Gallery Night: Interpreting the Textures in Our Lives

It is what it is.  Perception.

It is what it is not.  Metaphor.

My mother used to like to recount how one day in preschool, a classmate approached me and asked me, “What are you?”  Yes, “what” not “who.”  As my mother and teacher eavesdropped, I’m told that I (and this is all my mother, I’m sure) tilted my head in contemplation like some kind of mystic saint (okay, now I’m making stuff up), looked him in the eye, and exclaimed, “I’m Dominic.  Just Dominic!”  I love this story.

I was acutely aware of my identity from a young age.  I just was.  Nothing more complex than that.  I didn’t need another name, another label.  Thanks for asking.

As I grew older, I used to spend my weekend afternoons playing in the yard.  I wasn’t throwing a football to myself in touchdown simulations or practicing backflips so I could impress my friends.  Instead, I was often crouched with my Matchbox cars at the foot of the dogwood tree or in the earthquake-proof huddle of massive bamboo.  From this perspective, my cars were life-sized, the holes in the trunk caves for them to hide, the rough bark slats dangerous roads for them to traverse, the water trickling from the hose a potential cause for a spin-out.  If a one-inch black beetle or four-inch slug–both are common in Seattle–happened to scuttle or slime its way into the path of one of my cars, then a battle was sure to ensue. (Note: No beetles or slugs were harmed in the writing of this blog.)  Sometimes, in the shadow of the bamboo, I would examine the nodes that punctuated the hard stem wall–and, I kid you not, I distinctly remember one day musing to myself something like, “Those are like the positive or negative events in our life that really stand out, that mark important things and make us who we are.”  I’m pretty sure I wrote that down in one of my short-lived diaries.

I was still “just Dominic,” but, as I look back on myself, I began to develop a sense that there was meaning outside myself, outside what things “were.”  No one taught me this directly.  It felt more innate, something that revealed itself over time.  Books could have contributed (Scott O’Dell, C.S. Lewis, the Serendipity series, Old Testament woodcut coloring books).  Religion might have contributed (transubstantiation, forgiveness of sins, stained glass windows, incense smoke signals to God).  But neither books nor religion told me to focus my perspective and imagination and make tiny things large, or told me that bamboo stalks contain poetry.  No one taught me how to interpret (in Latin, “to translate”).  Meaning-making kind of just happens, I think.  

On July 22nd’s Gallery Night, then, when I dug myself (metaphor) out of my lethargy after a week of some sort of horrific stomach bug (metaphor) contracted in Canada and dragged myself (metaphor) to The Pfister again so that I could enjoy the two new Pop-Up (metaphor) Gallery exhibits and Artist-in-Residence Pamela M. Anderson’s painting to the music of Nineteen Thirteen–it wasn’t surprising to me that my interpretive antennae went into overdrive.

. . . . .

TRANSFORMATION: AN EXHIBITION

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An initial browse through the Coalition of Photographic Arts (CoPA) presentation of Transformation: An Exhibition revealed to me a stunning array of interpretations.  I went in with no preconceptions or knowledge about the exhibit other than the expectation that I would experience photographic expressions of “transformation,” which CoPA defines on their site as “a thorough or dramatic change in form or appearance; a metamorphosis, renewal, a revolution.”  I wasn’t aware before Gallery Night that the exhibit also had a civic component–

“Our city is working hard to reinvent itself, and as individual photographers we endeavor to move outside our comfort zones–to transform the way we interpret subjects.”

–nor was I aware of the process by which photographs were created, juried, and displayed.

It was curious to me, then, why all the placards mentioned the surfaces or substrates on which the photographs were printed: “the toothiness of the paper” (nice metaphor!), “the canvas substrate,” “the rich, elegant surface,” “the high-tech, rigid, durable feel of the material.”  Even more curious, coming from an educational background, were the descriptions of each work that struck me as quite similar to assignment or learning objectives: “This assignment will ___.”  “The student will ___.”  Each followed a similar template:

“The paper will enhance the graininess of the photo.”  

“The high-tech, rigid durable feel of the material will match the industrial subject of the photo.”  

“The cold look and feel of metallic relates to the cold feel of the image.”  

“There is a soft, dreamlike sense to the image that fits with the sophisticated look and feel of the paper.”

I learned that photographers submitted their work to CoPA, and selections were juried by the Haggerty Museum of Art, who determined how Prime Digital Media (PDM) should print each work.  Pam Ferderbar, CoPA president, explained it this way in The Shepherd Express:

“The transformation occurs when you take a digital image and apply it to a surface that has the ability to not only provide a tactile experience, but that literally conveys the emotion of the subject.”

I studied Melody Carranza’s 3 Kings, Ruth Yasko’s ethereal Mannequins, and Dennis Darmek’s watercolor-like Swimmer.  I wondered how 3 Kings would change if it were applied to something other than Sunset Metallic Photo Paper, whether some of the dreaminess of Mannequins would be lost on something other than Luster Premium Photo Paper, or if the liquid sunlight in one my favorites, Swimmer, could be achieved only on Big Jet Universal Photo Gloss Paper.  I have every confidence that the Haggerty jurors chose wisely, because these three photographs and the dozen others are revealed in dramatic and moving ways by their surfaces.

I started thinking about how our daily lives are affected by the “surfaces” and “textures” in them: the ones we apply ourselves, the ones that others bring, the ones that pre-exist as part of our daily landscape.  

If your day is textured from the outset by insomnia and an annoyingly blaring alarm, then God help the poor co-workers who will experience your rough demeanor the rest of the day.  If your day, however, is textured with sunrise yoga and perfectly brewed coffee, then those same co-workers might be smiled upon by your yogic brightness.  It matters, doesn’t it, whether others intentionally or unintentionally texture your day with nettling emails or mean gossip rather than meaningful conversation and positive reinforcement.  It matters whether the sky is sunny or rainy, whether the news is uplifting or depressing, whether the pavement is rough or smooth.  Most of all, I think, everything depends on what surface or substrate we choose to apply ourselves to each day–no matter what the world has determined for us.  

YOSEMITE & THE TETONS

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I made my way to the back of the gallery, where a companion exhibit, Yosemite and the Tetons, features the photography of CoPA founding member Tom Ferderbar.  A celebration of the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, these photographs capture the majesty of two of our national treasures, both on a small scale (as in the rock at Mirror Lake or a black barn in a field at the base of the Tetons) and a large scale (as in Bridalveil Fall or Tetons #5).  I got a chance to talk to Mr. Ferderbar, who studied under Ansel Adams in his Yosemite National Park workshop.  He began by describing the difference between amateur photographs (like the ones I took on my recent visit to Yosemite) and professional ones:

I’ve been to so many other national parks, but the photos I took there were just snapshots.  To shoot a particular mountain or scene, you have to think about the purpose of shooting it and go without your family, camera out the window.  You have to go by yourself or with an assistant.  

Getting more specific, Ferderbar pointed out two of the photographs hanging in the exhibit, Teton Moonset #1 (July 2012) and Teton Moonset Black and White (July 2012):  

Thanks to the Internet, I could find out exactly when the moon would still be up even after the sun had already risen.  By the time I took the photo, unfortunately, smoke had moved in from a forest fire.  I had taken into account the topographic quadrangles, gotten to my spot an hour before, watched the moon moving down, sometimes having to move 100 yards or so to get the right angle.  By the time I took the photo, unfortunately, smoke had moved in from a forest fire–you can see the glow in the clouds.  The sun wasn’t right. 

He rendered the photo in color and black and white, saying he prefers the black and white because it obscures the glow from the clouds that he hadn’t been going for, but also because it creates a wholly new texture and mood.  The white of the snow pops out differently, the moon creates a sense of mystery as it punctuates an otherwise dark landscape.  As Ferderbar described this process, which I hope I’m rendering correctly, I couldn’t help but think about how he was describing the effect that atmospheric textures–and the time of day and I imagine even the temperature, as well as the forest fire, whether natural or man-made–had on this piece.

When I asked him what his favorite non-planned photographs were, he pulled up his website on his phone to show me a few from his Miscellaneous collection.

  • He likes the striking colors and textures in Record Shop, San Francisco CA (1968), the criss-cross of red and green framing the windows, the rusted cream fire hydrant in the foreground, the confetti-like litter.
  • A photo of his uncle is titled Soldier on WWII Furlough and it seems like a pretty straightforward portrait, but he appreciates the peculiar heft and angle of the cropped car on the left, his almost silhouetted uncle, standing stiffly with his right foot resting on the door ledge, a dog, left foot in motion, trotting toward him in the snow, with a weathered barn in the background against a white winter sky.  
  • He took Dusk, Melcher Hotel, Milwaukee WI (1958) with a 35mm wide angle lens.  Because the photo is way underexposed and the picture so tiny, it looks like blue film grain.  It appears almost pointillistic to me.  Ferderbar likes that there is a human component to the otherwise static photo: two guys sitting on the brightly lit steps to the hotel, which is where the Performing Arts Center is now.
  • Finally, when he showed me Plane and Birds, Milwaukeee WI Airport (1975), I told him how much it reminded me of the photo stills that make up the 1962 French classic La Jetée and he mused about how he knew the guy that was in charge of Midwest Airlines at the time and he let him sit at the end of the runway in order to get his shot of a plane landing, a flock of birds peppering the sky in front of it just as he took it.

Just like the photos in Transformation are transformed by the surfaces and textures to which they’ve been applied, Ferderbar’s photos express to me a similar metaphor: Sometimes we can plan for hours, days, even months for the perfect shot or experience, and sometimes we are pleased with the product, sometimes surprised by the unexpected outcomes.  Sometimes, too, that shot-on-the-fly or that spontaneous experience can reveal shapes and patterns and textures that we could have never planned.

I like that Ferderbar shared both kinds of photographs with me.  

PAMELA M. ANDERSON, FEATURING NINETEEN THIRTEEN

20160722_214305 (1) 20160722_214130 13833257_10154377389268909_1434921930_o 13838424_10154377394648909_1275315469_o 13838408_10154377395853909_141666941_o 13838591_10154377397958909_576671351_o13844050_10154377396213909_955475495_oI rounded off my evening in the Rouge Ballroom by experiencing a unique texture experiment that synthesized the experimental music of Nineteen Thirteen and the abstract painting of Pfister Artist-in-Residence Pamela M. Anderson.

I could try to do justice to Nineteen Thirteen musical stylings, but feel I should simply quote from their website’s homepage:

A cello crafted in Romania in the year 1913 is processed through today’s technology and framed by the percussion of Violent Femmes founding member Victor DeLorenzo.  

Cellist and composer Janet Schiff creates multi-layered, electrically amplified cello loops to the solid pulse of stereo drum rhythms. They interact in a sassy and superb fashion.

The cello is from 1913 and the music is from today.

Sassy and superb indeed.  At one point DeLorenzo drove–yes, like a car–his Zildjian cymbal, eventually using his snares to accompany Schiff in a plucking, strolling ostinato rhythm.  She began layering on top of that a Spanish dance melody which I soon realized was Maurice Ravel’s Bolero.

In another sassy move, DeLorenzo tipped over one drum, then his cymbals, then the other drum, lifted each and dropped them, stamped his feet on the stage to rattle them, tapped the side of the drum, and used untraditional parts of each instrument as Schiff worked in tandem with the languorous bowing of her cello.

When it came time for Anderson to paint, Schiff’s plucking reminded me of the Japanese koto Sakura, her bowing more classical, and DeLorenzo would lightly tap the drums for awhile, then his snares would sweep the drum head in long circles, then rattle the sides with expressive bursts.  The audience witnessed–perhaps for the first and only time–Anderson’s entire creative process, one shaped and textured by the music that Nineteen Thirteen was inviting her to interpret on paper.  In fact, Anderson used as one of her painting tools some of DeLorenzo’s snares.

Anderson was most influenced, she says, by “Victor’s drama and wanting to end the painting with a flourish.”  Her flourish?  The sudden and surprising addition of periwinkle blue.

This was a perfect example of how texture–this time, musical texture–could influence how a person created her world.  If Schiff’s cello or DeLorenzo’s drums had performed any differently, would periwinkle have appeared?  Where would the red have emerged–and how?  The black diagonal?  

. . . . .

It is what it is.  

It is what it is not.

I’ll always live in the first.  But I’ll always prefer the latter, because interpretation has allowed me from a young age to see my world differently and wonderfully.  It has allowed CoPA to transform photographer’s visions by layering them on one substrate versus another.  It has allowed Tom Ferderbar to capture mystery where there might not have been or beauty in what would normally be ignored or passed by.  And it has allowed Nineteen Thirteen and Pamela M. Anderson to create newness with every bow, pluck, snare, or stroke.

COMING SOON! A SPECIAL RETIREMENT TONIGHT, PLUS THE TEXTURES OF GALLERY NIGHT . . .

STAY TUNED!

Rocman “Roc” Whitesell retires from The Pfister Hotel tonight at 10:00 pm after 18 years of service as Concierge.  I got a chance to talk to him a few hours before he hung up his uniform.  Roc affirmed in my a belief in and celebration of ignorance–there is so much that we don’t know about so much . . . and that’s pretty cool.  I’ll be inviting Hotel associates and blog readers to share their favorite stories about Roc!

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Gallery Night last Friday in the Pop-Up Gallery and the Rouge Ballroom taught me about textures:

How atmospheric textures can affect a photograph of the Grand Tetons, or how printing in black and white versus color can lead to striking differences–thanks to insight offered by Coalition of Photographic Arts (CoPA) founding member Tom Federbar during the opening of his exhibit Yosemite & the Tetons.

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How printing a photograph on a different surface, such as Sunset Metallic Photo Paper or Brushed Aluminum or Breathing Color Elegant Velvet Fine Art Paper (all Prime Digital Media products), can change the way a photograph appears and is perceived.

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And how the musical textures of an electronically-amplified cello and the dramatic swish of snare drum brushes can affect what an artist such as Pamela M. Anderson, our Artist-in-Residence, sees and feels–and how that can translate to a blank canvas.

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All in all, to bridge the gap between the evening’s art and my life, I was reminded to attend to the “textures” in my own life–those I’ve been given, those others create for me, and those I create myself–and how they transform how I present myself to the world, how I am perceived, how I affect and effect.

Stay tuned for my full reflection on these stories!

 

 

October Gallery Night and “The Art of Marcus”

This October’s Gallery night was a particularly special one, not only for Timothy and The Pfister, but for associates across all three properties owned by our parent company, Marcus Hotels.

“The Art of Marcus”

Some incredibly talented artists from here at The Pfister Hotel, The InterContinental Milwaukee & The Hilton Milwaukee City Center gathered together on Friday, October 19th in the Rouge Ballroom for a special exhibit entitled “The Art of Marcus.” Featuring twelve artists, and over 40 pieces of work, this special exhibit curated by current Pfister-in-Artist, Timothy Westbrook.

Featuring work across numerous mediums from fabric, to ceramics to painting, photography and more – Associates had a chance to display an often hidden and unknown side of their talents beyond their roles as hotel employees and members of the Marcus Hotels family. We posted early about all of the participating associates here.

As part of the event, Timothy created 5 awards in the following categories that were announced by Marcus President & CEO, Greg Marcus towards the end of the post-Gallery Night reception:

  Viewers Choice –
 Best in Show, Pfister Hotel –
Best in Show, InterContinental Hotel –
Best in Show, Hilton Milwaukee City Center –
Best in Show, Overall –

Best in Show, Overall winner, Charles Nickles will have his own exhibit at Gallerie M in the Intercontinental Hotel in early 2013

Sponsors of the event included Utrect Art Supplies and Digital Edge Copy & Print Centers.  Prizes across the categories included a Utrect supply bag, gift certificates to Digital Edge, Profolio Art Portfolios and more.

In all, four individuals were thrilled to have been recognized in the award categories, including the Pfister’s own Alison Barnick as Best in Show, Pfister Hotel and Charles W. Nickles as Viewers Choice and Best in Show, Overall.

As part of his Charles’ awesome honor (and probably the part we’re most excited about), Charles will have his own exhibit hosted at Gallerie M in the InterContinental Hotel.

Joshua Hunt took the award for Best in Show, InterContinental Hotel and Daryl Stoll won Best in Show, Hilton Milwaukee City Center. 

Timothy Westbrook, Artist-in-Residence

All the while curating and coordinating the “Art of Marcus” event in the rouge, Timothy’s studio was jam packed through much of Gallery Night as visitors stopped in to see his progress to-date.

Featuring several of his dresses from the RunUp 2012 event at the Pritzlaff Building a few weeks earlier, and his in-progress unicorn costume for Halloween, there was really no shortage of conversation to be had for visitors to the Westbrook studio.

A personal highlight by many were the awesome PBR shoes that Timothy had made for a PBR Art Show that occurred on the same night as RunUp 2012.

 

All and all the evening made for a fantastic turnout, with arguably the best Gallery Night reception we’ve held at the Pfister yet.

You can check out our full gallery of photos from the “Art of Marcus” event over on our Facebook page (and you don’t need a Facebook account to see them). 

The Art of Marcus – Gallery Night Exhibit

 

We’re making this Gallery Night one of the most memorable ever as we feature our very own aspiring and inspiring artists, capsule in a very special Marcus associate exhibit.  Associates were invited to share the works of their artistic passion with their co-workers and the Milwaukee art community.

Associates were encouraged to submit their finest pieces for inclusion in this juried exhibit, curated by current Pfister Artist-in-Residence, Timothy Westbrook, with the Best of Show winner receiving a featured exhibit at Gallerie M at InterContinental Milwaukee in Spring of 2013.

Gallery Night: Friday, buy cialis October 19, 2012

  • The Art of Marcus Show opens in The Rouge at 9am. (Lobby Level of the Pfister hotel.)
  • Gallery Night is 5pm-9pm in The Rouge and the Artist in Residence studio.
  • Gallery Night Reception 9pm – 11:30pm in The Rouge with complimentary snacks and a cash bar.

Artist Awards
Five artist awards will be presented at 10:00pm on Friday, October 19th, during the Gallery Night Reception.

• Viewers Choice
• Hilton Milwaukee Best in Show
• InterContinental Milwaukee Best in Show
• The Pfister Hotel Best in Show
• Overall Best in Show

As prelude to this exciting exhibit, we wanted to take a moment to recognize each of the participating artists and members of the Marcus family by putting a face to their name.

Please note: Not yet pictured are artists Carol Kraco, Charles W. Nickles, Valerie Ryan-Cone & Amanda Walters.

 

 

Artist: Alison Barnick
Hotel: The Pfister Hotel
Department: Cafe
Title: Server

Artist: Jenny Cesar
Hotel: The Hilton Milwaukee City Center
Department: Hilton Cafe
Title: Server

Artist: Joshua Hunt
Hotel: The InterContinental Milwaukee
Department: Valet
Title: Bell/Valet

Artist: Shelly Liban
Hotel: The Pfister Hotel
Department: Mason Street Grill
Title: Server

Artist: Kevin Maille
Hotel: The InterContinental Milwaukee
Department: Catering
Title: Catering Event Manager

Artist: Rae Malecki
Hotel: The Pfister Hotel
Department: Front Desk
Title: PBX Operator

Artist: Michelle J. McCarragher
Hotel: The Pfister Hotel
Department: Executive Office
Title: Executive Assistant

Artist: Daryl Stoll
Hotel: The Hilton Milwaukee City Center
Department: Reservations
Title: Reservation Sales Agent

Timothy’s 2nd Gallery Night + “Wedding” After Party

Photo Credit: Alison Barnick (who also happens to be a Pfister Employee)
http://www.flickr.com/photos/fotobug8/

Pfister Artist in Residence, Timothy Westbrook’s second gallery night took place on Friday, July 27th. With the intention of creating a piece that referenced Elizabethan, Timothy decided to tell a story with his second gallery night piece.  Using guides from the 1890s, he created a piece that reflects Queen Victoria’s popularizing of the color white in wedding gowns.

Much like his first piece, Timothy’s fiber art is composed of re-purposed materials, and this piece was no exception.  Utilizing white plastic bags, Timothy weaved a fantastic  Wedding dress – a dress that tied in surprisingly well with Art Milwaukee’s “Wedding”, a Gallery Night after event that was held in the Pfister. But don’t take our word for it, hear Timothy’s thoughts about his second Gallery Night and the privledge of being involved in the event in the video below.

Timothy also used the Gallery Night event as an opportunity to exhibit some of his dyed gowns from earlier in the summer with the help of some local models, and the help of Botique B’Lou.

After Gallery viewing ended at 9pm, the evening commenced upstairs with Art Milwaukee‘s “Wedding” in the Pfister’s Imperial Ballroom.

Artists from throughout the city were on hand to ‘live paint’ through the evening while mock wedding events occurred throughout.

“I have a Much larger sense of accomplishment…” 

Check out some of the great photos from the evening below (for a full gallery, visit us on Facebook)…

Map of Gallery Night & Day, July 27-28, 2012

For your convenience, The Pfister has assembled a handy interactive Google Map of all of the participating venues in this weekend’s gallery night. Zoom, click, drag, and scroll your way around the map to see the full picture of what Milwaukee’s Gallery Night has to offer.

Find the full map, along with a Legend and a full list of participating venues here: http://goo.gl/maps/sbu7f

We’d love to see you at the Pfister, where you can visit our Artist-In-Residence, Timothy Westbrook from 5 to 9pm on Friday night and throughout the day on Saturday.

More information about Milwaukee’s Gallery Night & Day can be found here, courtesy of the Historic Third Ward Association.


View Gallery Night and Day – July 27 – 28, 2012 in a larger map

Timothy Westbrook’s First Gallery Night

Timothy Westbrook, Pfister Artist in Residence, celebrated his first gallery night Friday, April 20th 2012. The event was a great success. Here’s a glimpse into Timothy’s rationale behind “The Femme Nouvelle” piece and the evenings events.

The show began around 5:30 pm with Timothy reenacting a turn of the century dressing with his model Rose.

Timothy walked through the process of tightening a traditional corset and discussed his use of recycled fabric. Both the corset and the prototype skirt were fashioned out of recycled Pfister hotel bed sheets that he had dyed a beautiful deep purple.

Over the corset and prototype skirt, Rose donned a Timothy Westbrook original jacket.

Timothy specializes in weaving with recycled materials.  The fabric used in the jacket was hand woven by Timothy with both wool and the cassette tape. The shimmer of the cassette tape reflected the light wonderfully.

Timothy then fashioned the jacket from this woven material. The details on the sleeves and lapels were exquisite.

 

There were some friendly faces in the crowd. Last year’s Artist in Residence, Shelby Keefe, came out to support Timothy and couldn’t help touching the fabric.

The night was full of art, cheese, wine and conversation. Timothy is already preparing for his next gallery night to be held in July.

Thanks to everyone who came out to support our 2012 Artist in Residence and please stop by the Westbrook studio in the Pfister to see more of Timothy’s work.

 

 

Our New AIR Timothy Westbrook’s First Gallery Night: tons of surprises in store!

Timothy Westbrook’s first gallery night will be exciting and very interesting. He has both stagnant and performance components to the event.

Here’s a sneak peek of what he’s working on for the show.

Timothy Westbrook’s first gallery night will be in conjunction with the Milwaukee wide “Gallery Day and Night” event.

Updated information: Timothy’s performance piece to open at 5 pm

At 5:00 pm Timothy’s model, Rose, will be assisted into her corset fashioned after clothing from 1902. Promptly after, her hair will be styled. This will take place in the studio gallery and is open to the public. Watch as he fits her into the corset and ask him any questions about the piece you may have. The audience will experience up close a period style daily dressing routine of the early 1900’s.

She will then interact with the audience in the rouge till the last guest leaves! Timothy will be in between the rouge and his studio answering questions and interacting with the audience.

Guests are invited for light appetizers and cash bar in the rouge.

The best part about starting at the Pfister for Gallery Day & Night is you can park at the Pfister and take a shuttle to the other galleries.

Gallery Night Xpress has five convenient stops throughout the Third Ward and East Town.

– 212 N. Milwaukee St. (in front of parking structure)
– The Pfister Hotel

– Hotel Metro

– InterContinental Milwaukee

– 225 E. Chicago St. (in front of parking structure)

Come join us at The Pfister to welcome Timothy to Milwaukee.

Time Lapse Painting with Shelby Keefe

We’re honored to have such talent within our midst. Shelby is not only a very talented painter but she’s also pretty quick at it, too.

Enjoy the artistic process the went into “Waning on the Day” by Shelby Keefe.

Visit thepfisterhotel.com/​artistinresidence to learn more about Shelby Keefe.

9 o’clock on a Saturday

While the evening was waning for most of Gallery Night attendees in the Third Ward — and elsewhere around the city — in the main ballroom off the Pfister lobby, Rouge, the party was just beginning.  In the center of the room, quite literally taking main stage, was a set-up ready for a rockstar.  Elevated dais, multi-colored lights on metal scaffolding, a screen to the left featured a close-up of the canvas and easel standing center and a screen to the right featured a close-up of a paint palette.  The canvas center stage was awash in colors – shaded in diagonals, melting into one another, from the left corner down to the bottom right.

Taking the stage

The contrast was striking: flashy, rainbow-colored lighting in this techno-savvy art presentation vs. crystal chandeliers, huge mirrors and gilded edging around the room where the ceiling meets the walls.  It was old meets new in spectacular fashion.

A woman steps up onto the stage and people, many with wine glasses or beer bottles and plates of appetizers, all hush as they turn to face the stage.  Even those looking at the paintings hung on the back wall turned around to pay attention to what was about to happen.  The woman was slender with bobbed blonde hair and dressed in all black – cropped pants, comfy black sandals; a collared shirt, and loose vest swaying with her movements.  It was clear she wasn’t dressed to be the main attraction, though she was the reason everyone was here – even the band, set up to the side of the room adjacent to a dance floor where some people sat so they could have a clear view of the stage.

Shelby Keefe, the current Artist-in-Residence at the Pfister Hotel, announces what she’s going to do: For the next twenty minutes, she’s going to paint, to music, an entire scene on the canvas set up for this purpose.  She’s never painted this scene before and is using a photograph to work from.  A computer screen offstage left is set up with a counter on it – 20:00.  Shelby introduces the band: the Mali Blues Group, and begins.

20 minutes to go.

Initially she starts out painting white, and then teal, circular strokes in the upper left corner of the canvas.  Less than four minutes in and she remembers to put on her painting smock.  More color – browns and tans, followed by black lines with reading glasses at the ends – no, wait, not reading glasses: it’s a streetlamp!  The painting is coming to life and it feels like Pictionary while everyone buzzes to their neighbor about what they think they are seeing.

The band grooves away on their instruments: a drum set and guitar with African percussion and a wooden, stringed instrument called a kamelon ngoni.  Their “One Love” banners are draped on either side of the stage, at their feet, and the love is definitely in the air as several people move to the dance floor.

Shelby bobs to the beats and rhythms put out by the band, while her hands move floridly with such smooth, practiced motions that the effect is as incongruous as patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time.

12 minutes left on the clock.

Buildings are taking shape.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, but this Milwaukee streetscape is being built in less than 20 minutes.  Now half a dozen dancers are on the floor, sashaying and spinning.  Shelby glances at the photograph in her hand as she swashbuckles paint onto the canvas.

9 minutes remain.

A dancer whips her ponytail around while lifting her knees high to the beat of the percussion, her Chaco-clad feet are barely on the ground for any length of time as the music picks up.  There are several pairs of bare feet and one guy is even in socks.

3 minutes.

The tension has been building, the music matches the pacing, more dancers arrive, and the painting is really coming together now.  There’s a clear depiction of flowers in purples and pinks, and a distinct red canopy that is clearly the Wisconsin Avenue entrance of the Pfister.

0 minutes.

Color on the dance floor

As the timer ends and the music winds down, the grand final flourishes are applied to the painting and the room is filled with applause.  Shelby takes a moment to thank everyone, and says “I’ll be out there dancing!” and when off she goes to the floor, the party goes with her.

Back at the bar on the other side of the room, I meet Deena who says, with the feathers in her hair catching the colors from the stage lights: “She has a way of looking at reality that is so colorful, with such an elegant spin.”  And, in one sentence, she captures the entire night: a colorful reality with an elegant spin.