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Or So It Would Seem: Contingency and the Contemporary Portrait

November 22, 2013 - January 11, 2014

Opening reception: Friday, November 22, 6-9pm.

In 1863, Charles Baudelaire wrote: “By ‘modernity’, I mean the ephemeral, the fugitive, the contingent…” Baudelaire was describing a new age where the fixed realities of church and monarchy were giving way to multiple perspectives and a new rapidity of movement, thought and opinion.

One hundred fifty years later, we are in another all encompassing cultural shift, as equally monumental as the transition from agriculture to industry. Because art absorbs the conditions of its time, we might ask what role the portrait continues to play in 2013, within contemporary art discourse. Are there last drips of intrigue to squeeze out of such a world-weary mode of representation? If identity and history are already constructions, how do the mechanics of art production mirror these fabrications?

Portrait Society is pleased to present a new exhibition featuring five contemporary artists whose work might help us contemplate this question: Makeal Flammini, Ney Tait Fraser, Maja Ruznic, Andy Lane and Carri Skoczek. Each artist works within the traditions of portraiture but approaches with a heightened consciousness regarding the terms of our self-identities and the way in which history records, indexes and orders image, character and role.

Interestingly, three of the artists (Andy Lane, Carri Skoczek and Makeal Flammini) delve into history and re-frame the way historic figures might be experienced if the language of their representation is contemporary. The other two artists (Maja Ruznic and Ney Tate Fraser) use the powers of representation to evoke emotional states.

Andy Lane lives in Brookyn, NY. Lane earned his MFA at Yale. He has three bodies of work at Portrait Society. One is a series of paintings of our Founding Fathers rendered as if they were contemporary corporate executives. Lane’s recent work depicting swimmers has become increasingly painterly. He is interested in paint as an analog of water, how it creates an illusion and holds its own formal identity at the same time. His newer work also examines broader physical and psychological human conditions such as drowning, staying on the surface, watching, or staying hidden.

Carri Skoczek, originally from Milwaukee, has lived in New York for 17 years. In the past year her work has focused on “Fallen Women.” Plying the history books for narratives of women who earned livings as prostitutes or from other criminal pursuits, Skoczek celebrates the toughness and illusionistic glamour of these marginalized women who were certainly dealt with harshly in their own time. She will be showing a series of small paintings from her Mistresses of Mayhem series, which includes “murdering grammas, brothel owners, mob molls and spies.” As the artist says, “Well behaved women seldom make history.”

Makeal Flammini, Milwaukee, has created a new body of work based on the Seven Sisters from Greek Mythology. Makeal is a story teller, illustrator, printmaker,  talk show host (Wild Wild Midwest Variety Show on WMSE), and, most recently, a muralist (she just completed a major project for High Hat Lounge).  The stories of Halcyone, Sterope, Electra or Maia provide rich narratives for this series.

Ney Tait Fraser, originally from Zimbabwe, has spent much of her life in Milwaukee. She is a naturalist and activist who combats invasive species and encourages the exchange of lawns for wild life sustaining habitats. She is also an artist who in the past several years began a series of portraits of friends and acquaintances reading.  Her watercolor works on paper have the expressive linear quality of Alice Neel while offering intimate glimpses of quiet time, which could be looked at as another endangered habitat.

Maja Ruznic, born in 1983 in Bosnia, now living in San Francisco, works in watercolor. Portrait Society is pleased to present a series of small works from her recent series “The Oozing Ones.” Ruznic says that this work “hints at folklore, sexuality and inherited trauma.” She works wet on wet, allowing the medium to flow or pool, almost on its own will, into vaguely figurative compositions. She says: “I allow my paintings to tell me how to make them–the paint bleeds and washes over the figure, gently unmasking psychological deformations.”

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