in their Sunday finery, delicately holding cups of tea. There's something tremulous in their stance and expression that makes this a rather captivating little painting; a light touch that contrasts quite markedly with murky, ponderous figures that populate Friebert's canvases.

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