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March 18 - May 1, 2011

Opening Reception: Friday, March 18 from 6 to 8 p.m. with a performance by John Riepenhoff.

Gallery Night: April 15, 5-9pm.

Portrait Society Gallery is pleased to announce a new exhibition that looks at the role of the portrait in defining and preserving notions of friendship and community. The three artists, John Riepenhoff, Fahimeh Vahdat and Mona Webb, are from very different backgrounds, eras and social conditions. Yet each has used the portrait to better see and preserve the friendships they have nurtured which in turn form the larger, defining framework of their lives.

A sense of community has strongly informed the art practices of all three artists.

John Riepenhoff is well known in Milwaukee as a purveyor of contemporary art, as well as an artist. He opened the Green Gallery while still an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and currently co-runs two venues, Green Gallery East and West. His art  

and curatorial practices are entwined and built on the idea of offering “platforms” to present work and ideas. He is a 2009 winner of the Mary Nohl Fellowship.


While Mr. Riepenhoff’s art practice takes many forms, his interest in the portrait may be his most direct. For the past year, he has informally drawn pictures of his friends while they draw him. Traditionally, the artist actively renders a portrait of a passive subject. Mr. Riepenhoff equals the playing field by having both parties engaged in the act of the portrait at the same time.  The final drawing has an image of his friend and also an image of John Riepenhoff that the friend is drawing, a picture within a picture. He is interested in the ideas of framing: how the paper frames the process, how the gallery frames the project.

He says, “I feel like my interest in the portrait is directly related to recognizing how the social plays in our development of meaning and value in art and life.”

Mr. Riepenhoff  has titled his Portrait Society project “Jake Palmert and Other People Drawing John Riepenhoff by John Riepenhoff.”

A portfolio of 17 prints of these portraits in a frame with a casette tape of the three songs performed by Riepenhoff at the opening reception is available in an edition of 15 for $200.

Fahimeh Vahdat is an installation artist, social activist and professor in the painting/printmaking department at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design. Originally from Iran, she left the country due to the 1979 revolution and the persecution of her family who were of the Baha’i faith. Ms. Vahdat traveled through Greece, Spain and stayed in England for a year and one-half before coming to the United States. She then lived in California and Texas and attended Richland College and Southern Methodist University in Dallas where she earned an MFA. 

It was as an undergrad in 1988 that Ms. Vahdat learned the etching process and began making small portraits of people who were important to her.  Since then, she has maintained the practice of using etching plates as her sketchbook pages, carrying zinc plates and an etching needle with her regularly. She continued to chronicle the people who came into her life as a personal means of honoring and remembering them, but never intended to show this body of work. Ms. Vahdat is better known for politically engaged installations that deal with gender oppression, Middle Eastern politics and human rights abuses.

Mona Webb (1914-1998) was an African American woman who was born in Texas. She moved to Madison, Wisconsin in the early 1960s after attending college, marrying a professor and raising four children. Prior to moving to Madison, Webb left her husband and fled to Mexico with her children to avoid racial persecution in the south. Here pre-Columbian art as well as the revolutionary murals of Diego Rivera and Jose Clemente Orozco inspired her. She met the Indian mystic, Krishnamurti, as well as British writer Aldous Huxley (Brave New World).


In Madison, the dynamic Ms. Webb turned her home on Williamson Street into the “Wayhouse of Light,” a place open to poets, artists and thinkers. For three decades, Ms. Webb hosted exhibitions and performances and created her own sculpture and paintings, transforming the storefront building into an art environment where every wall and ceiling was ornamented. An important part of her practice was to paint portraits of the people who occupied her life during this time.

Mona Webb died in 1998 and several years later, the Wayhouse of Light was dismantled. Edgewood College in Madison now houses the remaining estate and it is through the university that Portrait Society has acquired this body of work. Ms. Webb’s work is represented in the collection of the Museum of Visionary Art, Baltimore. In 2010, Edgewood College published a book about Ms. Webb, “Mona Boulware Webb: Treasures from the Mystic Wayhouse Gallery.”

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