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Week Nine


An on-line drawing exhibition

April through June

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Portrait Society Gallery is pleased to present PSG on PAPER, an exhibition about drawing. Each week, the gallery presents the work of one artist. 

All of the work can be purchased on the website's Store (above in menu). We will porch deliver anywhere in the MIlwaukee area free of charge. 

Artists include: Emily Belknap, Melissa Cooke, Steve Burnham, Skully Gustafson (Week One), Pat Hidson (Week Three), Nykoli Koslow (Week Two), Ashley Lusietto (Week Five), David Niec, Rosemary Ollison (Week Seven), Amy O'Neill (Week Eight), Mark Ottens, Nirmal Raja, Rafael Francisco Salas (Week Six), Della Wells, M Winston (Week Four), Christopher T. Wood. 

Studio drawing wall, May 2019.jpg

Steve Burnham, studio, 2019.


Steve Burnham, When We Wept at Summer’s Abundance, 2020
Ink, colored pencil, watercolor, gouache, spray paint on watercolor paper 20 x 15 inches. $400

Steve Burnham's drawings swap one universe for another. The abrupt shifts into places of thin air, cosmic beams of light, cells and bubbles, patterns of almost recognizable paint handling from another place or time or artist that you can't quite name, dizzying inversions of metaphor where the messy and haphazard almost ooze out of control but then manage to behave. 

Burnham is a "Wise/Guy," deftly stitching patches of image and idea into these gregarious, elegantly renegade, beautiful compositions. 




Steve Burnham makes paintings and drawings that are filtered through his interests in art history, language and materials. He earned an MFA in painting from the University of Kansas and an MA in English from UW-Madison. He has exhibited in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, and at the Portrait Society Gallery, Green Gallery, Milwaukee Art Museum, Charles Allis Art Museum, Museum of Wisconsin Art, Inova, and Haggerty Museum of Art. Four of his recent drawings were acquired by St. Kate: The Arts Hotel.


STEVE BURNHAM: "The cold makes me draw. Or rather, warmth allows it—the warmth from a space heater tucked under my desk during my early morning studio hours from December into March, when it is too cold to paint. This winter’s drawing ran parallel to the early news of a deadly virus in China, through its arrival (and presidential denial) in the US, and into the beginning of safer-at-home measures. I never lost access to my studio—as many artists did—and I stayed healthy (and remain so, knock on wood!). But COVID-19—or at least its shadow—seems present in all the work I made for this exhibition."



Wise/Guy, 2020.

Ink, colored pencil, watercolor, spray paint on watercolor paper. 

20 x 15 inches. $400



Each week we ask other artists in the show and sometimes special guests to comment on the featured artist's work.

Ashley Lusietto
I imagine that if I could exist in the strange and poetic world of Steve Burnham’s paintings, I would encounter people as landscapes, emotions as textures, and a single idea would grow into a thousand abstractions. My thoughts would become: 
tentacles, floating orbs, radiating rays of watercolors
a web of patterns 
a sudden burst of violently bright yellow 
a single confident black line that winds and winds until it connects with itself or nothing
a once vibrant image washed in paint, a ghost
a drip in action, where there is no gravity
smears of ink dried out in the sun
If we could just live in this world, we might become friends with those intruders swirling in our heads.

Rafael Francisco Salas
Drawings by Steve Burnham carry a levity, an experimental joie de vivre. They are created with ink, spray paint, collage, scratching,  perhaps a prayer. The artworks carry moments of playfulness evoking Paul Klee or Joan Miro.  In addition, Burnham offers breadcrumbs towards content in his poetic titles such as “When the Baby’s Appetite was Limited to Trees” and “Pseudo-Panspermia.” These crumbs may lead to metaphors contained within the drawings, or just as easily lead the viewer off the path entirely. 
I appreciate the maximal tactility and texture of Burnham’s artworks. In “If Spring” we see three orbs created with spray paint, ink and what appears to be colored pencil. The shapes overlap and meld with each other and the paper. There is a depth to this layering, creating an improbably deep space. It’s like looking at cellular structures moving in a petri dish. A world appears contained within.

David Niec
Sometimes if I'm at a loss as to how to proceed. I realize that by just proceeding without a sense of certainty I might get where I want to go. These images feel as if constructed or I might say invented from this kind of 'one thing leads to another' approach. One observation leads to a pattern and that pattern might inspire a wash or another form or it might be interrupted by another thought. That thought might suggest another thought. An unexpected application of paint might lead to a different direction. I don't really know how they're constructed but I like to think about it and I like to let my mind wander with the possibilities that are presented from these concocted images.

Nirmal Raja
I gazed into the mirror this morning. I saw what I wanted to see--a face that hasn’t been groomed since two, maybe three quarantine months ago--unkempt hair and weary eyes, sagging cheeks and an indelible crease between the eye brows.

I practiced a smile. How big is too big? Do I show my teeth? Do I purse my lips? Is that the right shade of lipstick? Perhaps a dark shirt? Where do I sit so the light hits me from front and not behind? What is behind me and what does that say about me? Oh! why bother… Is RBF acceptable in a Zoom meeting? At least I can wear my sweat pants and no one will know.

Mirrors lie, screens lie, people lie. Does art lie?

Steve Burnham's drawing, Wise/Guy, is a magical mirror. Totemic in its unrelenting and steady gaze and mythic in the hover between human and owl. Does anyone else think that reality as we know it is an illusory mirror? A portal we can simply pass through to another dimension? Would you gaze into a mirror such as this – a teller of truths? I would if I could listen to the wise owl. And if I had the courage to stare back into the yellow all seeing eye.

Pat Hidson
I find Steve’s work to be compelling and evocative. The delicacy of watercolor washes with sensitive flowing lines, combined with emphatic bursts of expressive color and pattern make for a rich world to visit. I can see the organic quality yet filtered and refreshed with finely-tuned perception. When looking at it I feel as though instead of looking at it I am feeling it. What a gift especially right now!

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