Revealing Nature: Pedro Velez and Greg Klassen

September 11 - November 14, 2015

Opening reception: Friday, September 11, 6-8pm.

Pedro Vélez and Greg Klassen present new bodies of work at Portrait Society Gallery, September 11 through November 14, 2015, in an exhibition titled Revealing Nature.  Curated by Claudia Arzeno and Debra Brehmer, the exhibition brings together two artists who individually consider the entwined relationships between the artist, his or her influences, creative production as well as the relationship these have to both human nature and the natural world.

Vélez, one of three Milwaukee-affiliated artists in the 2014 Whitney Biennial, is known for his paintings and photo collages that use social media references to express commentaries on cultural, political and racial issues. This body of work, Revealing Nature: Pedro Vélez Social and Private Portraits, steps away from these previous explorations and delves into more personal and intimate subject matter.

In this new series, Vélez looks at the idea of the artist’s muse- in other words, the artist’s source of inspiration. What does this influential person, thing, place or idea say about his or her nature? The artist has revisited past photographic work as well as personal relationships, romantic relationships, break ups and places in order to analyze what tends to spark his creativity.  In an effort to be more self-aware, Velez asks himself why he keeps going back to certain people as sources of inspiration.  The findings were then translated into new portraits, flower paintings, abstracted depictions of the body and intimate photo collages that function as a fractured narrative in which the dynamics of personal and platonic relationships are blurred.

Vélez has re-examined previous work while analyzing past romantic and non-romantic relationships, pinpointing their effect on his work. Subsequently, he has gone back and re-photographed these subjects, creating paintings from the photographs that are most significant to him. The artist has found that certain people are constantly repeated in his work while other people with whom he has had important relationships are barely featured. These muses are not the passive figures of Greek and Roman times, but instead active important protagonists in Vélez’s work.

Rosalyn Martir, a friend of Vélez’s has been the subject of multiple photocollages, including a piece referencing Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, which was censored here in Milwaukee. Mónica Rizzo, one of the artist’s former romantic partners, has also been featured in a variety of pieces—one of the most well known being Ann Lee Lives!, a controversial protest piece where she embodied the popular purple haired Japanese figure, Annlee. Vélez considers Walter Robinson, whom with the artist worked closely at Artnet, as an important muse. This was reflected in the series of work he created for the 2014 Whitney Biennial. Tony Fitzpatrick, and his work, have also surfaced as important muses, as one of the pieces in Revealing Nature illustrates.

In addition, Vélez has realized that over the course of his career, it has not only been people who have served as inspiration for his work, but places and ideas as well. For example, political issues and the city of Chicago, where Vélez long-resided, both constantly serve as sources, or muses, for new artworks.

Artist Bios

Greg Klassen is a Milwaukee-based artist. Klassen’s notion of “Revealing Nature” places the artist, the studio and the natural world in a dynamic relationship that explores how ideas of growth, inspiration, survival, decay and creativity come to fruition. He breaks down the walls between art production and the forces of nature. For example, Klassen has buried his painted canvases in compost piles to let the natural processes of decay color and shape his compositions. He has also brought plants into the studio, tossed them into piles of studio debris, set up a home-made watering system and allowed nature to take its course. This exhibition will feature a room installation, a series of sculptural sketchbooks and a series of collages. Klassen has said of his work, “My art is the design of experiments, the staging of serendipitous expeditions.”

Greg Klassen (b. 1965) earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and did advanced study at Kunst Akademie Dusseldorf, Germany. He was one of the last artists to study under Gerhard Richter in the 1990s.

A major exhibition, Perishable Atlas, was staged at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Institute of Visual Arts in 2011. He recently exhibited a collaborative  project at Usable Space, Milwaukee. Other exhibitions include the Watrous Gallery, Walker’s Point Center for the Arts, Jurgen Kalthoff Gallery (Germany).

Pedro Vélez’s recent exhibitions include the 2014 Whitney Biennial in New York; Morally Reprehensible at 101 / Exhibit, LA; #DrunkDictators, an “On The Wall” installation at Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago; Ransom Notes and Surrender Flags at AREA, Caguas Puerto Rico; No Regrets at Oliver Francis Gallery in Dallas.

His work as both an artist and writer has been discussed in the LATimes, Chicago Tribune, Al Jazeera America, Huffington Post, New York Times, Artforum, Mutual Art, Frieze, Artspace and The Miami Herald among many other publications. For 10 years Pedro Vélez maintained a regular column about the art scenes in San Juan and Chicago for Artnet Magazine. In addition, his writing has been published in Newcity, New Art Examiner and Arte al Día.

Pedro Vélez’s work merges his interest in art criticism (including his own writing) and journalism into what he calls “visual essays” that take the form of large sculptural paintings, photographic collages, and limited edition posters and postcards resembling the look and feel of movie posters. Velez also incorporates text in his work, based on hashtags lifted from Twitter, that are scathingly critical as well as poetically cryptic. Taken together, Vélez’s multi-disciplinary approach creates a vibrant, stream-of-consciousness commentary on a variety of issues, encompassing race, politics, and other aesthetic concerns.