An e-zine for happenings of local culture in Milwaukee and elsewhere

Archive for April, 2011

Gallery Night Spring 2011, Studio 420b

With significant inspiration present, growing an idea requires little space. Mark David Gray curator and resident artist of splashing new Studio 420b whips up his creative gumbo with this recipe. Born of a workspace less than 300 square feet, the gallery’s loosely carved and ample surface area now allows for nooks amenable to his artistic companions.

The raw and utilitarian stance of Studio 420b suits the theme of its current installation New Work. Adding intrigue to the theme, concrete floors hoist a sign proclaiming “All Hail Marx and Lennon” scribed in sharp-edged block letters emphasized with a profile portrait of the late John Lennon designed in pastels. It happens that one of the gallery’s artists is a Marx, Lindsay Marx.


A 50 times removed cousin of those other great Marx, using oil on canvas, Lindsay Marx explains her impressions of moments suspended by photography in the 1960’s. Her paintings adjust our perspective close enough to see the profoundness of mundanely human dramas beckoning attention, drowned out by the turmoil typically associated with the era of social change. Layering color tones, motifs, concepts and patterns, pictures of moments transform into paranormal events revealing unseen forces acting at that moment. Employing the same technique, other works divine the thoughts of the central subject matter. Exquisite, modest and sometimes eerie, Marx evokes all three with appreciated intent; nothing here perceived as weird for weird’s sake.

The World is a Marble

Perforating the main wall space, a series of small geometrically identical frames house intricately drafted illustrations by Sean Bodley. Having even the negative spaces amazingly formulated solely from strokes of a pen, Bodley demonstrates the art of constructing worlds on a fantastic scale. Glancing at craggy cliffs appearing inches tall you may notice minute human forms that, from their point-of-view, immediately and epically magnify everything around them to Grand Teton scale. Admittedly, Bodley relishes the fantasy genre brought mainstream by the Lord of the Rings motion picture trilogy. Executing with marksman precision, Bodley charts detailed maps of places existing somewhere between Milwaukee that place Atreyu tried to save, and River Styx. Expressing interest in the fantasy genre’s friendliest format, one of Bodley’s artistic channels transmits his current work in an illustrated novel entitled Guardians of Gaia.

Fighting Faux

Too busy settling the West or snatching what they could by guile or force, turn of the century rugged individuals had little time for art, unless they were making “Wanted” posters. Mark David Gray pays tribute to the period of settlement and gunslingers with several of his pieces currently covering Studio 420b walls. Ruddy sepia tones infuse age and subdued neon highlights kick pop appeal into visual renderings that pluck Teddy Roosevelt out of historical archives and place him into new contemporary interpretations. Bigger than the dimensions of the canvas that carries them, several of Gray’s precise works idolize the former President in an endearing but kindly mocking fashion. Others works more straight forward, do plain old justice to the man and the legend. Lacking remissness, Gray offers additional odes to other men or legends fitting the phonetic description “Marx” or “Lennon” for further ponder.

Treading a rare path, Gray’s serious demeanor betrays his engaging and open mind and manner; a mastermind behind a space that is truly hospitable to creativity. Milwaukee is fast going the way of “scenes”, yet here people come as they are, and work as they are. Through its atmosphere, Studio 420b takes the bit out of the mouth of being an artist. In the process, truly phenomenal art ferments.

The End, Arthur Miller: Death of a Salesman

Timely describes Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s season night-cap. A sarcastic toast to resurgent free market enthusiasm, and all the “self-making” delusions that tag along with attitudes encouraging reduction of society to no-holds-barred capitalism, Arthur Miller’s classic challenges this exuberance prophetically. Death of a Salesman reminds us all of the virtue found in honest reflection, as only theater, in comparison to contemporary mass media, seems to have the guts to do these days.

Miller opens the Loman household to scrutiny, as Willie (Lee Ernst) and long-suffering wife Linda (Laura Gordon) cope with the personal tolls exacted by professional life in the post-war business sector. When two thirty-something-aged sons appear, they rehash memories of the Loman’s child rearing years. The perceived expectations of 1950’s early onset consumer culture tack veneers on the members of the Loman family and friends. To these veneers, the characters’ past and present life experiences apply varnish or turpentine.

Progress through the scenes of Mark Clements’ production reach a point of bullying comfort; credit Ernst for his ability to take the audience past entertainment value to at least the point emotional response. The cast proved adept as usual, despite Reese Madigan, better suited for the role Hannay in 39 Steps, fidgeting a bit while finding his way into the character of Biff. Madigan’s portrayal still worked well, in caricature of the period in which Miller authored Death of a Salesman. Accurate, visionary set design, and exceptionally well-timed and in-place actors projected a polished show.

On stage until May 8, Death of a Salesman is the last production of the season at The Rep.

Making the mold, Northern Chocolate Company

Walking towards the door, I imagined a scene flashing back to a developing main street in an early 20th century trading post. In this scene, Northern Chocolate Co., with its brick facade and iron-barred windows, would securely hold the town’s people’s earnings converted into a currency called chocolate.

Historic Martin Luther King Drive, home to beautiful early American industrial architecture, stands as a corridor ripe for incarnation of commercial vibrancy. In spite of the direction developers attempt to take MLK Drive, establishments of Northern Chocolate‘s ilk project business possibilities seething with mom & pop character for which Milwaukee natives yearn. The netherworld sustained by shopping malls give hints about what happens when the experience gets left out.

Upon arrival you may see a skeptical eye peering at you between posters and a hand-written sign beseeching visitors to ring the buzzer and check any fur accouterments on the sidewalk before entering. When granted a pass, you enter a glorious palace of chocolate figurines, globs, spheres, and sticks carefully crafted to suit a spectrum of chocolate tastes. To be clear, no candy here, just chocolate; additions of select nuts and fruits only apply.

I’ve heard Northern Chocolate‘s proprietor compared to the Seinfeld character famous for serving the best soup, in that large over populated metropolis on the east coast. This guy definitely cares about his chocolate, he’s even conceivably fanatical. Chocolates line the walls from floor to ceiling, wrapped plainly in clear cellophane topped with an illustrated label proclaiming “otterly peaceful”. Part-kitchen part-museum, his work place houses worn porcelain and tinned artifacts, some appearing religious, others promotional of seminal consumer product brands. The dim light draws eyes to reclaimed iron work suspended from the ceiling recollecting the past. Although founded in 1991, everything about Northern Chocolate Co. draws you back to the old world.

Northern Chocolate‘s Easter themed selection of five-inch tall bunnies in various active poses, including a chocolate bunny playing an accordion, reinforces spring time joviality. Don’t let the grizzled but gently aged man behind the counter surprise you, he’ll take responsibility for hand-making Northern Chocolate’s delicacies that make the film Chocolat come to life without the band of gypsies.

I have no idea when Northern Chocolate Co. is open. I made the trip there on a Saturday afternoon.

Margaret Bergland did an excellent profile piece on Northern Chocolate‘s artisan-owner for Milwaukee Magazine (Inside Milwaukee) in April of 2008. It’s quite a story, with ingredients for legend, and gives a built-in history lesson of some of Milwaukee’s classic neighborhoods and business.
–Related Post–
Local Trolley 2011 Honors!,

MKE Molecules, WMSE Buy-Local Bazaar

A sidewalk sign boasted availability of “fine fineries” at the Buy-Local Bazaar in the Kern Center Sunday afternoon. In case you missed it, here are few of Local Trolley’s favorite booths:

Lovesick Robot Studios
I mention this booth from the standpoint that I used to be a super duper Star Wars freak. The key phrase is “used to” and if you try bringing up some Star Wars trilogy fun facts around me, it won’t be very fun for long. Lovesick Robot Studios‘ t-shirt liquidation drew my attention with an iconic Storm Trooper helmet image. Browsing the rack, yet another T design of an AT-AT with the slogan “they see me rolling, they hating” written below it made this booth note worthy. Judging from the website, I think a pod of Bay View kids are responsible for this silliness.

The Brass Rooster http://toorockabilly4awebsite.rock
Featuring $5 patent leather shoes, short brimmed fedoras, and snap-brim smoking caps, The Brass Rooster will have you ready for your Big Bopper makeover in no-time. Why am I telling you this? The Brass Rooster will also spruce-up outfits with vintage cuff-link and tie-clip combinations for a reasonable price. Located at 2479 S. Kinnickinnic Avenue, The Brass Rooster opens on May 7th, 2011. If you tried to click on the web link I should take you by the ear and drag you from the computer.

Present Music
Present Music showcases composers and reciters of avant-garde music. Present Music brought toy piano virtuoso and Juilliard’s first woman doctorate, Margaret Leng Tan, to Milwaukee this past Thanksgiving. Season finale Amy X Nueberg plays ‘avant-caberet’ and sings in four-octave range at Turner Hall June 18, 2011.

Ian Pritchard Photographs
Ian Pritchard, no stranger to local art events, stunned me with a excellent street shot, of which I inquired as to the setting to find it actually captured a corner of Brady Street. Nice work Ian, turning local, global.

Honorable mention:
Too Much Rock for One Hand for the two fisted abomination of a devil-worshiping logo, More 2 Gain video production for going out of their way to provide a business card, and Kasana Concierge Gourmet for having the nerve to do anything in St. Francis.