Lively, sprawling members show at Walker’s Point Center for the Arts

One of the great events at the Walker’s Point Center for the Arts — a neighborhood cultural asset for nearly three decades — is the Annual Members Show, which is a lively and sprawling survey that embraces a plethora of mediums and styles. Members may submit up to three pieces, and in the absence of a selection jury, the door is open to a lively variety of work. The limits for the show are bounded only by wall space.

More than 200 pieces are on view. The contributors include prominent makers in the art community, such as Jamie Bilgo Brunchman, Thea Kovac, Stephanie Bartz, Michael Flanagan, Cynthia Hayes, Michael Flasch, and many others.

Marketing Communications Coordinator Howard Leu described the installation process as one of aesthetic coordination. Hanging the works entailed organizing the pieces so that the qualities of each complement the other. While the submission process is open, the exhibition has a lasting impact on the WPCA schedule: Four of the featured artists will have solo installations next year.

This year’s show offers quite a large number of painters. Their approaches range from the purely abstract and minimal to detailed portraits. Les Leffingwell shows three paintings of musicians, dramatic for their expressionistic and energetic quality. His portrait of blues singer and guitarist Sam “Lightnin’” Hopkins is especially notable. His white jacket glows and his face is framed by a broad-brimmed hat tinged by yellow highlights and purple shadows while his eyes are shaded by large, dark glasses. Leffingwell’s presentation is electric and mystical, an approach that echoes the musician’s nickname.

Nova Czarnecki is delightfully surreal in “The Reason Birds Have Wings.” It is a large piece that features something like a springtime goddess. Weightless flowers and Queen’s Anne Lace are gently suspended against a serene blue sky, while a woman detailed in grisaille and wrapped in an orange honeycomb sheath floats amid small birds. It is surprising, intriguing, and vividly fresh.

Benjamin Fairly, “Pescatarian.”
Benjamin Fairly, “Pescatarian.”

But also surprising and intriguing is Benjamin Fairly’s “Pescatarian,” but from the opposite end of the spectrum.

Fairly also works on a large scale, and in this case, the deep black background is a foil for the bright yellow table and pink flesh of the nude woman seated. Her arm rests casually on the surface, paralleling half of a fish. This is the more conventional part of the piece. Her face is blurred, only scant clues of an eye and her nose are revealed, and her head is topped by an ovoid space filled with multicolored dots. A white line slinks and lassos around her head, drifts down, circling her like an abstract necklace. It is darkly ambiguous, but sometimes uncertainty is a wellspring of interest.

Other genres are explored by artists in the show, such as travel images, landscapes, abstraction, architecture and more. A direction that few take is toward overtly social or political messages. One who does is Morgyn Stranahan, and hers is among the most humbly presented. Her works on paper are attached directly to the wall — no need for a frame. This rawness accentuates her images and their direct nature. “Bigotry Unleashed” is a blue-green caricature of a face, the lower jaw stretched out square like a receptacle. In “Fascists,” loud-mouth faces seem to proclaim and demand while a troubled young man quizzically ponders it all. Stranahan uses ink and bright watercolor, a contrast with the sharp subjects she takes on.

As it has been in the past, the Annual Members Show at Walker’s Point Center for the Arts is an opportunity to see an array of art, and to find the familiar as well as the unexpected.

The Annual Members Show continues through Oct. 8 at Walker’s Point Center for the Arts (839 S. 5th St. wpca-milwaukee.org).

Also in Walker’s Point

While there is plenty to see at the Walker’s Point Center for the Arts, your travels in the neighborhood may include stops at other nearby points of creative interest.

Var Gallery

643 S. 2nd St. • vargallery.com

A combination art gallery, performance space, cocktail lounge and studio space, Var operates with a spirit of eclecticism and collaboration. This is enhanced by its current exhibition, which features many of the artists who make their creative home there, as well as those from Material Studios, also located in the Third Ward. It is Var’s largest collective exhibition and continues through Oct. 1.

The Pitch Project

706 S. 5th St. • thepitchproject.org

Connected with Brenner Brewing, The Pitch Project is a venue for contemporary art in Milwaukee, often featuring exhibitions by national and international artists. The gallery is now showing an exhibition featuring video work by noted Canadian artist Christine Negus titled the night time is never the right time, continuing through November 6.

Grove Gallery

832 S. 5th St. • gallerygrove.com

This gallery, housed in the Lamers Building, is the next evolution of a place that has a long history. At various times it was used by a Yugoslavian publisher, a retail store for artificial limbs, and in previous incarnations as a gallery and creative space. Rotating exhibitions are hosted, as well as works by building owner Celine Farrell.