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September 15 - November 11, 2023

Reception: 5 to 7 p.m. Friday, September 15


Portrait Society Gallery is excited to present the first major solo exhibition of paintings by Tom Antell. The exhibition opens on Friday, September 15 and runs through November 11, 2023. The reception is from 5 to 7 p.m. The artist will be present. 


Tom Antell is an Ojibwe artist and enrolled member of the White Earth reservation in Minnesota. He has lived on the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa (Ojibwe) reservation near Hayward, Wisconsin since 2001. 


Antell earned his BFA at the California Institute of Arts (CalArts) in 1976, followed by an MA from UW-Superior. His time at CalArts coincided with a potent chapter in the school’s history in which the art faculty included Elizabeth Murray, Judy Pfaff, John Baldessari, Pat Steir, and Lynda Benglis. Antell credits professors Murray, Pfaff, John Mandel, and Jim Starrett as important influences.


Native culture, both past and present, is the subject of Antell’s work. He cites the Ojibwa writer Gerald Vizenor as coining the term “survivance” which suggests both survival and resistance or endurance. “Survivance,” Vizenor wrote, “is an active sense of presence, the continuance of native stories, not a mere reaction, or a survivable name. Native survivance stories are renunciations of dominance, tragedy and victimry.”


In Antell’s paintings, a cast of hapless characters engage in colorful panoramas of colonization. These visual, almost cartoon-like allegories, presented in bright colors and lavish patterns, are both emotionally dark and humorous. His subjects bear witness to or participate in the “bloody colonization of America.” Stylized sailor figures often drift cluelessly toward the New World, oblivious to what is about to unfold but soon to become part of the disease, devastation, and greed that culminates with the unleashing of WWII naval bombs and atomic blasts.


At his heart, Antell is a storyteller. His paintings form a cycle of individual, theatrical mise en scenes without relying on conventional narrative structures. He invents a stylistic language that condenses complex histories into freshly witnessed scenarios. The viewer is able to experience the stories of native colonization free from familiar tropes. There are no feathers, buffalo, dancers or spirit animals for example, although he respects those visual representations. Each painting is autonomous while also part of a series. The co-mingling of suffering, beauty, humor, vulnerability, and compositional elegance distinguishes Antell's work. 


This is Antell’s first solo exhibition at a commercial gallery. His work was shown at the Museum of Wisconsin Art in 2022. Antell is part of a growing number of indigenous artists who live in or have studied in Wisconsin and who are gaining national renown. They include Tom Jones, Chris T. Cornelius, Valaria Tatera, John Hitchcock, Sky Hopinka, Dakota Mace, Truman Lowe, and others. 

Contact Portrait Society Gallery of Contemporary Art for additional information. 870-9930. 


The Ownership of a Plank, 2022. Acrylic, watercolor pencil on paper, 22 x 30 inches. 


Every Day is Thanksgiving in America, 2018. Acrylic on paper, 22 x 30 inches. 


Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage, 2022. Acrylic on paper, 22 x 30 inches. 

Indoor Indian, 2022. Acrylic and watercolor pencil on canvas, 36 x 36 inches.

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