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Drawn Out

April 7 - June 4, 2017

Opening reception: Friday, April 7, 6-8pm.

Gallery Night: Friday, April 21, 6-9pm.

Gallery Talk: Thursday, June 1, 6pm. Hosted by artist Michael Davidson, with Todd Mrozinski, Mark Ottens, and Melissa Lee Johnson discussing drawing and their current work

Todd Mrozinski, Cloud 3, 2016. Graphite on paper, 41 x 86 in.

The pencil’s capabilities reach far beyond its humble character. While drawing is a foundational act, it can also soar, defying its role as sketch or notation. This exhibition features inspiring, giant compositions from Todd Mrozinski’s new series of graphite drawings of trees and clouds which stretch up to seven feet long to Mark Ottens’ hallucinational, microscopically detailed 8-foot-long pen drawing, which he refers to as an “epic doodle.”  The exhibition also includes small scale works by Mrozinski, Ottens, Adolph Rosenblatt and recent MIAD grad Melissa Lee Johnson. These artists wield pencils and pens with phenomenal dexterity in this multi-faceted celebration of meticulous mark-making.

Todd Mrozinski returned to the elemental #2 pencil after completing a busy year of painting at Milwaukee’s historic Pfister Hotel as artist-in-resident. When the residency ended, Mrozinski needed to transition back to a slower, private studio mode. He spent several months at home making small drawings of the interior of his house. When he was ready to return to his space at the Nut Factory, a converted warehouse off Capitol Drive, he was also ready to tackle larger graphite drawings. The roof of the studio building provided sweeping views of the city and Mrozinski would go up there to look at clouds. The subsequent pencil and graphite powder drawings were completed in the past year. They range in size from five to seven feet. Mrozinski says, “The nuanced mark making and attention to edge became the visual expressions of liberation, rebirth and expansion which poured into this body of work.” The rigor and spontaneity of Mrozinski’s visible mark making provide a contrast to the notion of immaterial sky and clouds. In each composition,  active pencil driven furies of line bring emotive immediacy to the otherwise pastoral, romantic mood of the drawings. 

Mark Ottens is also a painter, known for detailed, precise, complex abstract patterns, layered under coats of resin. Labor intense and methodical, the paintings defy the hand that made them. Prior to this, about ten years ago, Ottens was an image-based painter, having studied as an undergrad with Roy Yoshida, Karl Wirsum and Kerry James Marshall at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. On New Year’s day in 2013 Ottens, for no particular reason, hauled a giant roll of heavy-weight vintage paper he had been carting around for 20 years out of a closet. Doodling was a practice he had gravitated toward in graduate school at the University of Illinois at Chicago, as evidenced by the series of drawings on cancelled bank checks included in the exhibition.  It was a way to unwind into the evening and it paired well with beer. The roll of paper that had been lingering in his studio finally inspired him to grab a .005 archival Mircro pen and start drawing. The process, he said, felt redemptive, as if years of thoughts, prior images and experiences tumbled out of his unconscious, including “abandoned buildings, things in poor repair, old signage, early advertising characters, postcards, dive bars, and hobo culture.”

“Doodling is a means of occupying oneself,” Ottens said, regarding this work.  “A nonverbal, anti-linear way of exploring memory and the subconscious. The telling of certain stories that are difficult to access with words. I was attempting to make an epic doodle. A visual War and Peace, Ulysses or Gravity’s Rainbow in fine-tipped pen.” 

It took Ottens nine-months and about 70 Mircro pens to complete the 8 foot drawing. He continues to draw smaller scale, densely rendered abstractions and image-based works that begin within the playful conceptual fold of doodling but evolve into drawings of near perfect, expansive care and detail.

Melissa Lee Johnson, a 2016 graduate of the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, works between the practices of graphic design, illustration, poster-making, fine art, journaling and DIY tattooing. While Ottens, a generation older, pulls source material from printed materials, books and cartoons, Johnson’s drawings are littered with 21st century emoji references, on-line disputes, break-ups, make-ups, Tinder drama and betrayals on the social sphere. Basically, her drawing practice is a form of journaling that transports the conventional self-reflective notes of a written diary into new worlds of compelling, brash, funny, self-effacing drawn female wonderlands, both charming and edgy.

Adolph Rosenblatt (1933-2017) started as a painter, graduating from Yale School of Art in 1956. When his paintings became increasing thick, he swapped out the oil paint for clay and began sculpting his immediate world. Throughout his life as an artist and teacher, Rosenblatt never lost his ability to marvel at the world. He would continually pause to comment on tree shadows falling across the face of a house or look up with astonishment at the branches of a tree interwoven with sky. He sculpted and drew trees his entire life. It is in his later years, however, that the tree drawings start to feel especially reverent. The series featured in this exhibition, on black paper, shows a gestural ease that almost fuses with the moment of looking. One senses his hand moving in joyous response as if dancing with the monumental gesture of the tree.

Adolph Rosenblatt, Untitled Trees, Pastel on paper, 17 x 21 in.

Artist Bios

Todd Mrozinski received his BFA in painting from The Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design in 1997 and in 1996 attended The New York Studio Program. He has been in solo and group exhibitions nationwide and his work is in various public and private collections. The natural elements of earth, air, fire, water and spirit, as well as his home and everyday objects are his subject matter. His work is produced in series, each series relates symbolically to life experience and grows out of inspiration. Todd was the 2015-16 Pfister Artist-in-Residence, curator of the Pfister Pop-Up Gallery.

Mark Ottens received his BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and his MFA from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Ottens lives in Oostburg, Wisconsin. His work has been featured in New American Paintings three times and he was a recent finalist for Art Prize. After abandoning image-based painting about eight years ago, Ottens began drawing again in 2013. A tumult of images seemed to spill from his consciousness, including abandoned buildings, things in poor repair, old signage, early advertising characters, postcards, dive bars, and hobo culture. He has shown his work at Tory Folliard Gallery, the John Michael Kohler Art Center, Sheboygan, WI; Printworks Gallery, Chicago; the Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago; Carl Hammer Gallery and Zolla/Lieberman Gallery, Chicago. 

Melissa Lee Johnson received her BFA in Integrated Studio Arts from the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design in 2016. She is a fine artist, illustrator & graphic designer, living and working in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As a fine artist, Melissa primarily makes drawings and illustrations, but also explores animation, writing, fibers, painting, and collaborative projects. As an illustrator & graphic designer, she makes a range of traditional & digital work for both print and web. She was a finalist for a Mary Nohl Fellowship in 2017.

Adolph Rosenblatt (1933-2017), taught at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee from 1966 to 1999. He earned his art degree from Yale in 1956, where he studied with Josef Albers. Adolph will be the subject of a solo exhibition at the Jewish Museum Milwaukee, opening June 16, 2017.


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