Artist / curator / teacher / writer Michelle Grabner was in Sculpture Milwaukee’s inaugural show, in 2017, and she launches our series of artist interviews in this time of extreme flux.
SMKE: What are you reading?
MG: Right now I am reading about the spring migratory patterns of birds in North America. Last week the tundra swans moved into the flooded fields adjacent to the Wolf River, in northeastern Wisconsin, from their wintering grounds of the coasts of the Mid-Atlantic. They are on their way to the Northwest territories of Canada and Alaska. So all-in-all my reading has been dedicated to information about the changing patterns of early spring in the upper Midwest, a season I rarely get to experience first-hand as I am always thick into the institutional work of the spring semester in Chicago.
Currently I am reading Wisconsin's Natural Communities: How to Recognize Them, Where to Find Them by Randy Hoffman (University of Wisconsin Press: 2002) and The Lost Art of Reading Nature's Signs by Tristan Gooley and Jeff Harding (The Experiment: 2015). And I just finished the rightfully popular The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleeben which forever changed my understanding of the woods.
SMKE: What's happening in your studio right now?
MG: I am currently hunkering down with my family in Waupaca County where I am working through two series of paintings. The first series is the tight and patterned articulation of open weave textiles. These paintings depict roving stitches that lay askew to the angular geometries of the linen panel supports of the painting. They are mostly white on white as I am thinking about the role of color in our necessarily disinfected cultural moment.
The second series is focusing on the shallow yet illusionary representations of compositions made from vernacular jam jar lids. These are traditional trompe l'oeil paintings, albeit with an ironic wink at the virtues of the everyday.
Other work activities:
I am remotely teaching my School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s seminar courses, and I am working on several commissioned essays. Another terrific result of holing away in rural Waupaca County is that I am afforded the deep and repeated viewing of Sky Hopinka's exhibition at the Poor Farm. I am penning an essay for the exhibition catalog and I get to write about the work in situ. I feel this is a great gift.
I have tried to redirect my family to the pleasures of the sandwich instead of those more complex meals that challenge the mechanics of our cottage kitchen.
Personally, I love sardines, mayo, and lettuce on toasted rye. But in reality, I am the only one eating that combination so I end up slapping together ham and cheese for the rest of the crew.
For more information on the Poor Farm, run by Michelle Grabner and partner / painter Brad Killam:
See more of Michelle’s work at