VIEW FROM THE STUDIO: EMILY CLEMENT
The larger part goes over the smaller part”, I said while instructing my daughter on tying a tie for the first time. Looking down, I see the rust-colored monochrome pinstripes in three inch sections bordered by light and dark blue triangles, all running at a 45 degree angle. I feel the familiar combination of fabric textures and smile. I always loved the mixture of colors, patterns and materiality of my dad’s favorite tie. It has become a cherished item after his passing almost a decade ago and still emotes his presence.
The work of Emily Clement has this kind of patterned soul. Her pieces are connectors to the past in a contemporary language, patterned puzzles that play with space. They flip back and forth from flatly painted floral wallpaper to a still life of flowers merging and coalescing with both the material surface and spatial perception of what we are viewing. In much of the work, eras co-mingle. One piece titled “Floral Pattern 2” has painted elements from her mother’s scarf from the 70’s (which Emily currently wears) that are juxtaposed against contemporary hand stitched/drawn water patterns floating on a starry dark fabric. It is small yet otherworldly, a cosmos of hidden meaning and material exploration.
The white walled studio is at the heart of her Bay View home, which she shares with fiancé and musician Sean Nolan. An easel in the corner holds a freshly stretched and gessoed canvas. Drawings are pinned up next to it, seeds of inspiration for this new piece. Looking closely at these drawings was a visual feast with every inch of the surface considered fully. One in particular shows a goose reaching up in a field of floral pattern, perhaps giving one last honk before becoming pattern itself, its back and wings already having started to flatten. Next to this is a painting that leans on an ironing board and jumps out at me against the wall’s whiteness. At first, “Flowers in the Red Room” looks like a bouquet of flowers sitting on a bench, but upon closer inspection becomes much more mysterious. The golden flowered bouquet, still wrapped in plastic, is actually hovering over an egg-like shape that is patterned with more flowers. This dream like feeling is enhanced by the red and pink leafy background partially obscured by two cast shadows from the bouquet. “I think all the time about the energy that rooms or spaces have. I’m obsessed with ghosts. Almost all of my living room furniture is from my grandparents and they’re not with us anymore. It makes me wonder what type of energy is attached to it,” Clement says. Her works are like long forgotten scents, surprising yet familiar memories experienced anew.
VIEW FROM THE STUDIO: BEN HIGGINS
Walking up the stairs and around a corner, I’m met by a small room at the peak of artist Bennie Higgins’ house. Some walls slant and are painted light olive complimenting the soft blue walls. The easel is centered in the room with a perfect view from the door. Shelves of books, music and art supplies line the walls around the easel and paintings of family and friends cover the remaining walls. It feels like an incubator, the walls insulated with memory and insight. In addition to this home studio, he also has a space at 5 Points Studio and Gallery in Milwaukee.
Currently on the easel is a painting of his “Alter-ego”, a trumpet player. ‘I’m going to write the notes to “So What” in this area when the paint dries,” he motions to an open area of thickly applied paint. In the past, I have known Higgins to paint thinly with multiple glazes. It was surprising to see him using thick impasto and a pallet knife.
As we move to another area of the studio, he pulls out the self-portrait that had inspired me to contact him for this article. In his eyes is a calm wisdom, a sense of peace that commingles with direct yet nuanced paint handling. Light streams down and catches a single white hair on his mustache directing us to the edge of the mouth which is ever so slightly upturned, assuring the viewer and artist that indeed, all is well. “It is a portrait of me entering into a more peaceful place. I work with men that have gone through a lot of trauma as my day job, and managing that vicarious drama is something I have to do. Even on the police department, that was something I had to work to do. I felt I had transformed a lot of that energy on the day that painting was made, plus the beard is really greying up. This year has been a struggle.” Instead of doing his work hands-on he is working virtually. “I can’t hear people breathe or feel their presence, it’s just a flat screen, kind of like listening to Jazz but I can’t really hear it. With Covid, domestic violence is up, one-third of the men I work with have lost their job. They have so many deep questions of how to be in this world. But when I’m done, I come up here and this is my space.” He reaches over and grabs a small wood carving that he did when he was young. “My big brother is an artist, I learned from him.” He starts to talk with admiration about this influence and I realize that he has dedicated his life to being that brother to other men. The last piece he shows me is a portrait sculpture which seems to be a bridge from his childhood, a tactile reminder that soon we will again co-exist in heart and body.
VIEW FROM THE STUDIO: REBEKAH KNUTH
The bean bag bodies climb over each other to maneuver for warmth, down dusted on their dimpled skin flutters as the evening breeze blows. The 12-day old ducklings squish together three deep, into a new, larger organism with more body heat, like a fawn pressed to the earth. I shiver and wonder to myself if this is where the term “goosebumps” comes from. I would like to pick up the pile and share my warmth with them, feel their softness on my cheek; even though I know they will soon go inside for the night. It’s magical that in the morning I sat down to write about Rebekah Knuth, an artist who lovingly raises and draws her flock, and within an hour my neighbor visited with ducklings from her farm.
The entire afternoon was full of smiles and laughter watching these new baby ducklings explore the world for the first time. I watched with amusement as they ran from one corner of the yard to the other, the sight of their miniature wings flapping for flight and brand-new legs inevitably pulled laughter out of all who observed.
Few observe the feathered species like Knuth. The drawings of her birds are family portraits made with the simplest of means, colored pencil on egg white paper done on the kitchen table. A deeper understanding is acquired when drawing something or someone for hours of concentrated attention. These drawings are not so much rendered as they are preened, knit together with small pecks of color layered to create a smooth eggshell sheen. Of all the choices of materials, the pencil is most beak-like. In these drawings there is no background, the focus is entirely on the subject, the beauty of its plumage and uniqueness of its personality. In a portrait called “Peeps”, a beautiful Muscovy hen with a knowing grin is drawn by Knuth with Durer-like sensitivity, the modeled plumage admired and translated with wonder and layered precision. When discussing this drawing Knuth says, “I am an emotional drawer. I need to have some connection to really create a successful portrait or tell a believable story. Peeps was a first-time mother this year and watching her raise her four babies was an incredible experience. I’m so proud of her and have so much respect for her now. I just needed to do a tribute portrait of her.”
Living and working in New London, WI, with her husband, artist Joshua Knuth, the couple cohabitate with a dog and 22 birds, all of whom have become an integral part of the family. She has a blog called The Daily Floof where viewers can see the growth, development and love that goes into their raising.
Knuth’s drawings are not only a reflection on the beauty of these beings but on the joy and wisdom they bring to her, which in turn, she shares with us.
See more work on Instagram at @rebekahknuth
About Todd Mrozinski
Todd Mrozinski acquired his BFA in painting and drawing from the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design in 1997 where he was the recipient of a Fredrick Layton Scholarship and attended The New York Studio Program. He was the 2015-16 Pfister Artist-in-Residence and curator of The Pfister Pop-Up Gallery. He is represented by The Woodman/Shimko Gallery, Provincetown, MA/Palm Springs, CA. Todd is is a contributing art writer for Urban Milwaukee and teaches drawing and painting for MIAD’s Pre-College and Continuing Education Programs. He and his wife, Renee Bebeau, have a studio in The Nut Factory in Milwaukee, WI.