Saturday, July 13, 2013

Art Fair on/off the Square

This weekend, each year, I wish I had piles of money stacked around me. They wouldn't last long, I promise, as they would go to the artists featuring work at Madison's Art Fair on the Square and Art Fair off the Square. Why two outdoor art shows on the same weekend, literally one block away from each other? Rumor has it that a lot of Wisconsin artists were upset that their pieces were not picked for Art Fair on the Square, so they formed their own art fair off the square. I'm sure it's all far more complicated than that, but suffice it to say that on this weekend, 200,000 people descend on Madison (don't worry, we're used to it) to browse and buy art.

I don't make it every year, but when I do, I am wowed by the variety presented. I think there are something along the lines of over 500 artists showing their work this weekend. every time I go, I find a handful of artists whose work I fall in love with. This year was no exception:

First is whipplebirds, by artist Judith Whipple. You really need to see these guys in person, in three dimensions. They are colorful, whimsical, beautiful, with a touch of the surreal. I'd love to have a few of these to decorate the house. And I'm not even much of a bird-lover. Maybe I'm trying to compensate for the bird that flew into my windshield this morning. Anyway . . .

I spotted Ryan Peters' raku pottery from across a large crowd of people at the Art Fair off the Square. I'm pretty picky about my pottery, so you can bet that his pieces are pretty unique to have caught my eye from that far away. Unique, but elegant. Classy stuff.

Kevin Eslinger's bizarre interpretations of popular-culture icons was strange and refreshing. I was particularly fond of his Sesame Street zombie ensemble. My adult son and I watched a young boy, maybe four years old, start to point out the Sesame Street painting to his mother, then drop his hand and his jaw when he saw that his favorite characters were not quite right. He's probably scarred for life. But we were entertained!

Now, I've been a big fan of scrimshaw since I saw the impressive collection displayed at House on the Rock. Moby Dick didn't help my obsession much, either. So, imagine my surprise when I stumble on Tree of Life Art Works scrimshaw works. My, oh, my. They truly are gorgeous. Yes, they look good online, but they look stunning in person. Beautiful black and ivory contrast with some of the best line-work I've seen done in a while. I could have dropped a large wad of money here, had I had it.

The artist that caught me by surprise, however, that really knocked my socks off, is a fairly local artist (he lives not far from House on the Rock, in fact) named Nick Ringelstetter. His work combines the best of lowbrow tattoo-style art with a surreal science fiction, monster-movie bent that is brash and brilliant. His website, atomic7studio, only begins to capture the vibrancy of his artwork. Now, granted, a lot of it is done on skateboards, and I haven't skated since that unfortunate chin-bashing I took on a half-pipe when I was 19, but I can be forgiving. He also has some beautiful pieces painted over traffic signs. There was one particular piece that blew me away that, unfortunately, I don't see on his website or in his ebay shop (also, unfortunately,  I didn't have the money to buy it). It was a scene of grey and silver flying saucers and tentacled creatures rampaging through and around a city-scape, all on a blindingly-fluorescent orange stop sign for a background. Talk about eye-candy! I asked him if he did T-shirts, but, like many artists, the economics of scale don't work in his favor. Too bad, because I think he could sell them like hotcakes. Seriously, I can't get enough of this guy's work.

So there you have my top picks for Art Fair on and off the Square. If you happen to have $1000 or so laying around and can't decide what to do with it, I'm open to grants that allow me to buy artwork. Consider this blog-post the grant proposal.

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