In Arts & Entertainment

A John Kowalczyk creation.

In Arts & Entertainment

Nina Bednarski created this storefront at Riverwest Video in early 2015.

Bay View Gallery Night spotlight: Nina Bednarski and John Kowalczyk

Milwaukee can't have too many gallery nights and on top of the quarterly Gallery Night and Day which includes numerous neighborhoods, Bay View started a bi-annual gallery night all its own.

This year, more than 45 local businesses and hundreds of local artists will participate in Bay View Gallery Night (BVGN) on Friday, June 5. Made In Milwaukee is organizing the event.

For the second year, Bay View Jazz Fest will happen simultaneously with BVGN. The jazz festival features 17 free shows at six different locations. Other highlights of the spring gallery night include Food Truck Friday in Morgan Park, a "community puzzle" at Refuge Smoothie Cafe, 422 E. Lincoln Ave., and The Makers Market – with more than 30 vendors – in the Colectivo parking lot, 2301 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.

Orange Gallery, 1438 E. Russell Ave., will celebrate its first gallery night with a grand opening party featuring DJ Malcolm Michiles and art from a variety of artists, including Nina Bednarski and John Kowalczyk.

OnMilwaukee.com recently chatted with Bednarski and Kowalczyk about art, Milwaukee and more.

OnMilwaukee.com: What brought you to Milwaukee?

Nina Bednarski: I grew up here. I went to a Milwaukee Public Montessori school and graduated from Wauwatosa East High School. I traveled around the United States and Europe studying art, lived in Brooklyn and Lake Mills, but moved back to Milwaukee last year.

John Kowalczyk: I'm originally from Chicago, but I moved here nine years ago to attend MIAD to study painting and I never left.

OMC: Are you a full-time artist and what kind of art do you do?

JK: I am a full-time artist. I consider myself a painter, very mixed media. I made a lot of kaleidoscope / geometric collages – pieces with a lot of pattern and layers and color. I'm really into using vintage fabrics, paper, wall prints or own screen prints and cutting them up. I like taking everyday mundane materials and creating a shrine to show they are more together than when they were apart.

NB: I've worked as a self-employed contractor for 15 years. I am an artist and set designer. I also do photo studio work and other freelance jobs. I am known for creating reverse painting on glass, mix media, canvas, installations. I undulate between hyper-realism and abstraction based on nature.

OMC: What different kinds of projects are you the most proud of and / or are currently working on?

NB: I am curating a show in the Usable Space Gallery called "Light" on June 19. I will also have a solo show in 2016 with 40 new pieces of work. I can't say where it is yet, but it's in Milwaukee and I'm super excited. I really like creating public art in storefronts with positive messages. I created one at Riverwest Video in January. I am also happy to have pieces in Orange Gallery. The owner, Ngoc (Lefunk), is such a sweet, cool lady.

JK: I teach art classes and work as the artistic director at Splash Studio in the Third Ward. I like to do big public art projects. I worked with Artists Working in Education (AWE) last summer and created an 80-foot mural in Mitchell Park. In early June, I'm leading a group of 7th and 8th grade students to create a painting at the intersection in front of Doerfler Community School. The students defined a design, proposed it to the city and got it approved. The Layton Boulevard neighborhood association is funding it.

On Dec. 12, 2012, Pegi Christiansen and I organized a 12-hour performance piece called "12/12/12."

OMC: What will you have on display at Orange Gallery during Bay View Gallery Night?

JK: I have eight collage-based paintings, a three-dimensional lamb head and a jackalope head. I made the heads out of cardboard, paper mache, wood scraps, whatever and then the surface is treated with fabric and ribbons and papers.

I really like Orange Gallery. It's a nice little space where you can get yourself a cookie at Groppi's (across the street), and then go buy some art and then grab a drink just down the block.

NB: I have a series of shaman healing animals. It's been a very symbiotic relationship between Ngoc and I. She was just starting out as a gallery owner and I gave her a few pieces and she sold some of my work. It's been great.

OMC: What are your thoughts in general about the Milwaukee art community?

JK: I think Milwaukee has a great, supportive community and it's a very accessible city for artists to live in. As an artist, you can be a bigger fish in a smaller pond here. I do think we have our challenges here in Milwaukee, but I'm sticking with it. Since I moved here, the number of galleries and art spaces has doubled or even tripled. Some really good things are happening.

NB: I came back to Milwaukee as a landing place after some changes in my life, but I am enjoying it here and I think I'm going to stay. It's a good place for artists who are ambitious, like working with others and are able and willing to make money in a variety of different ways.


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