Real. Vulnerable. Honest. Three things that are true of Fragile Not Found, an exhibition at Woodland Pattern which featured works from three emerging Milwaukee artists: Molly Hassler, Anika Kowalik, and LaNia Sproles. They each approach themes like identity, queerness, vulnerability, and nostalgia through fibers, printmaking, painting, paper-cutting, installation, and sculpture. A series of public events were programmed in conjunction with the exhibition to engage the surrounding community: an Artist Talk with Molly Hassler and a workshop with Anika Kowalik. Unquestionably, these are three artists to keep your eye on; Hassler was recently named a finalist for the Mary L. Nohl Fellowship in the Emerging Artist category and coordinates a Student Artist in Residence Program for PSOA students in addition to maintaining a studio practice. Like Hassler, Sproles and Kowalik are constantly in the studio and exhibiting work around Milwaukee. Sproles has a series of new drawings in an exhibition at the Portrait Society Gallery that opens on Friday, December 7th, 6-8pm. Kowalik has work in Var Gallery’s 5th Anniversary show which opened Friday, November 30th. If you can’t catch them on the opening nights at these exhibitions, be sure to check out their work during gallery hours. That’s how I explored Fragile Not Found; which was on view November 1-25 at Woodland Pattern.

Anika Kowalik,  Somewhere Warm

Anika Kowalik, Somewhere Warm

Entering the space, I was immediately impressed by the size and presence of Kowalik’s Somewhere Warm. A large-scale multimedia piece on un-stretched canvas covered in acrylic, glitter, barrettes, and kanekalon (fake hair); the piece connected me back to the innocence of childhood at the moment it collides with adolescence. Scribbled outlines of flowers function as a background to the sections of hanging hair which are adorned with barrettes and glitter. I thought of the first time a child is given the opportunity to dress themselves - to pick out their very own outfit/accessories; how our tastes change with age but we never lose our sense of identity and originality.

Anika Kowalik,  Somewhere Warm  (detail)

Anika Kowalik, Somewhere Warm (detail)

The sheer size of the piece requires the viewer to dedicate time investigating the details and if they commit, they will be rewarded. The materials felt satisfying to me as a viewer, thinking of them as both accessories and as tools to create a painting. Kowalik’s large pieces in this exhibition were supported by a series of 5 painted mirrors displayed on a shelf nearby Hassler’s large quilted painting, Out to Dry. Thick with globs of paint and etched marks - Kowalik’s series has a limited color palette of only black, white, and the occasional gray tone. Loosely resembling landscape, I was again reminded of painting and Kowalik’s ability to create a unique voice through their use of materials, which feels closely related to the development of one’s ever-shaping identity.

Anika Kowalik,  Studies (1-5)

Anika Kowalik, Studies (1-5)

Hassler’s sculptures Dangerous Objects Made Safe are fabric cocoons that house personal items from a past relationship. They aren’t easily recognized at first, being concealed in fabric, but one is left to guess that perhaps they could be a small diary, a book, a bracelet, a compact mirror or a framed picture.

Molly Hassler,  Dangerous Objects Made Safe

Molly Hassler, Dangerous Objects Made Safe

Molly Hassler,  Dangerous Objects Made Safe

Molly Hassler, Dangerous Objects Made Safe

The personal, nostalgic objects are sewn into their very own individual pouches and then displayed within vitrines. As I sorted out the mention of vulnerability in the exhibition statement, Hassler’s pieces from this series were ones I understood instantly as emotional artifacts put on display. They really made me reflect on past relationships, either romantic or platonic; and I found myself searching through pleasant memories and also memories I wished I could fight away and forget. Daily objects and keepsakes become catalysts to navigating these emotions that we as humans all have to face. Hassler tasks herself with “making the objects safe again” by covering them in fabric and using the materials literally to create a sense of closure. I’ve always admired artists who can make work that resonate with universal emotions and experiences. Hassler knows how to do just that.

Sproles’ pieces are reminiscent of our ever shaping identities. A character floats in space as it juggles a cluster of faces. Another character’s head and hands sprout out of a group of houses that are threaded together on fabric. Her characters feel familiar, they become representative of human emotions.

LaNia Sproles,  Homebody

LaNia Sproles, Homebody

Being close to home or searching to find our true selves in the world that surrounds us. Grasping on to shreds of our experiences, memories and friends that we don't want to lose. Balancing those feelings as we navigate future relationships. We’ve all felt these things.

LaNia Sproles,  The Gatherer 2

LaNia Sproles, The Gatherer 2

The works in this exhibition challenge the viewer to consider their own identity and personal histories while interacting with three artists who are tackling the very same feat. Sproles, Kowalik, and Hassler are exploring gender, race, and identity politics; as referenced in their statements and through their artistic practices. They have opened up an opportunity in the gallery for others to explore states of vulnerability by putting themselves out there as black, queer, and femme artists. Kowalik is unafraid to confront painting through installation and assemblage, Sproles opens up the world of printmaking through collage, drawing, and patterning. Hassler shows us that fiber work has a place in the gallery and should be welcomed with open arms. All three remind us that we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about the things that really matter; and explore our own ever-changing identities.


In the spirit of the spookiest, most ghastly holiday of them all, the ghouls have summoned my powers to spotlight one of Milwaukee’s most cherished art events, GHOOST $HOW. Having just completed its 9th iteration this past weekend 10/27/18, GHOOST $HOW is a well known, annual tradition shared among Milwaukee artists, performers, curators, organizers, goblins, ghosts, monsters, and evil spirits alike. Shrouded in mystery and clouded with ominous energies from beyond the grave, the annual spooky themed art event exists between multiple venues and exhibits work from local and national creatives - which can range anywhere from 20-70 participating artists, performers, and filmmakers each year. Beyond the hundreds of participants and multiple venues the one night only art event has encompassed for nine years, GHOOST $HOW relies on a team of hosts that are called upon by evil spirits to jury, curate, and organize the artwork each year. The ghouls communicate through their hosts and do not hesitate to cast spells on those who attempt to reach them. I was lucky enough to be granted passage into the ghouls’ creative minds by way of an interview with their various hosts - but under the cost of my immortal soul. Their responses underline the presence of a thriving art community in Milwaukee —one that encourages participation, embraces alternative spaces, and supports fellow artists and organizers.

Anne Burnett, 00000 Ghoost $how VI, BORDERLINE

Anne Burnett, 00000 Ghoost $how VI, BORDERLINE

Firstly, can you expose thoust ghoulish identity by naming yourself? How long/how many years have you been involved with 00000 Ghoost $how (either as an organizer/venue and/or exhibitor)?

You have summoned the Ghouls. Unholy spirits of 00000 GHOOST $HOW shall grant ye audience at the cost of your immortal soul. We are unnamed, wretched, and tormented souls.

The Ghouls have inhabited the souls of different artists through the years. When we first descended to Milwaukee to wreak havoc on Riverwest in the fall of 2010 we possessed the spirits of three weak mortals, Sara Caron, Bradly Fischer and Ashley Janke. Other collaborators - Joe Acri, American Fantasy Classics, Sam Biallas, Stephanie Lane Gage, Carly Huibregste, Kayle Karbowski, Sally Nicholson, Lara Ohland, Tim Stoelting, Alec Regan, and John Riepenhoff (to name just a few from a long list) have performed our ghoulish will in following years. The Ghouls require their hosts to be willing to organize a large, unwieldy exhibition with no money and with the volunteer labor of their friends. None of these hosts go willingly in the abyss of Ghoost $how.

What can you share about the history of 00000 Ghoost $how - how did the first iteration come about?

In the beginning, the possessed beings who believed they originated Ghoost $how of their own free will were friends and collaborators. Brad and Sara ran Small Space in a vacant storefront on Holton and Ashley ran nAbr in a meticulously built out space in her apartment attic. At the time of the first Ghoost $how the structure of the exhibition, across multiple galleries, spoke to this generative spirit and served as a vehicle of pure chaos and mayhem for The Ghouls. Brad framed the show as an event more than an exhibition. From the beginning the show has been a way to get as many artists and spaces involved as possible as a means to build a community around these spaces. What hasn’t changed much from the first iteration to the most recent is that most of the work that’s submitted is accepted, with a few exceptions from time to time. It’s a forum for young artists to gain experience showing work and to see galleries and possibilities they may have been unaware of and for other artists to excise their most demented creative impulses. Over the years some of the work has been pretty weird, maybe bad? Every year the show gives that whole range of spooky art a context.

00000 Ghoost $how VII at After School Special

What are your observations of the growth of 00000 Ghoost $how over the past 9 years?

We Ghouls do summon the spirit of Bradly Fischer to answer this question:  

“After working in New York’s gallery scene for the past 6 years, every time I see online that the Ghoost $how is continuing for another year I feel so happy and also relieved. Relief that there is still a community of smart, talented artists somewhere in this country organizing events that exist outside the toxic overly capitalist art market dictated by a minority of oligarchs. Maybe we can save that conversation for another time...”

We Ghouls peer into our burbling cauldron deep in our lair, the steam clears the horrid brew and we see the obscure visage of Ashley Janke, our most loyal, familiar, longtime organizer:  

“00000 GHOOST $HOW happens each year like magic, despite the fact that there have been years none of us want to exert the energy to pull it all together. I was sure the fourth would have been the last. Many of our spaces had closed and Milwaukee was in the lull it can kind of get into, but the moment summer weather shifted to fall, I began to receive messages asking about the next ghost show and realised it wasn’t a choice, it needed to happen. The project is truly a spirit. A haunting untied to a physical art space. Each year it is summoned by artists and so it returns. I left Milwaukee to pursue my masters in 2016 and despite my doubts, I was pleased to see it continue for three more years. Next year will be a decade of 00000 GHOOST $HOW, just wait and see what we have instore.”

00000 Ghoost $how VII at After School Special

A door slams in the empty house, Sara Caron, originator and sometimes organizer, sometimes exhibitor feels a sudden chill and is compelled to speak:

“It seems so natural to me that the exhibition has continued. Sometimes it’s on a larger scale, sometimes on a smaller one but there’s always some gesture towards it this time of year. We didn’t start it with any grand ambitions. As Small Space, nAbr, and Imagination Giants closed other spots like Horses, After School Special, Gluon, The Open, Peeler’s, and Open Kitchen opened in the same spirit. Ashley has been the most consistent organizer since the beginning, I’ve drifted in and out, but even when neither of us is interested at all any more I think it’s a timeless form and someone else will take up the mantle. It’s fun and goofy and there’s no way to mess it up. Because of the inclusivity and the general attitude of the project there’s never been a version that ‘failed’”

Maps designed by Reece Ousey (left) and Nate Pyper (right), printed by Martian Press for 00000 Ghoost $how VI & VII

In the reflection of the full moon on the filthy Milwaukee river we see an image of Stephanie Lane Gage emerge, the horrible figure croaks through the rippling tide:  

“The first Ghoost $how I experienced was maybe the second or third—the first year was before I had moved to Milwaukee. It was a pretty exciting introduction to the Milwaukee art scene, and the mystery of it continued for me a few years before I actually got to know some of the organizers of the show. Before that, it really was this kind of strange entity that just appeared every October. It definitely seemed like an incredible fixture in Milwaukee and I was always looking forward to when the next October rolled around, hoping that it hadn’t fizzled into the abyss. Ghoost $how’s inclusivity and embracement of more comical/whimsical/satirical artwork was really refreshing in a time when all I knew about art was a more serious white-wall approach. Its celebratory, unpretentious nature was super formative for me as I was coming into my own as an artist and a curator, so I couldn’t have been more pleased when the ghouls from the afterlife possessed me to pick up the mantle for organizing the show in 2016.”

00000 Ghoost $how VII at After School Special

In your opinion, what is the most interesting aspect of hosting and/or organizing a multi-venue, one night only art exhibition/event?

These foolish mortal artists and organizers in Milwaukee seem to be less interested in competition than artists in other parts of the underworld. The more we can spread our demonic rhetoric, the better! More spaces allow us to exhibit more work of our mortal playthings, and allow for a night full of ghastly glee, overtaking the puny city of Milwaukee for one evil night each fall.

How do you think 00000 Ghoost $how has impacted the art community in Milwaukee over the past years?

We Ghouls haunt this land for a brief time each October. We desire only to descend and lay the seeds of bedlam. We call again on Stephanie, a being cursed to have witnessed the disorder we sowed:

“I think Ghoost $how displays the true spirit of the Milwaukee art community and serves as an exciting and long-running tradition to allow artists that have never exhibited before to take part in a celebration of ghoulish work. It also celebrates alternative gallery spaces, and is something that encourages these gallery spaces to continue operating and beginning and flourishing. It’s truly a showcase of the nature of the Milwaukee art scene. Allowing a tradition to possess new souls as it has continued for 9 years and will continue on into the veil of the future.”

00000 Ghoost $how VI at Horses

How many exhibition venues/spaces in Milwaukee can you estimate have been utilized for 00000 Ghoost $how over the course of its existence? How many artists do you estimate have participated?

Easily hundreds of artists have shown in 00000 GHOOST $HOW, some show every year, some just once, at least a dozen venues have participated, the largest ever was probably 6 different locations with over 70 artists.

Here we troubled spirits conjure an incomplete timeline of spaces and organizers:

2010- Small Space and nAbr

2011- American Fantasy Classics (Alec Regan, Olliver Sweet, Brittany Ellenz, Liza Pflugohft), Center (Cody Frei, Mike Senise, Tyler Roberts), Sara & Ashley

2012- Imagination Giants (Ashley Janke, Lara Ohland, Tim Stoelting), Nomadic Arts Center and 516-TJK

2013- Imagination Giants

2014- Ashley, Sam Biallas, Carly Huibregste

2015- Ashley, Sam (BORDERLINE) juried, Spaces included: BORDERLINE + ASS + GGW + HORSES + Lucky Cat + Blue Dress Park + The Triangle

2016- Stephanie Gage + ASS, Spaces: Blue Dress Park, BORDERLINE, GGW, Chamber, Open/Oven/Outlet, Trustfall, The Triangle, The Squat, ASS

2017- Kayle Karbowski + ASS

2018- Gluon, Grapefruit, Green Gallery West, The Open, Peeler’s, Open Kitchen

Do you have a favorite memory/artwork/performance piece/venue that has been part of any nine iterations that sticks out in your mind that you would like to mention?

There are too many for the spirits to choose, but among our favorites include the performance by the band ‘The Ghosts’, the ‘Anti-social Room’, ‘Ghoul Car Wash’, and the ‘Wound Bin’ which still haunt our dreams. Wes Tank’s haunting performance in Grapefruit Studios in 2015 and Xav Leplae and Richard Galling’s black-crust-pig’s head-pizza that was belched from the hellfire of the Oven in 2016 also stick out in our mind.

This year Rosie Brandenburg’s video “Climax - The Demon Jolia” and Stephanie Lane Gage’s “Cursed Object Trading Cards” pleased the twisted minds of the Ghouls.

Thanks and damnation to all the participating artists and spaces over the past 9 years these dreaded Ghouls have reigned!

Living & Working in the Artist Studio

In July of this year, I moved out of my studio space in Riverwest which I occupied with peers for nearly 3 years. It felt bittersweet, nerve-racking, and filled me with a sense of uncertainty. Becoming part of a studio space and artist collective was my first real “art world” experience outside of finishing art school. Where would I make work if I no longer had a studio? How would I continue my practice? Artist & curator Michelle Grabner led a wonderful discussion a few weeks back with exhibiting artists from the LIVE/WORK exhibition series currently on view at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, WI. As I listened to the panel describe the last time they occupied their studios and what the circumstances were, I reminded myself that transitions in my own studio should be embraced instead of feared.

During the panel, Garry Noland talked about his very first studio space - a kitchen table. With kids, a wife, and nights that included dinner time prep - he would have to clear the kitchen table of his collage materials in order to make space for plates and food. After dinner time, clean-up and bedtime for the kids -  the collage materials would come back out to fill the kitchen table once again. Odili mentioned that a studio can be anywhere, wherever it needs it to be out of necessity; describing an artist that operated solely out of a suitcase. Trenton admitted that he finished gluing up pieces of his installation for this very show at JMKAC in a hotel with plumbing glue (very potent with lots of fumes in a non-ventilated room) - admittedly then spilling Thai food all over the floor and joking he may be blacklisted for the foreseeable future from hotels in the area.

Part of Trenton Doyle Hancock’s installation in  Makeshift

Part of Trenton Doyle Hancock’s installation in Makeshift

The studio is everywhere - it’s wherever you (the artist) inhibits. Just as anything made in the studio is art: a holiday wreath, a lamp, wallpaper, sculpture...Virgil described a previous discussion where someone asked him, “So what makes this art and not just a wallpaper?” as they commented about the project he was working on. The studio becomes a space to create conceptual work, but also gifts, craft projects, and anything else we (artists) decide to make. If we self identify as artists, that gives us the authority to grant objects their “arthood”, right? Virgil’s exhibition space and installation, Hothouse, walks a fine line between art and the furnishings of an invented space - complete with stools, lamps, carefully placed mirrors, and shaggy fabric that resemble an other-worldly home.

Jessica Jackson Hutchins talked about a recent transition in her studio practice; one that includes activating her beautiful ceramics through movement, dancing, eating, or serving. During the opening reception that very night, viewers were lucky to experience this first hand. Chili and iced tea were served from her creations as dancers moseyed about the space wearing large sculptures as accessories, crawling and miming throughout the space, perching themselves atop Jessica’s found and created furniture.

Peggy expressed how she treats her practice as a retail space - one she believes should always be open to the public. She enjoys taking the “privacy” out of a studio space by sharing it with as a retail storefront. She described how thinking this way has always made sense to her and the way she approaches art making in general. Peggy uses accessibility by allowing her sculptures or clothing to become goods created for exchange. She has owned and managed two different storefronts - one in LA and another in Kansas City.

Allison compared herself to an accordion when working in the studio. Flexing in and out - making a huge mess by sprawling materials out all over the floor to look for that piece of paper that’s  “just right”. She makes a mess only to have to clean it up and repeat the that process again and again. Her work in the Makeshift exhibition included a board game that prompted the viewer to interact by creating a drawing after selecting a series of cards to gain inspiration from. Her paintings framed the board game along each wall. On the ground around the perimeter of her space were piles of collage materials and paper acting as an outline to her installation. I imagined the organized mess to be a window into her daily studio practice.

Dark Matter , Joel Otterson

Dark Matter, Joel Otterson

Brad explained how he acquired his first piece of taxidermy from Cedarburg, WI and described how it’s taken him years to put together these shelves in his studio.

Full of books and artfully organized artifacts; I was reminded of my first exposure to an artist studio. It was in my very own living room as a child. The way Brad arranges objects on his studio shelves draws a very striking resemblance to the walls of my childhood home; curated by my father with chatchkes, antiques, and various other artifacts. A bottle acts as a crutch for some keys, a clock face holds a pair of vintage glasses. For years I was enamored by the compositions of objects that surrounded me each day and I don’t think I totally understood why...until I figured out I wanted to be an artist. Because this is when I realized my dad was one too. He activity built a creative space for himself with his belongings inside his home. Exactly how artists do.

Image from panel discussion, view of Brad Kahlhamer’s studio

Image from panel discussion, view of Brad Kahlhamer’s studio

Just like Brad did by building and filling the shelves in his studio. It’s interesting that Brad collaborated with his father for this exhibition - a 90 year old pilot who built an airplane that sits at the center of the main gallery surrounded by Brad’s dreamcatchers. I found the father/son relationship fitting as I sat listening to the panel and thinking of my own father and his artfully arranged treasures.

More than one artist admitted to having multiple (5-7) studio spaces over the past several years, some of them lamenting about moving all of their work and materials from one space to the next. But they ultimately agreed that this can happen at any time and one has to be prepared for change. Trenton joked that his goal now is to get museums to show his “collections” of thrifted and found objects so he can stop seeing himself as a hoarder. JMKAC must have agreed to these terms, as his installation in the Makeshift exhibition include large retail shelves filled with toys, games, figurines and other ephemera.

Installation view of  Makeshift , Trenton Doyle Hancock (left) & Brad Kalhamer (right)

Installation view of Makeshift, Trenton Doyle Hancock (left) & Brad Kalhamer (right)

Hothouse , Virgil Marti

Hothouse, Virgil Marti

Installation view,  Made and Connected , Garry Noland

Installation view, Made and Connected, Garry Noland

Garry and Peggy’s installations encompassed the viewer on both sides with cut-outs of foam characters, shapes, and various wall hanging sculptures on either side of a long hallway. Peggy’s bold and unashamed use of color complimented her father’s printed wood panel texture which acted as a background for his sculptures. The arrangement of their work encapsulates the viewer and places them in an environment that encourages creation, play, and experimentation.

Being immersed in the artist environments as part of the LIVE/WORK exhibition series was nothing short of magical. The presence and diversity of the artistic imagination among this group of artists leaves an impact on the viewer. Traversing through the artists’ spaces and becoming absorbed in the large scale installations mimicked the presence of being in the studio as well as being in the mind of these makes. It was a glimpse into their world; their studio. This series encourages one to consider that the studio doesn’t only exist in a physical realm, but it’s present in how artists navigate through the world, observe things, organize, and problem solve. It exists as our reaction to the environments around us at any given moment.

So, as I think back to moving out of my studio space this past July, I remind myself that we as artists take the studio with us wherever we go. My current setup is between my car, an extra bedroom in my apartment, and my garage. I have nothing to be worried about, I’ll continue making wherever and whenever I need to.

The Live/Work exhibition series is on view at JMKAC now through March 3, 2019

Made and Connected: Garry Noland and Peggy Noland

Dark Matter: Joel Otterson

Hothouse: Virgil Marti

Makeshift, curated by Michelle Grabner

Participating artists: Michelle Grabner, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Jessica Jackson Hutchins, Brad Kahlhamer, Virgil Marti, Garry Noland, Peggy Noland, Odili Donald Odita, Joel Otterson, Barbara Rossi, Greg Smith, Alison Elizabeth Taylor

Rachel Hausmann, Portrait of the artist in their studio, 2018

Rachel Hausmann, Portrait of the artist in their studio, 2018

Performers activating Jessica Jackson Hutchins’ sculpture work during the opening reception

Performers activating Jessica Jackson Hutchins’ sculpture work during the opening reception

Jessica Jackson Hutchins,  Pink on the Inside , 2013

Jessica Jackson Hutchins, Pink on the Inside, 2013

Installation view,  Makeshift , Allison Elizabeth Taylor, image courtesy of JMKAC

Installation view, Makeshift, Allison Elizabeth Taylor, image courtesy of JMKAC

Joel described his two separate studio spaces; one he uses very specifically for needlework which has to be clean and free of debris for the delicateness of that work. The other space is welcome to all other chaos - sculpture, collage, dust, paint, etc. He keeps a harsh division between the clean and the mess. The appreciation of both working styles is present in his exhibition, Dark Matter. Large, beautifully crafted quilts/tapestries hung alongside sculptural vases that were perched atop pieces of furniture. The integration of his separate studio practices was so delicately displayed; one can begin to infer how much attention each quilt or vase required before completion.

Dark Matter , Joel Otterson

Dark Matter, Joel Otterson

View of wall from my childhood home, objects arranged by my father, Paul Hausmann

View of wall from my childhood home, objects arranged by my father, Paul Hausmann

Shelves and objects within Hancock’s installation

Shelves and objects within Hancock’s installation

View of Greg Smith’s installation as part of  Makeshift

View of Greg Smith’s installation as part of Makeshift

Post discussion, the exhibition guided me through vast spaces filled with large scale sculptures and installations. I was in awe of the spaces created by Virgil, Trenton, Greg and Joel.  Whether it was large scale tapestry that hung from the ceiling and acted as backdrops to scrolled vases, or a comic created as a wall drawing in conversation with games, toys, and figurines sitting on retail shelves acting like a curated thrift store. Virgil’s space was breathtaking as metallic and holographic textures reflected through mirrors with soft colors and familiar objects reinvented in a new way: a chandelier crafted to resemble deer antlers with brightly colored lights atop them.

Greg’s massive sculpture seduced the viewer all the way around. Colorfully adorned, it also housed a projection, many lights, and fabric stretched like awnings. The installation was reminiscent of a tree-house, which is a childhood space I always equate to imagination, exploration, and creation: much like an artist studio.

Installation view , Made and Connected , Peggy Noland

Installation view, Made and Connected, Peggy Noland

Installation view , Made and Connected , Peggy Noland

Installation view, Made and Connected, Peggy Noland

In progress work from my home studio/garage

In progress work from my home studio/garage