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December 7 - February 23, 2019

Opening Reception

Friday, December 7, 6 to 8 p.m.

Gallery Night: January 18/19

Unlike My Image: Paintings by Steve Burnham


Who Built the Burning House: Drawings by LaNia Sproles 


Contemporary painter Steve Burnham turned to the genre of portraiture several years ago. This new body of work bumps into art history while carrying contemporary references. It's about uncertainty, contingency, and process via the portrait and abstraction.


Burnham earned his BA and MA in English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, followed by a BFA in painting and drawing from UW-Milwaukee and an MFA from the University of Kansas. Both fields of study, literature and fine arts,  inform his work with words, puns and wordplay integral to the interplay of image and title.


Steadily moving away from his earlier style of illustrative clarity that focused on environmental issues, Burnham has embraced a more intuitive and painterly approach that encourages chance and accepts accidents, making use of techniques including collage, mosaic, recycling, subtraction.


Presented in two large rooms, Burnham’s series unfolds like a glossary of painterly moves and experiments. While each composition may constitute some version of a face or exist within the contours of a ‘portrait,’  many nearly dissolve into pointedly self-conscious mark and gesture. Burnham attaches entire fields of inquiry to these seemingly playful works. With titles such as Remember PostmodernismPatriarch Party, Polar Cap, The Heavens are as Flat as the Earth, Presidential Mirror, Not so Super Ego, the viewer becomes enticed to look more deeply into the meaning and irony that pools in these pictures. 


Burnham says, “These paintings are all in some degree self-portraits although they may more overtly function as social or political critique. There is irony and play and humor and even goofiness in each painting. At the same time, they are deadly serious.”


LaNia Sproles


LaNia Sproles, a 2017 MIAD graduate known for her cut paper pieces, has created a new series of drawings for this show.  The female figures in her mixed media work seek refuge in insufficient dream lands strewn with flora, fauna and burning angels. Notions of Edenic paradise are infested by oppressive realities. When she asks in the show’s title, “Who Built the Burning House?” she seems to embrace the entire history of racial oppression. 


Sproles describes these drawings as, “Turbid paradisal worlds doubly unbinding and falsely secure.” She says, “The figures are scorned but free from operating underneath the formidable conditions in their oppressive realities. Dreamscapes full of hot Cheetos, quick weaves, and patterned crop tops plague them to rest their inevitable traumas in these idyllic places. Even in this paradise they arm themselves with looks of defense and boredom as a tactic to confidently dominate their spaces.”


Wishing for escape and seeking refuge in these imagined places, her protagonists safely suffer and mourn their losses of control over their own virtues. “They are hoping that these utopias harvest and protect their softness from being relocated somewhere between the lips of white men,” Sproles concludes. 


For additional information about the exhibition, please contact Portrait Society Gallery, 414-870-9930,


Shane McAdams, Shepherd Express: Steve Burnham's Bizarre Portraiture

Catherine Jozwik, Urban Milwaukee: A Mixed-Up, Muddled-Up, Shook-Up World

Burnham, Accessories Before and After th
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