HUMANS OF THE PFISTER | SEPTEMBER 2016 | Back-to-School edition | Former Artist-in-Residence Stephanie Barenz Navigates a New Old Space

While Artist-in-Residence Pamela M. Anderson was enjoying a well-deserved vacation in Colorado to see the Women of Abstract Expressionism exhibit at the Denver Art Museum last week, she left the studio in good hands: Stephanie Barenz, the Hotel’s 5th Artist-in-Residence in 2013-14.  Stephanie exhibited some of her own paintings over the weekend, just in time for Doors Open Milwaukee.  I ran into Stephanie on Friday, and she was gracious enough to offer a tour of her artistic mind, as well as some intriguing words about her own learning experiences, especially at The Pfister during her residency, but also in her travels in Milwaukee, New York City, and Hang Zhou.

20160916_145832

First, she reminisced:

The residency was a lot about storytelling because I was collaborating with Molly Snyder [the Narrator that year] to create a book.  So all my paintings that year–there were 30 just for the book–were bursting with activity, more colorful and illustrative than normal.  Molly would come in to talk about the painting process and she would write the story.  There was one 6′ x 8′ painting of a cart pulled by a motorcycle that was filled with my experiences–that was my self-portrait.  Our book is called “The Carriers.”  You can actually read it on my website.  All in all, it was a magical year.

As we talked, I could look out the studio doors to see her fancifully eclectic painting featured in the hallway, a tall tribute to the porters’ luggage carts, “bursting with activity,” as Stephanie would say, and memories of her experiences at the Hotel.  Her painting-in-progress (see above) is indeed an obviously different vision, as is much of her personal work, many of which are palimpsests of pencil, pen, and paint, with layers peeking at us as through a mist or glass or haze of memory.  I noticed how silhouetted figures–both dark and light–were often superimposed upon each other or how bodies allowed us glimpses of architecture that mysteriously shone through them (or was it that the bodies were reflecting the architecture as if they were made of mirrors?).

20160916_14541120160916_145429-1

Stephanie’s time at The Pfister was also magical because it revealed a whole new world to her: the world of a professional artist.

It was also such an education for me because it was where I learned how to become a professional artist. When I was in school, the focus wasn’t on business, although there’s probably more of a focus now.  So when I got out, I didn’t know how to approach patrons, for instance, or how to exhibit my work, or talk to visitors.

I taught in Hang Zhou, China, for a year (that’s where I met my husband).  I had to get used to a very collective mindset and used to interacting in public spaces much more than I was used to.  Here, I get in my car and go to my little studio, but there the question was always “How are my actions affecting everyone else?”  My students would go to school, then go home to take care of their family.  Some would even be in love with someone from another province, but wouldn’t pursue it because–they valued taking care of their family more.  We don’t do that as much here.  But they ask “How are we operating together?”  From this experience I realized how important it is to have friendships, to have people to be accountable to.  I mean, as an artist–and I’m sure you understand this, too–you can be alone a lot.  I started the Pfister residency right when I got back from China, so that was perfect timing.  I had to learn how to be public with my process. People would ask lots of questions about my art–they had so many questions, and so many personal stories. The residency at The Pfister was really an “education by fire.” I mean, I probably failed a lot, but I also learned a lot.

As individuals, organizations, and publications like Doors Open Milwaukee, Dear MKE, Urban Spelunking, Humans of Milwaukee, Urban Milwaukee, and the upcoming ZIP MKE all continue the difficult task of bridging the gaps between neighborhoods and zip codes, between different sides of the river or freeway, Stephanie’s artistic philosophy could never be more timely (well, in fact, it’s timeless):

My art is about navigating new places.  When you go to a new place, it affects your perception of home.  I learned from visiting other cities and countries that everyday moments are important, so my art is about making the ordinary extraordinary, about elevating the commonplace.

20160916_145419-1 20160916_145349

As you navigate a place, you’re bringing the past, present, and future with you.  You’re bringing all your memories, you’re very present in the moment, and you’re also using your imagination to go into the unknown.  I like to think of it as the layering of time.  Even if you’re in a familiar space, it’s good to become unfamiliar with it, to try to engage with your surroundings in a new way.  It reminds me of the Situationists, who declared that they would no longer navigate their city according to the prescribed grids.  So they would take a map of Paris and make these games: they’d put a coffee cup down on a map and walk the perimeter that the cup made; sometimes they’d make shadow puppets on a map and investigate the shaded area; they’d take color walks and sensory walks, too, being aware of these things as they walked.

I am inspired now to try out a coffee cup or shadow puppet walk on one of these beautiful days as we transition from summer to fall.  Who wants to join me?  I want to see more of my city. I want to see the extraordinary in every ordinary corridor or alley, through every window pane or fence.  And I want to meditate, with a new perspective, on the past, present, and future that I bring to each new (and old) space I am in.

I’m looking forward to the completion of the renovation of the Lobby Lounge so I can bring this new-found thinking to my experiences in the old/new space–and continue to share with you, my readers, the past, present, and future of the Humans of The Pfister.

Our art-related stories

On Friday night, Pfister artist in residence Stephanie Barenz and I hosted a storytelling event in the Rouge Ballroom in conjunction with Gallery Night. Nine local artists told 5-minute stories around the theme of art. The audience picked the winner – Anja Notanja Sieger – who won a night at the Pfister and dinner for two at the Mason Street Grill.

Stephanie and I thought this event was the perfect way to celebrate her last gallery night as the artist in residence. We are both storytellers, but in different ways. I tell stories through words, and she through visual art.

This weekend, we honored another form of storytelling that’s the oldest and the most common: the oral tradition. We really enjoyed hearing all of the artists’ stories and decided to share our own as well.

“Red Boots” by Molly Snyder

It was the summer of 2009 and everything was about to change. I didn’t know it at the time, but I felt it. Meanwhile, I busied myself with projects and work and, above all, mothering my two young sons.

At first, the nagging was a quiet ache in my stomach, but eventually, it brought my brain on board and I dreamed of cracking open empty walnuts and fortune cookies stuffed with paper messages reading “something is wrong.”

I lived with the perplexing ache and dreams for years. Sometimes, a feeling of clarity and relief would wash over me for a few seconds, and I would stop in my tracks and actually ask aloud, “What? What am I supposed to do?”

In the middle of that fateful summer, artist Mike Frederickson caught one of these moments with his camera. I did not know it at the time. Mike was at the same street festival and – randomly and clandestinely – took photos of people to potentially paint later.

I remember this day clearly. I was wearing my favorite skirt at the time – the one the boys loved that was made from the retro-looking astronaut fabric – and my rhinestone-studded red cowgirl boots. It was a hot day and I was drinking a beer in the street, occasionally setting it down on the curb to pick up a sweaty, cranky boy.

At one point, I imagined just walking away and slipping away into the crowd forever. Instead, I sipped my beer and then picked up my younger son. “Shhhh, it’s going to be OK,” I told him.

In 2011, Mike sent me a Facebook message saying there was a painting of me at Jackpot Gallery in Riverwest. I was already a huge fan of Mike’s incredibly realistic-looking paintings and could not wait to see it.

A few days later, I walked through the gallery doors, and there it was, front and center. Massive. Me. My son. My former life. Much to my surprise, I started to cry.

A year later, while making my final payment on the painting, I tried to explain to Mike why it moved me so much. I told him that he captured a period of my life painfully perfectly, and that every time I looked at the painting, I wanted to climb inside of it and warn 2009 me that everything was going to get so much worse and so much better. But more than anything, I wanted to tell 2009 me that I did the right thing by listening to the ache and I would never regret my choices.

Mike listened to my ramblings. And then he smiled, cocked his head and said, “I just really liked your boots.”

196975_10151219499122543_506751573_n

“Opinions Are Like …” by Stephanie Barenz

Someone asked me a while back if as an artist I had ever encountered harsh criticism. The answer I gave was a resounding, “YES!” And as I continue to pursue my career and hopefully become more established I can only imagine that it will get worse.

A friend of mine has been in and out of counseling the last few years. When I asked him how his sessions were going he replied that the most valuable piece of advice he received from his psychologist thus far was, “Opinions are like a-holes, everyone has one and they usually, always, stink.”

Why do we care what people think? Oh wait, I know, we all want to be heard and validated. I have been called some pretty awful things, as I am sure you have, too. The following comments were either said to my face or I found out about them later through the grapevine. Here is a sampling that relate to my career:

“You aren’t an artist.”

“You don’t think like an artist.”

“Your work sucks.”

“Your work is too feminine.” (I see that one as a compliment, even though it was not intended that way.)

“Bleh, your work sucks.” (that one is different from above, because it had a gag response before it.)

“You are so naïve.”

“Your work is way too decorative.”

“Your work is not original because you stole my color palette.” (Sorry, I didn’t know you owned the rainbow.)

“Stephanie doesn’t know what she is doing.”

“I am worried Stephanie won’t go anywhere.”

“I walked into your studio and was like, ‘What is going on in here? This is a disaster.’”

“Your work looks like a graphic T-shirt.”(Irony here: the person was wearing a graphic stretched-out v-neck T-shirt.)

You know why these were so hurtful? Because a lot of them were things I had voiced silently to myself. Here is another thought, your opinions of yourself usually stink, too. We have all heard it before but you have to be your biggest champion. There are people out there who will insult you so you shouldn’t take the time to do that yourself.

When I was a kid, the school bully called me fat. When I went home crying to my mom, she told me that this kid’s dad was in prison and that people who are hurting usually say hurtful things to others. While this is a simple lesson, it was probably one of the most valuable I ever learned. I saw the bully in a new way, someone who was operating out of hurt and pain.

I know in my insecure moments, I have ripped some very innocent parties to shreds. It isn’t something I am proud of, but nonetheless we are all guilty of this behavior. Whenever I am criticizing someone I try to ask myself if I am doing it out of a place of hurt or insecurity.

So the lesson I learned from all of this is that opinions usually stink, just don’t listen to them. Find a group of people who have your back and can be honest with you. Seek out constructive criticism, don’t listen to the rest, and make sure you aren’t your biggest bully.

Our Story Arts

As part of her residency, Stephanie Barenz, our 5th Artist-in-Residence has developed a mentoring program, “Our Story Arts” along with her husband, Zach.  Stephanie and Zach dreamed up the program shortly after Stephanie began her residency in April of this year as a way to encourage, enlighten and explore ways for children to explore self expression through the arts.

Zach, who teaches writing for 5th and 6th grades at Milwaukee school, St. Marcus, saw the program as another way to encourage his students to express their goals and dreams, and Stephanie, who had already been teaching art a few hours a month at the school, saw the program as an opportunity to bring a new dynamic and purpose to her residency.

Our Story ArtsThe program, in which presently seven 5th to 7th graders from St. Marcus are enrolled in, sees them visiting and attending classes with Stephanie and Zach twice each week in the AiR Studio on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.

Stephanie and Zach’s mission for “Our Story Arts” is “to focus on the needs of the individual, to start a junior art community in Milwaukee, and tell the story of our city’s children through creative self-expression.

The seven students are divided into two groups – Junior Artists-in-Residence and Junior Narrators, modeled after the Pfister programs. The kids have been working on the theme of identity, and are producing work based on this concept. In the last two months the children have developed their voice through creative writing assignments, video interviews, poetry, brush and ink calligraphy, portraiture, and gesture drawing. In the future, they will be working to develop their own zines with Pfister Narrator, Molly Synder and her husband, Royal Bravvaxling, who is a writing instructor at MIAD.

While the kids enjoy their art, they highly enjoy being part of the Pfister experience.  The kids are enthusiastic, hardworking, creative, funny, thoughtful, and inquisitive.

Joel loves Michael Jackson and drawing comic books. Gavin wants to be an architect and recently enjoyed selling his first work of art out of the Pfister studio. Kayla is dedicated to being an artist and told me yesterday she now loves art more than basketball or any other activity. Astashia writes beautiful poetry and enjoys that challenge that art brings to her day. Joanna, is a wise soul and honest, aspiring writer. Tania likes graphic novels and has created over 44 characters. Nikayla has a rare wisdom for someone her age and wants to be a journalist.

You can view their work on the Our Story Arts Facebook page, which is updated regularly. In the coming months, the students will also have some of their artwork on display in the Stephanie Barenz Gallery at the Pfister. The children will receive 50% of their sales to purchase more of their own art supplies. The other 50% will go towards fees for their field trips and program expenses.

If you would like to support a child in their journey of self-expression please make donations payable to Stephanie Barenz and send to:

“Our Story Arts”
c/o Stephanie Barenz
Suite 600, 207 E. Buffalo Ave.
Milwaukee, WI 53202

Creativity is Everybody’s Business

Maggie Kuhn Jacobus is not your typical executive. Nor is she your typical mom. After a successful carrer as an entreprenuer, writer, producer, marketer, and public relations exec, she took a six-year sabbatical to raise her kids in the lush and far-flung tropics of Costa Rica because she wanted to give them a creative and enriching childhood. “Select soccer and routines were the things I feared most,” she admits.

Maggie Keuhn Jacobus
Maggie Keuhn Jacobus

Kuhn Jacobus is back in her hometown of Milwaukee with teenage boys. She took the position of President and Executive Director of the Creative Alliance  in January and is passionate about linking, leveraging, promoting, and growing the creative industries in the Milwaukee region.

“Creativity is everybody’s business,” she insists at a reception in Cafe Rouge on Thursday night.  It’s evident that not only with her impressive professional resume, but also by her own personal choices that she is just the risk-taker Milwaukee needs to prove the impact of the creative industries on our local economy. Kuhn is a “Glass half full” type of leader and says “Risk is about possibility. We have to ask ourselves what can we do with what we have here in Milwaukee?”

Creative industries are responsible for $2 billion in wages here in Wisconsin, contributing to our region’s vibrancy. But until industries stop working in sillos, growth and development cannot happen. So, the Creative Alliance is set on connecting commerce and creatives.

The Creative Alliance is partnering with the Pfister’s Artist in Residence program and hopes to add more creativite residencies to corporations in MIlwaukee, among a long list of other tactics to bring the creative industry to the forefront of economic discussion.

Stephanie Barenz, the Pfister’s current Artist in Residence, also spoke to the crowd about her work as a full-time creative professional working in a corporate setting.  She is currently working on both a mentoring program with students at St. Marcus School (where her husband is a teacher) to teach them about writing and painting as well as a body of work entitled “The Carriers,” which explores how travel affects our perception of home. What a fitting proposal for a working studio in a historic hotel. Several of her intricate and thought-provoking paintings were on display, along with a diverse body of work from past Artist in Residence finalists.

Stephanie Barenz's artwork on display
Stephanie Barenz’s artwork on display

To really hit home her point, Kuhn Jacobus invited her favorite local band, Painted Caves, to serenade the crowd with exotic sounds, while they mingled and discussed how enriching and vital the arts truly are. The whole event was well choreographed and engaged like a creative leader does best.

 

Painted Caves
Painted Caves

 

 

Stephanie Barenz Named as the Fifth Pfister Artist-in-Residence

The Pfister is thrilled to announce that we’ve named Stephanie Barenz as the fifth Pfister Artist-in-Residence.  Stephanie will begin her residency on April 1st after our current and fourth Artist, Timothy Westbrook ends his.  Stephanie was chosen by the Pfister’s selection committee made up of community leaders in the arts and other disciplines.  You can learn more about Stephanie at her website, stephaniebarenz.com.

Additionally, finalist Eddie Villanueva finished first in the public round of voting and will receive a solo art show at Gallerie M in the InterContinental Hotel.

Background

“The Pfister is the perfect stage for my work, which deals with how travel affects one’s relationship to place,” said Barenz. “The hotel carries thousands of stories from over a hundred years. The Victorian art collection, the antiques, and spaces have served as silent witnesses to all of it.”

“Over the course of the year, I plan to create a body of work that will include 20 to 30 paintings. Images of these paintings will be turned into a book and I plan to collaborate with the Pfister Narrator, the hotel’s writer in residence, to write text for the images. I am so looking forward to moving into the studio, starting my project, and getting to know more of the Milwaukee community through my platform at The Pfister.”

Barenz primarily paints and draws on wood panels using a range of media, including acrylics, sumi ink, and pencil. A Milwaukee-area resident for the past two years, she currently works as a full-time artist at Plaid Tuba, the studio of The Pfister’s first Artist in Residence, Reginald Baylor. With extensive experience teaching and studying art, Barenz has taught in Southeast China, studied in Florence, Italy, and completed a one-year residency at the Chicago Printmakers Collaborative. She graduated from Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., with a Master of Fine Arts degree.

Proposal

“THE CARRIERS”

The Pfister carries thousands of stories from over a hundred years. The famous Victorian art collection, the antiques, and rooms have served as silent witnesses to all of it. Every day a new story is written and this is where my proposal begins.

The title “The Carriers” is used to describe how I would use images of the hotel’s people and objects to “carry” the memories and stories of the Pfister. For example, I woudl ask guests if I could interview them about where they were coming from, their visit at the Pfister, what they brought with them, and what kind of transportation brought them to Milwaukee. I would then paint an image of their luggage or the train car that they arrived in that is piled high with their stories and memories from our conversation. Our conversation would most likely extend beyond their stay at the hotel and I would work from images they give me.

I would also create works solely based on the hotel’s past and present history. Anything could carry a memory, such as a hotel room or an old chandelier. This playful approach has endless possibilities. I would turn the Victorian collection and the hotel archives for imagery and inspiration.

Over the course of a year I would like to create an entire body of work entitled “The Carriers” that would include 20 to 30 paintings. I would turn these images into an illustrated book and hopefully collaborate with the Pfister resident journalist and storyteller to write some text for the images.

Work Samples

The Crystal Narrator

Do you ever wonder if walls could really talk? Or if paintings, sculptures and chandeliers could too? These are the questions I ponder, as the Pfister Hotel’s narrator charged with excavating the memories and experiences of guests past and present that are steeping in every wall, carpet and object in this place. I want to write about them and Stephanie Barenz wants to paint them.

Already elbow-deep in pictures, paints and pencils, I sat down to chat with Stephanie in Timothy Westbrook’s studio as she was creating a painting of the Pfister Hotel’s lobby chandelier. I inquire why, of all the gorgeous relics, she chose the chandelier in the lobby. “It was a natural choice – it’s gorgeous and eye-catching, and it has the best vantage point. It’s the omniscient narrator, it sees and knows all of the happenings in the hotel.”

Stephanie Barenz
Stephanie Barenz

Stephanie is vying for the coveted title of the Pfister Artist in Residence to replace Timothy  in April. She stood out not only for her outstanding credentials, but also because of her proposal to incorporate the Pfister Narrator’s stories into her paintings.

Travel is a big part of her life and work as she explores how art changes perception of a place. She speaks of travel, not just the international type, but any path from point A to point B. She paints about place – series like Middle West, City Middle and Middle Kingdom (i.e. China) all showcase places she’s lived. You’ll see images of houses, suitcases, bicycles and cars – all objects representing travel and place.

Stephanie knows a thing or two about travel. She grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska, moved to Wisconsin when she was 15, attended college in Minnesota, graduate school in Missouri, and lived stints in Italy and China.

“Culture shock hit me hard in China and it wasn’t graceful, but I grew so much and the Chinese people taught me so much about having a playful, whimsical nature that I’ve carried over to my work. They have an amazing outlook on life after going through all they did as a country.”

Stephanie admits that there were times when she took herself more seriously and then retracted: “Well I am very serious, so artwork is a way for me to get away from that.” She credits illustrators like Shel Silverstein for influencing her work.

“Matisse said something like ‘I want my art to feel like an armchair to a businessman at the end of the day,’ and that really stuck with me,” she reveals. Her muted color pallets are harmonious and quiet, subduing the flurry of activity often portrayed in her work.

Stephanie hopes to create a series of 20 to 30 paintings entitled “The Carriers” inspired from Pfister hotel guests and the stories that both she and the narrator uncover. She sees the objects in the hotel as carriers of the stories “silent witnesses to it all.”

Stephanie is creating detail and embedding images of the characters I've written about in her chandelier.
Stephanie is creating detail and embedding images of the characters I’ve written about in her chandelier.

We started to gab like two giddy schoolgirls dishing about their first crush. The prospect of collaboration excites me, though Stephanie’s potential tenure and mine would only overlap by one month. We envision a two-way process where the paintings inspire the characters and the characters inspire the painting. Stephanie also hopes to create a book with her paintings, with text written by the Narrator.

Find Stephanie and her work at Plaid Tuba (207 E. Buffalo Street, 6th Floor). And, be sure to vote here for your favorite 2013 Artist in Residence (whether it’s Stephanie or one of the five other amazingly talented artists) by February 14.

For the next three months, you can still find me pondering what lies beneath these walls.

2013 Artist in Residence Finalist – Stephanie Barenz

Stephanie Barenz – Milwaukee, WI

 

Proposal: “THE CARRIERS”

The Pfister carries thousands of stories from over a hundred years. The famous Victorian art collection, the antiques, and rooms have served as silent witnesses to all of it. Every day a new story is written and this is where my proposal begins.

The title “The Carriers” is used to describe how I would use images of the hotel’s people and objects to “carry” the memories and stories of the Pfister. For example, I would ask guests if I could interview them about where they were coming from, their visit at the Pfister, what they brought with them, and what kind of transportation brought them to Milwaukee. I would then paint an image of their luggage or the train car that they arrived in that is piled high with their stories and memories from our conversation. Our conversation would most likely extend beyond their stay at the hotel and I would work from images they give me.

I would also create works solely based on the hotel’s past and present history. Anything could carry a memory, such as a hotel room or an old chandelier. This playful approach has endless possibilities. I would turn the Victorian collection and the hotel archives for imagery and inspiration.

Over the course of a year I would like to create an entire body of work entitled “The Carriers” that would include 20 to 30 paintings. I would turn these images into an illustrated book and hopefully collaborate with the Pfister resident journalist and storyteller to write some text for the images

Stephanie’s work will be on display at Gallerie M in the InterContinental Hotel beginning on January 18th, 2013 through February 14th, 2013.  The public will be able to vote for Stephanie & the other 2013 Artist in Residence finalists through the Pfister Hotel Facebook page beginning on 1.18.  Fans will be able to vote once per day through 2.14.  (Please note that the public vote only counts for one chair on the final selection committee).

Starting at Noon on January 18th, you can vote for your favorite artist by visiting the voting tab on Facebook right here.

You can find bios for the other finalists by clicking their names below:

Eddie Villanueva
John Kowalczyk
Pamela Anderson
Sue Lawton
Tonia Klein