Before we all escaped our daily routine and went into hibernation for a much-needed winter break, one of my last experiences of 2018 was visiting the Haggerty Museum on a Thursday evening in December to listen to Peter Barrickman and John Riepenhoff in conversation. They were surrounded by works from the exhibition Nohl Fellowship @ 15, which is still on view through January 27, 2019. Hung salon style, the exhibition features work from a great majority of the previous 96 artist awardees who have received the esteemed Nohl Fellowship over the last 15 years - Peter and John included in that group.
The two-for-one talk was lightly attended, however, John and Peter did not disappoint. Both shared a variety of past experiences as artists in Milwaukee and beyond, in a back and forth style conversation. As they thumbed through slides of their studios, reference images, shots from travel experiences, and gallery installation images, they also touched on themes that can be pulled from both of their practices - architecture, public spaces, collaboration, and labor.
John discussed how he started a career as a curator and gallery co-owner by starting an “illegal” gallery space in his apartment before eventually opening The Green Gallery, which he now co-owns and operates. He explained that he wanted to show his friends’ work, because they were making and doing great things and at the time and to him, it felt like there weren’t many (non-commercial) venues in Milwaukee where young, emerging artists could show their work. This notion of platforming others’ creative works also manifests into John’s studio practice as an artist. With works like the John Riepenhoff Experience (a small wooden box attached to a wall 8-9 ft. off the ground that viewers insert their head into in order to see a miniature gallery space with miniature artwork) and the Handler Series (sculptures of legs that hold artwork), John invents and organizes spaces to exhibit other artists’ work, and in turn challenges the inner systems and architecture of the art world.
Peter has exhibited work with John, both through The Green Gallery as well as in John’s Handler series. During the talk, Peter discussed a series of paintings that are depictions of lobbies. He described the lobby as a transitional space, one that takes you from public to private. According to Peter, lobbies are often themed and can be oddly curated with aged decor, carpet, and artwork selected by a landlord. Peter also shared a handful of everyday images that he pulls artistic interest and inspiration from. After watching a video of repairman painting over some graffiti on a wall (you know the type of paint that is mixed in effort to match the rest of the wall, but no matter what, is always slightly off), it’s clear that Peter utilizes familiar spaces and experiences to create new modes of abstraction in his work.
Both artists also discussed their interest in organizing collaborative projects, events, and experiences as a way to continue informing their studio practices, like a participatory drawing event (Peter), The Oven located at The Open, the Beer Endowment, and The Great Poor Farm Experience (John). After a fulfilling conversation and trying to jampack my brain full of the possibilities for art to exist in many forms, I was able to reflect on John and Peter’s words over our Winter Break and enter into 2019 with a fresh batch of energy to create, respond, observe, and write.