Shane Walsh: The Available Language

January 18 - March 3, 2013

Shane Walsh: The Available Language presents this Milwaukee-based artist’s recent, portrait-oriented paintings in two rooms of the gallery. Walsh builds small models out of craft materials and rectilinear shapes and translates the three-dimensional structures into paintings that piece together, yet never fully adhere, into a human bust or presence.

The work is sculptural and painterly, abstract and representational, serious and whimsical – a whir of theory, influence and exploration of processes.  This is Walsh’s first show at Portrait Society. He completed his MFA in 2006 at the University of Washington – Seattle, and currently teaches at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design and the Peck School of the Arts, UWM.

Over the past year, as Walsh explored this theme of the portrait bust, the actual content of his work became increasingly about the presentation, staging and display of the “work of art.”  Early paintings in the series depict just the human bust on a support or small pedestal. Later, Walsh paints the bust displayed in a vitrine, and then eventually, he paints the busts fully installed in a gallery setting. Each step further distances the painting from existing simply as a self-contained, autonomous object. One thinks of Velazquez’ Las Meninas (1656) as an early version of this idea, where the truth of the painting itself is exposed as a contrived staging.

Within Walsh’s paintings, we see what happens when an idea is translated into a material object produced in the studio and then restaged in a gallery or museum. Walsh takes us through these visual channels of delivery and display and shows us how each stage affects the viewing of the object. Walsh’s paintings of the colorful human busts almost explode with energy: shapes and patterns float in their own centrifugal odyssey, never staying still. But once he paints one of these heads inside a glass case, the object becomes tamed and harnessed, stilled and captured. Once the objects get painted into full gallery rooms, there is even more coolness and distance.

To Walsh, the act of painting is about language and metaphor. He is interested in how readily a brush stroke of orange paint can suddenly signify “mouth” or become an eye. He holds these paintings in states of suspended mimesis, where a mark, color or shape still exist both as abstraction and as referent. It’s both a mouth and a line, clearly and equally. By never letting the marks of the paintings fully settle, he keeps these compositions alive in a purgatory of indecisive identity. Walsh flings shapes, colors, brush strokes and textures at the paintings in a happy tumult. Like a drunken carpenter, he hammers together disparate forms and colors. These objects don’t quite coalesce but still harmonize in a tippy playfulness.

Walsh’s exhibition will include an installation called “The Store,” where Shane Walsh souvenirs (cups, t-shirts, toothbrushes) as well as 4 x 4 inch details from the paintings and 8 x 10 reproductions of the paintings can be purchased inexpensively. In this project, the gallery has stepped into Walsh’s painting world and added one more stage within the making/displaying/selling network.  The Store (named after Claes Oldenburg’s Store of 1961) comments somewhat ironically on the merchandising and packaging of art experiences yet at the same time very sincerely desires every person who visits the exhibition to be able to take a piece of it home with them. Everyone can own Shane Walsh’s work in some way and extend its reach into the world, breaking down a little of the elitism that tends to separate viewers from collectors.

Kevin Giese: Winter Chapel (4)

Every year in January, Portrait Society invites an artist or collaborative team to build a “Winter Chapel.” These self-styled rooms of meditation are a means of exploring how a space can be fashioned to enhance quietude and spiritual reflection via the secular language of the artist rather than the established vocabularies of formal religions.

This year’s chapel architect is Kevin Giese, an associate lecturer in the art department at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Giese’s work focuses on nature and its repair. His interests are shaped by Buddhist philosophy, a knowledge of and affection for the natural world, and an understanding of traditional wood joining techniques. Giese views his artistic project as one of repair and re-presentation of natural objects; he employs processes that echo nature’s slow and repetitive rhythms as he reconstructs pieces of the physical world in his sculptures and installations. Here is a video about how Kevin made the Winter Chapel.