Event Alert - the featured artist Ben Tyjeski will be creating and selling art outside Var Gallery at 643 S. 2nd St. during the Pride Parade on Sunday, June 11th between 11AM and 3PM.
Ben Tyjeski is a ceramics sculptor, Milwaukee Public Schools art teacher, and architectural historian. His sculpture work is inspired by terra-cotta ornaments on the historic buildings he witnesses in his city and around Wisconsin. He specializes in reliefs, portraits, and decorative forms. Currently he is working on Wisconsin Terra Cotta. The book presents over fifty years of architectural terra cotta in Wisconsin.
Ben Tyjeski oozes dedication, be it for his MPS students or his fervor when documenting all the terra cotta buildings in Wisconsin or his dedication for his own clay art he creates. He dedicates himself to creating environments of learning, of true-to-the-detail interpretations of life, history, and politics. He also dedicates himself to fostering the artists around him, in a city he advocates for loudly and proudly. He is also has studio space at Var Gallery in Walker's Point, where many local artists work and collaborate.
His early work, too, shows his desire to properly research and learn about other cultures. In his college years, he created numerous clay pieces depicting Central and South American lore and history. He spent much of his time at UW-Milwaukee in the sculpture department creating clay art pieces that were inspired by South American architecture, patterns, and materials. Ben gained a degree in art education with a ceramics emphasis at UW-Milwaukee and feels deepened pride for the city saying he's "too attached to ever leave."
Below is a piece using these inspirations to illustrate Milwaukee towns and rivers. The three main faces represent each of the founding cities, Juneau Town, Walker's Point, Kilbourn Town, and the three "blue collar" ladies were allegories for Milwaukee's three rivers.
And then Tyjeski moved into creating politically charged work. Ben's dedication to depict Hugo Chavez and, separately, the Koch brothers shows tremendous attention to detail whether it be from almost intuitively understanding Chavez' bone structure to the elements of an oil rig. Witnessing his work in person, in a three dimensional arena, grants the gravitas it deserves. In the picture below, we see the satire of the oil-black vase based off of vase à tête d'éléphant (originally modeled by Jean-Claude Duplessis) with the Kochs as elephants and their trunks cascading down an oil rig as if they were the petroleum themselves. This piece will be at the Alexandria Museum of Art this summer.
But Tyjeski wants to get away from these politically commenting pieces. He feels they are too dark, and there's enough of that in the world. He charges himself to make beautiful things because we need more beautiful things.
And here he is in his next era as an artist: the era of ornamentation and the power of local, architectural history. Ben's a bicyclist and on his rides he makes a point of noticing the little details on our city's buildings. He notices these depictions of dolphins and wolves and lions. He notes which buildings he will go back and photograph later to add to his already in-depth book about terra cotta in Wisconsin. And he's only slightly gotten into an accident while looking up at these beauties. Only slightly.
Up at Var Gallery last month was the 30 x 30 x 30 show, an exhibit showcasing 900 pieces of work made in one 30 day period by 30 different artists, the majority of whom have studio spaces at Var Gallery. Thirty pieces of Ben's terra cotta ornaments were displayed. A number of them are recreations from buildings he has witnessed around the state, and a few of them are made with Wisconsin wildlife in mind. His knowledge of and experience with terra cotta specific to Wisconsin and the midwest is vast, and listening to him speak about it gave me more appreciation for a subject that I, frankly, was blind to.
Written By: Kristin Peterson
Edited By: Jerrod Johnson & Bethany Price
To keep updated on Ben Tyjeski's work and events, check out his website here: http://www.bentyjeski.com/