April 8 - June 11
At Var Gallery on 5th
Var Gallery is pleased to present "Early Work, Recent Work" by Jill Sebastian.
Jill Sebastian’s work prods the disquiet of living. She asks, what are the comfortable lies we tell ourselves about how the world is structured? Through fragmentation, Sebastian creates metaphors that meld pressing social concerns with autobiographical experiences by pulling apart and reconstructing common objects and places as off-kilter.
In her first exhibition at Var, Early Work, Recent Work, the artist shares her reflections on how some themes and approaches reappeared throughout her 40-year career. She states, “ Over the years, my preoccupations have matured from the immediacy of exploring my individual psyche to seek a footing in the issues of my time.” Represented in this exhibition are works from several series focusing on relationships between nature and culture, material and language, through war, childhood suicide, and environmental crisis.
Jill Sebastian grew up in steel towns of the Midwest rust belt which has formed her as an artist. Her sculpture, drawings and installations have been exhibited in museums and galleries across the United States and internationally (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Milwaukee, Tele Aviv, Amsterdam and more). Sebastian’s public art includes: a musical fence in New Orleans; an architecturally integrated literary project for the Milwaukee Convention Center (with Woodland Pattern Book Center); a streetscape (with Ken Saiki Design) for Madison, WI; and a mosaic for the Genome Center at UW-Madison. Her concerns with community participation and subliminal choreography underlying all her public work is expressed in the site-specific sculptural pocket park she developed among five baseball fields in Wick Park, Milwaukee. Sebastian has collaborated with Deb Loewen, Wild Space Dance Company to create a site-specific installation and hour-long multi media work, Art of the Ordinary, at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Other collaborators include composers Burt Levy and Josh Schmidt, writers John Koethe and Jon Erickson and filmmaker Jake Fuller. Among her awards are a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship 1985, City of Milwaukee Artist of the Year 1997 and Wisconsin Visual Art Lifetime Achievement Award 2016. Jill Sebastian is a Professor Emerita at Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design.
THE MAKING OF A UNIVERSE
June 9 - July 30
At Var Gallery on 2nd
"Queer Cosmology: The Making of a Universe" is an exhibition that explores the re-imagining of religion, myth, and physics through world building. In the face of rising Christian nationalism and its harmful effects on the queer community, this exhibition looks at the ways in which the creation of new universes can serve as a tool for reflection, critique, and imagination. The show is divided into four parts: drawings, paintings, virtual reality, and the "brainstorm" aspect.
The abstract networks of layered lines, dots, and dashes in the drawings represent the "physics" of the universe, loosely inspired by string theory and quantum physics with a sci-fi twist. The movements of these lines are based on the word "queer" and its etymology, embodying the essence of bending, twisting, inverting, and perverting. The drawings, both on a micro and macro scale, act as the invisible force behind the visible world, and highlight the relationships between distant and close parts.
The paintings in the second part of the exhibition depict the gods, deities, elementals, spirits, cryptids, animals, and beings that inhabit the world, often inspired by Nykoli’s revised, reimagined, and colorful version of biblical myth and associated folklore. These beings have raw and authentic identities, connected to all that surrounds them, and serve as empowered versions of themselves, rewriting their stories for the benefit of queer and marginalized communities.
The virtual reality realms in the third part of the exhibition serve as the environment for these entities, bringing an atmospheric element to the exhibition and giving form to the elements of the drawings and paintings.
Finally, the "brainstorm" aspect, the fourth part of the show, features the sketches, writings, mock-ups, and thoughts that go into the creation of the larger works in the exhibition, as well as those yet to be made. This aspect highlights the process of piecing together the elements to create a story that incorporates a kinkier, stranger, alien, and gayer biblical mythos.
Overall, "Queer Cosmology: The Making of a Universe" demonstrates the power of world building as a means of activism and empowerment for queer people and all those "othered" during the rise of Christian nationalism. It invites viewers to explore new ways of understanding their connection to themselves, each other, and their environment through the creation of a new universe.
Nykoli Koslow is a visual artist working in the realm of painting, drawing, installation and VR. Fusing abstraction with figuration, Nykoli anchors the innate trans* experience into a queer mythic cosmology. Personal experience, reinterpretations of familial cultural histories, mythology,
religion, mysticism, and sci-fi spill into his re-imagined worlds.
Nykoli Koslow graduated from University of Milwaukee-Peck School of the Arts in 2013 with an emphasis in painting and drawing, minoring in English. Since graduating, Nykoli has exhibited in and around Milwaukee including Wilson Center, Emerging Artist Exhibition. Var Gallery's, 30x30x30 exhibition. The Union Art Gallery, Translucent: A Transgender Empowerment Exhibition. And KSE Gallery for Kay Knight Continuum (2018) & Leslie Vansens Sitelines 42 (2022). Nykoli was commissioned to do a mural for Swanson Elementary in Brookfield WI, 2017 and was selected by Wallpapered City (sponsored by Trip Savvy New York) to create a mural for the NoMADmke Wauwatosa Mural Corridor in 2019. Nykoli was the Pfister Artist In Residence for the year 2021-2022. Nykoli recently completed a solo show at The Gallery Space in Saint Kate, Milwaukee WI, 2022.
this / that / the other thing
Feb 10 - April 9
At Var Gallery on 2nd
this / that / the other thing consists of new multi-media works that serve as a vehicle for humor and release from the present reality. Schneider shares, “Humor can dampen painful experiences. Nostalgia and humor also allow a person to let their guard down, allowing for harder to digest ideas to get through. It can draw someone in and allow nuance to be seen where it may otherwise be overlooked. My work often depicts violence or gore, a call back to childhood and Saturday morning cartoons or metaphor for internal suffering.”
Schneider’s works are striking both for their bold imagery and intensive construction. Each work is built as a custom panel of various shapes. He then cuts, paints, and stains individual pieces of wood to fit within these panels, in order to create objects and patterns. Paint, pencil or stickers are applied to the top of or inside the shaped panels in order to depict curious moments, odd objects, or to deface the original piece. In Scheider’s words, “I see these pieces as painting surfaces and, also, as wall hanging sculptures.”
Brian Schneider is a multi-disciplinary artist from Greenfield, Wisconsin. He received his BFA in 2014 from Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design. Schneider works in drawing, painting, photography, mixed media sculpture and digital.
Recent solo and group exhibitions include Structuring Bodies, Structuring Places (Var Gallery), Lost and Found (Riverwest Jazz Gallery), Figure Exhibition (Var Gallery), Gristle Art Gallery (Real Tinsel). His work has been collected by Pfister Hotel and Saint Kate Arts Hotel. This is his second solo exhibition at Var Gallery.
DAVID NAJIB KASIR
Neighborhoods in Subtraction
June 9 - Aug 6
At Var Gallery on 5th
Var Gallery is pleased to announce “Neighborhoods in Subtraction”, a solo exhibition of new works from David Najib Kasir at Var’s 5th Street location. The exhibition opens Saturday, June 17th, 2023. This is the artist’s second exhibition at Var Gallery, and first solo exhibition as a represented artist.
"Neighborhoods in Subtraction" is an exhibition that interrogates the role Western media plays in constructing cultural narratives, while centering a caring and concerning lens on the destruction of Syria and its people through large-scale paintings.
For Kasir, the works start from a personal place. “Iraq is my father’s country, and Syria is my mother’s as well as the second home of my youth. It is where my aunts, uncles and cousins are still living. It is where there are buildings where I slept in and streets where I played tag and other games as a child. I’ve witnessed years of destruction of my countries from US invasion, with very little regard from Western mainstream media to civilian casualties.”
This personal experience fueled Kasir’s anger and frustration, and gives way to large-scale paintings that place the viewer in the center of the neighborhood experiencing destruction. The viewer is confronted with encounters between civilians and soldiers, families embracing each other as they look on at the fallen buildings and rubble.
Making visible what happens to civilians is the intent of “Neighborhoods in Subtraction” and is placed in the larger context of cultural significance through the use of Arab design elements. As Kasir explains, “I entrap the Syrian landscapes in Arab mosaic patterns, not as a backdrop, but as a culture of people trying to hold up their structured environment as best as they can with little to no help from others.”
“Neighborhoods in Subtraction" questions how much devastation can be endured before the Western media starts to care. Kasir shares “I worked to create an awareness and concern of wars and families who have lived in lands of conflict that have terrorized their lives for years. A country that has been ravaged by Soviet bombings and attacks but is not getting the media attention, care and humanity that a dominantly white country would receive. Through these works, I create an environment that invites viewers to stand in the middle of a neighborhood that once housed families. A neighborhood that no longer looks like the streets I played in as a child.”
David Najib Kasir, a Milwaukee-based painter whose work is comprised of personal narratives and cultural history or events. In recent years, Kasir's work draws on stories from his parents’ journey to the U.S. and the current crisis from where they migrated (his mother migrated from Syria, and his father, Iraq). As an artist born here, Kasir reveals his cultural identity in paint and designs to inform viewers on the recent wars in Syria, in hopes of helping them develop an understanding of the millions of voiceless Arabs now living in chaos and disarray.
By using beautiful traditional Arab designs called Zellige to dress the figures in his work, Kasir shows the beauty of a culture and the tragedy as families try to hold on to it and each other as everything around them falls apart.
Kasir has a BFA in painting from Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design (2001) and is the proud father of two young adult daughters (one being an artist themselves).