Saturday, December 23, 2023

50 Paintings — Milwaukee Art Museum

Eddie Martinez, Untitled 2020 Detail, acrylic and oil on panel

Last month, an exhibition titled 50 Paintings opened at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Co-curators Margaret Andera and Michelle Grabner selected 50 paintings—each produced by one of 50 different international artists over the past five years. The objective was to compile a collection of work that would represent current trends in painting today.

As I explored the exhibition, I found myself searching for a common idea—a visual or conceptual throughline that defined this specific snapshot-in-time. With the understanding that no idea is entirely unique, I thought about the global collective conscious. I scanned the gallery walls knowing that the creation of fine art is typically the artist’s reaction to the world and world events. Although the exhibition contained a variety of captivating and approachable imagery, it seemed obvious to consider the global events of our recent past.

So, five years, 2018 to 2023... Humanitarian crises throughout the world, a global pandemic, an increase of authoritarian dictatorships, the Central American Migrant exodus, journalists silenced and murdered, climate science ignored, the murder of George Floyd, the rise of the MeToo Movement, Russa’s aggression toward Ukraine... Each of these events revealed an attempt to dominate, manipulate and control. The symbolism within this collection of paintings became more apparent—board games, and all things associated—strategy, determination, manipulation, and conquest at any cost.

Eddie Martinez, Untitled 2020, 30 x 40in., acrylic and oil on panel

The untitled piece by Eddie Martinez began to unravel some of the mystery within the exhibition’s content. Martinez is recognized for creating mixed media imagery that utilizes abstract figurative elements created with gesturally drawn strokes of translucent pigment. The untitled canvas, included in the exhibition, presents a quickly drawn face painted on a nebulous shape with an underlying checkerboard pattern. It suggests the imprint created by daily media games—perhaps implying the long-lasting psychological effects of the 24/7 news cycle. 

Rebecca Morris, Untitled (#04-22), 2022, 66 x 67in., oil and spray paint on canvas

The checkerboard is referenced again in Untitled (#04-22), a substantial canvas by Rebecca Morris. This image is an exaggerated segment of the standard checkerboard produced with cloud-like washes of oil pigment and enhanced with spray paint. The canvas is edged with a bold metallic border—curtailing the expected geometric 64 square format. The image seems to imply hope or perhaps suggesting that the viewer attempt to focus on the more encouraging segments of the game.

Pat Steir, Untitled XXII, 2019, 36 x 36in., oil on canvas

An abstract work by Pat Steir is another notably thought-provoking image included in 50 Paintings. Known for her Waterfall series of dripping pigment on canvas, Steir’s Untitled XXII of 2019, captivats the viewer to examine the details of gently trickling pigment frozen in time. The imagery invites the spectator to focus on a specific moment in time, perhaps referencing the intervals of the transition within society as a whole. 

Well worth exploring, the 50 Paintings exhibition continues at the Milwaukee Art Museum through June 23, 2024. The museum is located at 700 N. Art Museum Drive, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53202. Learn more at:

Pat Steir, Untitled XXII Detail, 2019, 36 x 36in., oil on canvas


EDDIE MARTINEZ was born in 1977 in Groton Naval Base, Groton, Connecticut and currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Recent solo museum exhibitions include the Yuz Museum, Shanghai, (2019-2020); Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, Michigan (2019); The Bronx Museum, New York (2018); The Drawing Center, New York (2017) and The Davis Museum at Wellesley College, MA (2017). He has also had solo exhibitions at Capitain Petzel, Berlin (2023); Blum & Poe, Los Angeles (2022); Loyal Gallery, Stockholm (2021); Perrotin, Hong Kong (2019); Sorry We’re Closed, Brussels (2016); Timothy Taylor Gallery, London (2014); Galerie Mikael Andersen, Copenhagen (2009); Galeria Commercial, San Juan (2007) and Bucket Rider, Chicago (2005). Additionally, Martinez’s work has been featured in Modern Painters, ARTINFO, The New York Times, ArtReview, The Brooklyn Rail, and Art in America.

REBECCA MORRIS (b.1969, Honolulu, HI) lives and works in Los Angeles. Her recent survey exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (ICA LA) will travel to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago in September 2023. Other significant solo exhibitions have been held at the Blaffer Art Museum, Houston (2019) and Bonnefanten Museum, Maastricht, Holland (2014) as well as presentations at Made in L.A., Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2016), the Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2014), The Wexner Center for the Arts (2018), and The Renaissance Society (2005). Other solo shows include those at 356 Mission Rd., Los Angeles, and LAXART, Los Angeles.

PAT STEIR Born in Newark, NJ, Steir went on to study at the Pratt Institute and the Boston University Colle of Fine Arts, graduating with her BFA from Pratt in 1962. She has been the subject of solo exhibitions in many prestigious museums and galleries, from the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington DC, the Tate Gallery in London, to Cheim & Read in New York, among many others. She is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, such as the Guggenheim Fellowship in 1983, National Endowment for the Arts grants in 1973 and 1976, and the Alumni Acheivement Award from the Pratt Institute in 2008. Steir’s work can be found in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Kunstmuseum Bern in Switzerland, the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington DC, the Metropolitain Museum of Art in New York, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, and many other institutions. She lives and works in New York.

MARGARET ANDERA, Senior Curator of Contemporary Art
Margaret Andera has a history of over twenty years with the Milwaukee Art Museum. She began her tenure in 1989 as a curatorial intern, assigned to work on the newly acquired Michael and Julie Hall Collection of American Folk Art. She joined the staff full-time in 1993 as a curatorial assistant and advanced her expertise in contemporary art and the art of untrained artists. • Andera since has facilitated several important acquisitions of contemporary and self-taught work for the Collection and has been instrumental in establishing the Milwaukee Art Museum as a leading American institution for modern self-taught material. • Among the exhibitions she has curated are On Site: Andrea Zittel and Uncommon Folk: Traditions in American Art, as well as Vito Acconci: Acts of Architecture, Magnetic North: The Landscapes of Tom Uttech, Accidental Genius: Art from the Anthony Petullo Collection, and Currents 36: Dirk Skreber, whose accompanying catalogues are but a few of Andera’s several publications.

Michelle Grabner is known for her broad perspective developed as teacher, writer and critic over the past 30 years. The site where it all comes together is the studio. Her artmaking is driven by a distinctive value in the productivity of work and takes place outside of dominant systems. • Central to the work is process. Grabner references Penelope’s clever ploy of weaving by day and unweaving at night, which kept the suitors at bay in Homer’s Ithaca. Like Penelope, Grabner finds a generative space for mending, healing, and woolgathering within her unique system of de-weaving and filling in. Like Penelope, who used the coded language of shroud-making to bring about change, Grabner uncovers new dynamic relationships through her visionary practice of repetition. With a deep attention to abstract patterns and all the metaphors they conjure, Grabner pushes the limits of compositional structures to discover the tipping point between stability and precariousness, between continuance and wondrous difference.

Sunday, October 1, 2023

“The Journey is what makes it truly exciting” BRUNO SURDO

Bruno Surdo, "A Selfie, A Pink Unicorn, Paparazzi! What does it take to get noticed?" oil on canvas, detail

When I first met Bruno Surdo, he was a professor of illustration and animation at The Illinois Institute of Art-Chicago. Back then, his reputation for flawlessly rendering the human form was common knowledge. Not until roughly 2014 did I have an opportunity to experience his massively complex figurative canvases which referenced his personal impressions of contemporary society. That exhibition was presented at the Ann Nathan gallery in Chicago. Since the closing of the iconic Ann Nathan Gallery in 2016, Bruno Surdo has been represented by Nathan’s colleague Victor Armendariz, owner of Gallery VICTOR.

Bruno Surdo, "A Selfie, A Pink Unicorn, Paparazzi! What does it take to get noticed?" oil on canvas 79 x 108"

This past Saturday afternoon, as part of the Chicago Exhibition Weekend 2023, Gallery VICTOR presented an artist talk with Bruno Surdo—highlighting the artist, his process, and marking the conclusion of Surdo’s current exhibition. The exhibition offered both the massive compositions of interacting figures—imagery that Surdo has become known for—as well as a few amazingly intimate portraits, seemingly sketches for inclusion into larger canvases. It’s these brilliant studies that I gravitate toward. 

Bruno Surdo, "Reflection" oil on canvas 30 x 24"

“Reflection” offers the viewer a quiet moment to get lost in beautifully painted patterns of texture and surface. This single-figured portrait captures the interest of the observer by repeatedly offering new and exciting details to explore. With the subtle highlights falling upon the subject’s sensual lips and eyelashes, to the detailed complexity of her hair, “Reflection” ensnares the viewer into a corner of the mind where time becomes irrelevant. Even the background creates brilliant secondary interest with a uniquely random pattern, which Surdo explained, was inspired by the observation of aluminum foil.

As Surdo discussed his inspirations and process, he shared that the preliminary drawings for each painting are key to the final work. He defined stacks of renderings for a single canvas—and that the drawings are resolved on the canvas before beginning to paint. He also pointed out that, if an area of a painting wasn’t working, he had no problem wiping it away and beginning again. As he put it... “The Journey is what makes it truly exciting.”

Although the exhibition has concluded, works by Bruno Surdo are still available through Gallery VICTOR located at 300 West Superior Street, Chicago IL 60654. Gallery VICTOR is open Tuesday through Saturday 11am to 5pm. Learn more at

BRUNO SURDO (b. 1963, Chicago)
Bruno A. Surdo is a true native of Chicago. He studied drawing and art history and pursues the mastery of the human form with inspiration from the Renaissance masters. His provocative works center around the human condition and are known for their allegorical imagery. Bruno has had numerous shows and commissions, and his work is held in many prestigious art collections around the world. He lectures often and is a teacher who believes in nurturing others. The artistic forms he has created are images that communicate a personal commentary on the issue or question in mind. These shapes are then arranged in a pictorial space using the human form. Surdo strives to communicate a message to the viewer - to engage the person in a conversation between what he puts forth and what he or she can then interpret. The interchange of response and curiosity are goals the artist set when composing his ideas. Surdo believes art is a continual form of expression and he feels committed to search for a language that brings his thoughts and feelings to the surface.

Sunday, April 16, 2023

EXPO CHICAGO 2023 - Humanity

Holly Wilson, Paper Wings: Fearless (detail), cast bronze with patina, 21 x 23 x 13” 

EXPO CHICAGO 2023—The tenth anniversary edition of the International Exhibition of Contemporary Art—opened this weekend at Navy Pier’s Festival Hall. The event includes artwork from more than 170 of the most prominent international galleries—featuring work produced by thousands of fine artists currently working throughout the world. Countries represented at the 2023 exposition include: Argentina, Bahamas, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mexico, Nigeria, Norway, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Romania, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, and Zimbabwe.

As I began to explore the exhibition, I found myself looking for common themes. Conceptual content was varied but the predominant subject was the human form. It seemed as though artists were tapping into our societal need to hold tightly to humanity. 

Holly Wilson, Paper Wings: Fearless, cast bronze with patina, 21 x 23 x 13” 

Holly Wilson’s Paper Wings: Fearless, seemed to set the tone for the work I was about to experience. The cast bronze sculpture presents a masked figure with wings as arms. Massive feet stabilize the form as it steps onto a beam which protrudes out into the world. But Wilson’s intention is much more significant than the beauty of the detailed surface textures. She points out our collective fear... The fear of the unknown—both that of the outside world and the inner mind. The mask hides our identity, for we lack the courage to take a leap of faith. Wilson points out that... “In that moment, we must be fearless to take the leap.” 

Timothy Cummings, Night Spirit of the Adriatic Sea, 2022, acrylic on panel, 24 x 18" 

As I continued through the show, I came across the work of Timothy Cummings, a self-taught artist represented by the Nancy Hoffman Gallery (New York). Cummings creates haunting surrealistic impressions that typically reference religious iconography, death, or martyrdom. The intimate and obsessively detailed images transport the viewer into a world where anything is possible. 

Cummings’ Night Spirit of the Adriatic Sea offers a single centralized figure bound in a foliage sarcophagus. An orb of warm light levitates above cupped hands and hovers in front of the heart. The figure is found at the waters edge as the sun is trapped behind repressive clouds directly overhead.

Alyssa Monks, Between Here and There, 2022, oil on linen, 43 x 63"

Finally, I found myself mesmerized by the classic work of Alyssa Monks and the other exhibiting artist of Forum Gallery. Monks’ painting, Between Here and There, presents the image of a woman in the protective posture of the fetal position. With her face expressing pure exhaustion and her body marred with plant life, she is presented as a manipulated object amongst a sterile background. Monks creates vulnerable intimacy through the powerful composition and classic rendering of the figurative form.

EXPO CHICAGO has much to experience. The exhibition continues through Sunday April 16 at 6pm. Tickets are $35 [$50 with tour]. Parking is available on site. For additional information visit:

HOLLY WILSON of the Delaware Nation, Lenape and Cherokee Nation is now based in Mustang, Oklahoma. In 2001, she graduated with an MFA in sculpture; in 1994, she earned an MA in ceramics from Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, Texas; she received a BFA in ceramics at the Kansas City Art Institute in 1992. Holly Wilson is exhibited with the Center for Native Futures, a non-profit Native and Indigenous gallery space in the city of Zhegagoynak (Chicago)

TIMOTHY CUMMINGS was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1968 where he grew up in the midst of Spanish Catholic and Native American culture, fertile with religious imagery and iconography in the churches. Murals and retablos he saw depicting death, martyrdom, and Day of the Dead imagery influenced him. Cummings is completely self-taught. Timothy Cummings is represented by the Nancy Hoffman Gallery in New York.

ALYSSA MONKS was Born 1977 in New Jersey. Monks studied at The New School in New York and earned her B.A. from Boston College in 1999. During this time she studied painting at Lorenzo de’ Medici in Florence. She went on to earn her M.F.A. from the New York Academy of Art in 2001. Monks completed an artist in residency at Fullerton College in 2006 and has lectured and taught at universities and institutions worldwide. She continues to offer workshops and mentorships and lectures regularly. Alyssa Monks is represented by Forum Gallery, New York.