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Arts in Milwaukee

A Public Service Of Milwaukee Artist Resource Network

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2018/2019 MARN Mentors


Della Wells is a self-taught artist who began drawing and painting in earnest at the age of 42. Della's work is about story telling. Her work ranges from collage and pastels to quilting. She has exhibited all over the United States and aboard. Her creative process stems primarily from her personal experiences embellished through the art of storytelling into visual work. Wells' work has been written about and has appeared in several publications including Betty-Carol Sellen's and Cynthia J. Johnson's book, '' Self Taught, Outsider and Folk Art, A Guide to American Artists, Locations and Resources, 2000 ed. and one of her images appears in a children's book published by National Geographic. In 2011, an award winning play which was inspired by her life, '' Don't Tell Me I Can't Fly'', debuted in Milwaukee. The play was commissioned by Milwaukee First Stage Children 's Theatre and written by Y York. In 2010, the play was selected to be read at the Kennedy Center in Washington D. C., for its New Visions, New Voices Festival. Since its debut in Milwaukee, the play has been produced in Nashville, Tennessee and in Charlotte, North Carolina. Wells' work is in over one hundred private and public collections. She has exhibited in various galleries, museums and art festivals all over the United States, Italy and British Columbia. She has been a feature artist at the Kentuck Festival of Arts, the largest art festival which features folk, self-taught and outsider art in the United States.


Jason S. Yi works across artistic disciplines: photography, video, sculpture, drawing, multimedia and installations. The expanded notions of culture, time and existential reality play a critical role in the creation of his work. He has exhibited nationally and internationally in places such as New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Chicago, Los Angeles, Japan, China, Korea, Vietnam, Italy and Austria. Notably, his work was included in the international biennial exhibition at the Inside-out Art Museum in Beijing in 2013 and in Sculpture/Milwaukee 2017, first international public art exhibition held in Milwaukee. His awards include Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters & Sculptors Grant, Mary L. Nohl Fellowship and Kamiyama Artist in Residence Fellowship, sponsored by the Japan Foundation. Among other places, he has participated in exhibitions at the Korea Society in NYC, Platform China in Beijing, Moran Museum of Art in Seoul, Kamiyama Art Museum in Kamiyama, Japan, Hotel Pupik in Schrattenberg, Austria, Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum, Madison Museum of Contemporary Art and Milwaukee Art Museum. His solo exhibition “Yellow Mountains and Other Places” at the Dean Jensen Gallery in Milwaukee has been reviewed in the Artforum Magazine’s Critic’s Pick’s by Lori Waxman. His works are included in the permanent collections of the Milwaukee Art Museum, Kamiyama Museum of Art in Japan, Korean Cultural Center in Los Angeles and the Edward F. Albee Foundation in New York. He is currently a faculty at Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design, gallery director of Hawthorn Contemporary and collaborates with Leah Kolb from the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art for the Plum Blossom Initiative, a curatorial and platforming project. Jason S. Yi lives and works in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.


Mutópe J. Johnson received his MFA degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Peck School of the Arts Department of Art & Design. Johnson also earned a BFA degree from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Arts and Communications Department. Mutópe’s recent accomplishments include being selected one of four University of Wisconsin-Whitewater 2015–2016 and 2016–2017 Inclusive Excellence Program Scholars, a distinguished 2013–2014 Imagining America P.A.G.E. Scholar (Publicly Active Graduate in Education) and a 2014 Dedalus Foundation Award-Nominee. Johnson’s’ visual art has been included in exhibitions at the Overture Center Fine Arts Gallery Madison, WI, the Charles Allis Fine Arts Museum, Northern Kentucky University Fine Arts Gallery, the Charles A. Wustum Fine Arts Museum, Racine WI, the Milwaukee Art Museum, Juxtaposition Gallery Minneapolis, MN, Susan Woodson’s Gallery Chicago, Ill, and many others. Mutópe’s professional background and broad range of experiences have included positions at large and small graphic design companies, advertising agencies and marketing communications firms. Johnson served in positions such as Chief Creative Officer, Global Marketing Brands Manager, Creative Director and Art Director while concurrently painting for more than 15 years as a professional visual artist. Mutópe was co-founder of the former Strive Media Institute, a Milwaukee-based nonprofit training ground for teens in TV, communications and journalism. Johnson’s current research and visual arts practice has lead him to consider his role as an artist and how the arts can help shape the current state of African-American culture and it’s rich history. More importantly how the arts has enriched all of our lives. Johnson states; “This becomes my own personal way of establishing a working method that uses the power of the arts to help influence public opinion. As artists we can open up new avenues of critical thinking that serve as creative strategies that help to inform and educate others through the visual arts.”

aryn kresol  is a museum woman. Midwest born and raised, aryn studied and practiced art at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design, earning a BFA in photography in 2011, following a formal education in liberal arts. Since 2009, aryn has electively curated numerous exhibitions in Illinois, Wisconsin, and New York, working independently and collaboratively with artists of all disciplines. She has worked locally for the Haggerty Museum of Art, The Pitch Project Gallery & Artists Studios, and RedLine Milwaukee, and nationally for the Rockford Art Museum and Dia Art Foundation at Dia:Beacon in New York. aryn is currently at the Milwaukee Art Museum as a Curatorial Assistant, at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design as adjunct faculty in New Studio Practice, and is the co-founder and editor of Generous magazine.


Nathaniel Stern is an artist and writer, Fulbright and NSF grantee and professor, interventionist and public citizen. He has produced and collaborated on projects ranging from ecological, participatory and online interventions, interactive, immersive and mixed reality environments, to prints, sculptures, videos, performances and hybrid forms. His book, Interactive Art and Embodiment: The Implicit Body as Performance, takes a close look at the stakes for interactive and digital art, and his ongoing work in industry has helped launch dozens of new businesses, products and ideas. Stern has been featured in the likes of the Wall Street Journal, Guardian UK, Huffington Post, Daily Mail, Washington Post, Daily News, BBC’s Today show, WIRED, Boing Boing, Gizmodo, PetaPixel, M Magazine, Time, Forbes, Fast Company, Scientific American, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Leonardo Journal of Art, Science and Technology, Rhizome, Furtherfield, Turbulence, and more. According to Chicago’s widely popular Bad at Sports art podcast, Stern has “the most varied and strange bio of maybe anyone ever on the show,” and South Africa’s Live Out Loud magazine calls him a “prolific scholar” as well as artist, whose work is “quite possibly some of the most relevant around.” “Technological, thought-provoking and unexpected” (NPR) he’s been dubbed one of Milwaukee’s “avant-garde” (Journal Sentinel), called ”an interesting and prolific fixture” ( behind many “multimedia experiments” (, “accessible and abstract simultaneously” (Art and Electronic Media web site), someone “with starry, starry eyes” ( who “makes an obscene amount of work in an obscene amount of ways” (Bad at Sports) – both “bizarre and beautiful” (Gizmodo). According to Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing, Stern makes “beautiful, glitched out art-images,” and Caleb A. Scharf at Scientific American says Stern’s art is “tremendous fun” but also “fascinating” in how it is “investigating the possibilities of human interaction and art.”


Phyllis Bankier is a photographer. Capturing moments and freezing time in her images, whether shooting an urban landscape, the countryside, people, food or nature, she is inspired. Her photography is for sharing color and excitement. It is rooted in the deep love of bringing out the beauty and sensuality that nature has given us. Photography has always been part of her life. In an undergraduate college art class, she was given an assignment to use a camera. Immediately, she knew the camera was something special. She continues to compose the world through the camera lens to capture those distinctive moments and scenes. Her work has been accepted into many juried exhibitions as well as winning many first places and honorable mentions. For more information: 

Melissa Dorn Richards works between painting and sculpture. She draws from common everyday objects, things often over-looked or past by, as subject matter and infuses them with humor and expressive color. Dorn Richards is a Milwaukee-based artist, who holds a BFA from the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design. A practicing artist for 20 years, she is represented by Frank Juarez Gallery. Her work can be found in many corporate collections including Tax-Air, Northwestern Mutual, Mandel Group, West Bend Mutual Insurance Company, Littler Mendelson and Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design. Select exhibitions include: Detroit Biennale, Museum of New Art; Wisconsin Artists Biennial, Museum of Wisconsin Art; Preservatif, Stockholm Gallery; Forward 2014, Charles Allis Art Museum; Up, Down!, River Edge Gallery; Moving Mountains, Frank Juarez Gallery; Schematic, UW-Sheboygan; Eight Counties, John Michael Kohler Arts Center; Art Chicago and Aqua Art Miami, Hotcakes Gallery. Dorn Richards is also active in the local arts community through her work co-chairing the Milwaukee Artist Resource Network (MARN) advisory council and as a board director and previous lead artist for Artworks for Milwaukee. Her newest adventure is as co-managing director of Material Studios + Gallery, a space for artists to create, produce and develop their entrepreneurial practice.


Nirmal Raja is an inter-disciplinary artist working between drawing, printmaking, fiber, video and performance. Raja has exhibited locally, nationally and internationally. She has received grants and awards from the Mary L. Nohl Suitcase Export Fund, the Wisconsin Arts Board and the Milwaukee Arts Board for various projects. She has been a mentoring resident for 6 years at Redline Milwaukee, an urban arts incubator and community print shop. Currently, she maintains a studio at Material Studios and Gallery in downtown Milwaukee. Most often, her work deals with concepts of displacement, cultural negotiation and memory. Currently she is exploring connections between costume and identity, place and belonging, history and memory. Periodically she curates shows and organizes collaborations that address notions of intersectional identity, migration, disenfranchisement and marginality.


Janelle Gramling has been a sculptor with a full-time studio practice in Milwaukee for over 15 years. Her work ranges from fine art to functional home goods with a main focus in ceramics and fiber. Her sculptural pottery, wearable art, and limited-edition wall sculptures have been sold throughout the US and abroad through small boutiques as well as national retailers. Inspired by raw, natural materials and traditional techniques, her work touches on themes of personal symbolism with a modern, minimal, and playful aesthetic. In her signature style of mixing ceramics with fiber and found object, Gramling explores function, contexts, and the narratives of materials. Gramling is motivated to help build community and support for artists in Milwaukee. She owned an artist-operated gallery and retail space in Milwaukee for four years. Through the artist cooperative, she helped organize and curate dozens of community events and art exhibitions. She also has a passion for helping to provide creative education and experiences for underserved Milwaukee kids and residents. Gramling has been an artist in residence with Artists Working in Education for three terms, helping elementary school children create works for their playground while integrating art concepts and techniques into their science curriculum. Gramling is a Milwaukee native and her home and studio are both in the Clarke Square neighborhood on Milwaukee’s south side.  She enjoys gardening, bicycling, and restoring her historic home where she lives with her partner, Matthew, and their four children. 


Jessica Laub is a multi-faceted artist who indulges in a variety of mediums including ceramics, mosaics, and paint to create joyful artwork inspired by nature, animals and the people she loves. Her work, characterized by a bold use of color and a strong sense of line, celebrates the beauty and wonder she encounters in the world around her. Jessica hand-builds her ceramic sculptures, but uses a pottery wheel to throw sgraffito-style dishware in her studio at the Toy Factory located in Milwaukee’s Riverworks district. She combines her handmade, ceramic tile with broken dishware, stained glass, mirrors and other shiny tessearae to create mosaics that range in size from a piece that will fit in your hand to large, site specific installations. Jessica was an artist in residence at Redline Milwaukee from 2010 to 2013 as evidenced by the 12-foot-tall, mosaiced “Redman” which can be seen dancing on the back of the building. She created the sacred heart mosaic at Café Corazon’s Riverwest location in 2012, and the mosaiced mushrooms at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts in 2015. More recently, she has been collaborating with children to create public art in their schools and neighborhoods through Artists Working in Education.


Michael Davidson After receiving a Bachelor of Fine Arts in both Painting and Ceramic Sculpture from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1985, Michael studied at Purchase College - State University of New York with Robert Storr and Irving Sandler. In 1988, while completing his Master of Fine Arts in Painting, he moved to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. While in New York City, he worked with curators and artists installing art for the Guggenheim Museum, International Center of Photography, The American Craft Museum, John Weber Gallery, Metro Pictures and numerous galleries and private collections. In 2011 he started teaching at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, where while Chair of Fine Arts he helped develop a completely new contemporary studio curriculum and degree program. Michael teaches both painting and sculpture with a specific focus on critique. His work has been exhibited at numerous galleries in the Midwest and in New York, most recently at the Reinstitute, an alternative gallery in upstate New York. New paintings will be showing at the Frank Juarez Gallery in Milwaukee April 14- May 26 Contrasting the richness of their visceral visual language these evocative paintings are straightforward in manner and construction. Through articulate compositions, intriguing chromatic maps, and finessed viscous transitions- Davidson’s new paintings are a poetry of the specific. Davidson constructs curious yet convincing situations through an eloquent materiality and the choreography of the relationships within the area of the page or canvas.


Chris Crain is a Singer, Songwriter and multifaceted Musician. His passion for using his music to make a change is prevalent in every lyric; every rhythm; every note. Change – in the way people listen to music, the way it makes them feel and how it affects community. 
Born in Chicago, raised in Lumberton Ms. and now residing in Milwaukee – Chris’ musical birthright was just the foundation of a greater platform. Although he was brought up in a family of musicians and has played an instrument since the age of 7, Chris never “planned” to be a musician. 
With over 20 years of experience in making music behind him and the rest of his life ahead of him to leave his mark on an industry where only the strong survive – With an extensive resume that consists of 8 albums, 2 WAMI’s for Contemporary Jazz Artist of the Year and plethora of performances that has taken him all across the county, Chris is clearly no stranger to producing quality and impressionable music.
Chris Crain has dedicated his greatest passion to making everything and everyone around him better, including himself. Born with a special birth defect called Brachial Plexus Palsy, he’s determined to show the world that even when your journey is an expected hard and long road, the only thing that will keep you from your dreams is you.
In 2012, Chris developed The Better Project Awareness Foundation Inc. The Better Project Awareness Inc. is a Non-Profit 501c3 organization
TBPAF uses the art of music as its platform to promote a clear message of hope, perseverance, love, and self-worth. The Better Project Awareness Foundation sponsors "The Make a Difference Concert"; each summer in Milwaukee, WI. The concert is an annual fundraising event that raises money to fund the foundation’s free summer music program as well as raise money for scholarships. The scholarships are awarded to hard working kids within the ages of 6- 16 for private music lessons at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music. In addition to teaching music classes, the summer camp also addresses issues such as Insecurities, Self Esteem, and Anger Management.


Thea Kovac left an established career in social work to cultivate an artistic practice she calls The Lost Playground Studio. She is a visual artist, writer, poet, art educator, and private art coach. She has taught classes/workshops in many venues including Continuing Education Departments at MIAD and other local universities, the UWM Sports and Recreation Department, Sharon Lynne Wilson Center, Charles Allis Art Museum, Woodland Pattern, Lynden Sculpture Garden and Riveredge Nature Center. She teaches private art classes,  mentoring many artists who have gone on to enjoy successful practices and careers. She has held artist residencies at Milwaukee Public Schools, Woodlands School, Brookfield Academy, Renaissance Theaterworks, Danceworks, and Milwaukee Area Telecommunications Authority, working with theater, dance, video professionals and poets to create programs for children and adults including those with special needs. She has given presentations and critiques for artist organizations and has been a curator and juror for student art exhibits, reviewed organizational grant applications for the Milwaukee Arts Board and serves on the MARN Advisory Council. She was VP-Membership for the Historic Water Tower Neighborhood group for 4 years. She creates watercolor and acrylic paintings that display vivid imagined color and lively brush strokes. For several years she has transformed photos of reflections on moving water into paintings that convey the tension between abstract and recognizable, static yet moving imagery; suggesting the transitory nature of life circumstances and our emotional responses to them. “A World Before Paisley” is a recent series that transmutes natural forms into stylized shapes and patterns.  


Maureen M. Kane has over 30 years of professional experience in graphic design, software instruction and illustration. Maureen began MMK Design in 1996 with the mission to provide affordable graphic design to the non-profit community. MMK Design was awarded the A. David Schwartz Business Humanitarian Award from the Community Shares of Greater Milwaukee in 2009; and recently, four Milwaukee Press Club awards for her Wisconsin Gazette layouts & photo-collage illustrations. Her list of clients is diverse, from small grass-roots and start-up companies, to larger institutions. A wide range of design work includes announcements & annual reports, signage & stationery, postcards & POPs. She specializes in logos, having created over 150 in her career. Maureen graduated with a BFA in Graphic Design in 1986 at Arizona State University. “Being able to use my skills as a graphic designer,” Maureen says, “is how I can give back to my community.”


Santiago Cucullu creates multi-media works that culminate in spatially unified installations. Often arranged with elaborate wall-sized murals, sculpture, and vibrant paintings on paper, Cucullu emphasizes the subtleties of intuitive pacing and spatial orientation experienced in his broad installations. Specifically, Cucullu creates works using a duality of materials and appropriation to indicate the oscillation and ability of objects to collapse on themselves while activating an exhibition space. Elements in the work reflect moments from everyday life and local histories that act to displace or highlight frictions and narratives that we encounter. Cucullu uses imagery from one specific place to disrupt ideas of a uniformed reality by displacing representations of one particular culture into another and allowing these representations to reside side by side. Born in Argentina, Cucullu currently lives and works in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Boston, Massachusetts. He received his MFA from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and his BFA from the Hartford Art School in Connecticut. A former resident of the Core Program at the Glassell School of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Cucullu's work has been exhibited at a number of institutions in group and solo shows, including the Mori Art Museum, Tokyo; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; The Museum of Modern Art, New York, The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, among others.


"Darlin" Nikki Janzen aims to build bridges through spoken word, poetry, improv, mixed media art and restorative justice circle work. She uses the power of word and flair of drama to spread stories of overcoming struggle, healing broken, celebrating diversity, and choosing self-love to reach the humanity in us all.  Whether in a school, church, community center, club, coffee shop, performance center, mall or on a street corner, Janzen strives to humbly offer herself to diverse audiences of all ages. While work-shopping, she honors the voices of the people she serves to build community, confidence, positive thinking and grow empathy to help us recal our dreams and build potential to reach inner peace and create more peaceful communities. Janzen uses emotionally packed images through word play that flows organically through the senses. She chooses contrasting colors and mixed media collage to tell stories through symbols and shades. Janzen feeds souls with positive messages through poems, rap and images.


Richard Taylor works out of his studio in the Riverwest area of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His sculptures rise from the ground, are suspended in the air and cling to walls. Certain pieces of his work could be considered painting and sculpture. His art is shown in galleries around the country. Some of his work is site-specific, and he enjoys the challenges of creating those pieces for unique locations. His work is inspired by music, by the power of personal memory, by found objects, and by clarity. He wants to make pieces which invite people to view them over and over again. Richard earned an MFA in painting from the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee. He works in sculpture, printmaking and painting.