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Milwaukee Artists 'Drawn' to Portrait Society Exhibit

May. 23, 2017
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Drawing is a universal experience, but its variations are endless. The exhibition “Drawn Out, on view at Portrait Society Gallery, presents intriguing and unexpected examples.  

The act of putting a pencil to paper can be a cathartic thing, and for artist Todd Mrozinski it was a way of reengaging with art after he finished his year-long position as the Pfister Hotel’s Artist-in-Residence. His studio space at the hotel was largely public, and one of his major projects involved making delicately nuanced silhouette portraits. It was a way of painting light vis-à-vis its absence in shadow. His new drawings emphasize light, but in an altogether different way.

They are monumental drawings in graphite, involving powdered tone that is blended and rubbed away to make diaphanous clouds, accented by powerful, gestural lines. Some pictures frame the vast sky with arching trees that dwarf industrial buildings or open the velvet night sky with celestial lights. Mrozinski describes how he hadn’t really been drawing since his graduation from MIAD 10 years ago, but this tactile process is like a release and a refreshed beginning. These drawings have a free spirit yet follow tradition (think of John Constable’s luminous skies or Alfred Stieglitz’s thoughtful cloud photographs).

A very unusual approach is found in Mark Ottens’ brightly intriguing sketches done on cancelled checks. Some are boldly graphic, some cartoonish, but a reminder of the possibilities for decoration on any surface or scrap, no matter how artistically foreign. Drawings can happen anywhere and be anything.

Other engaging pieces on display are Melissa Lee Johnson’s alternately sharp, amusing and reflective pictures. Her contemporary narrative art is closely related to her tattooing practice. Adolph Rosenblatt is represented by a series of abstract pastels, and a miasma of sketchy doodles is offered as part of the On the Wing project organized by Portrait Society Gallery. This endeavor provides sketchbooks and art materials to homeless and other individuals in need. It comes full circle as the sketchbooks will be exhibited next year, amplifying the voices of underrepresented people, speaking in the language of drawing and line.

Through June 4 at Portrait Society Gallery, 207 E. Buffalo St. For more information on the On the Wing project, visit portraitsocietygallery.com.

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