Artists to Watch 2024

According to Merriam Webster, the essential meaning of art is “something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings.”

It’s subjective, thought-provoking and somehow surpasses its inanimate state to be wise and moving. We’re lucky to have an abundance of such art in the Fox Cities.

Below, local aficionados reveal their Artists to Watch in 2024:

Joy Laczny

Nominated by Beth Zinsli, Assistant Professor of Art History, Curator of the Wriston Art Center Galleries

Zinsli: Do you ever wish you had been at one of Andy Warhol’s legendary parties at The Factory? You know, those silver-coated, glamor-drenched affairs populated with louche Superstars and a hazy soundtrack by the Velvet Underground? Joy Laczny’s (@joy_laroid on IG) photographs, taken with instant film cameras, make me feel like I’ve been dropped into the middle of a non-stop Warhol party, albeit in one happening in Northeast Wisconsin rather than NYC. She uses the nostalgia-inducing format of the Polaroid-style images, each with the distinctive white border and 3:2 aspect ratio, to endow her subjects – artists, musicians, celebrities, and Wisco Superstars, all of them – with effortless style. The folks in her photos are clearly having the time of their lives as they pose, drink beers, and play guitars or spin turntables in dark bars. It’s a legendary party, and Joy has invited everyone.

Laczny: I am an instant film photographer, but I also fully consider myself a documentarian. I love capturing life in a beautiful, raw, authentic way. I love  people, connections, and moments. I never want to miss a second of this wild life or allow an opportunity slip away because I wasn’t fully present to all the beauty around me.

Film photography is my passion because it allows you to document people in an undone, genuine way. There aren’t 15 filters, or 30 shots to choose. In the age of social media and smart phones, it is easy to curate a memory instead of feeling the genuine emotion in moments. My photography is deeply personal because each photo contains my unique point of view. There is only one original piece of film. My Instagram joy_laroid has allowed me to share these intimate pieces of art with so many.

Jonna Rae Brinkman

Nominated by Ana Maria Acosta, Librarian at the Elisha D. Smith Public Library

Acosta: “I would love to highlight to audiences in the Fox Valley the work of Jonna Rae Brinkman. Her art is so much more than your abstract contemporary encounter. Each of her paintings has a depth, brightness and enigmatic approach that touches the observer.

She received her Master of Fine Arts from Pratt Institute in New York City and attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  Her experience living near the World Trade Center during 9/11 had an impact on her work. To this day, each creation is the voice to her inner soul, an outlet to make sense of reality where beauty and brokenness co-exist. Her work has so much to tell, combining pastels, charcoal, oils, and other media to create a deeper story and evoke feelings of humanity and redemption. Jonna Rae’s exhibit at the library last year brought a breeze of possibilities to the community. One of her works is still brightening our reading spaces.

Brinkman: My art can be so far from reality it challenges the viewer to escape it . What is it but a way to subject all senses to color texture and rhythm . Poets write , singers wail and junkies jive. I’m curious about it all but they pay me not to sing so I paint . With love, joy and other hoo ha like oils and other mediums. It’s all in the moment. Live it stupid, but honest. Yes you saw it here so stay curious.

Michael Wartgow

Nominated by Ann Weuve, Curator, Trout Museum of Art

Weuve: Over the past few years, I’ve had the opportunity to exhibit some of Michael’s work at the Trout Museum of Art and watch his progression as an artist. In Michael’s current series, Memories of the Future, he creates beautiful, isolated depictions of nature and obstructs the scene with bold colors and shapes. I admire the confidence and trust in his process to be able to layer over the top of his detailed background scenes with such contrast; resulting in an appreciation for what his work intends to do and say. In his own words, Michael’s work is meant to “evoke feelings of solitude, while at the same time creating moments of distraction,” and he is successful at accomplishing this in his work. Michael grows as an artist each year, and I am excited to see how he continues with this series.

Wartgow: I’m interested in the various structural and behavioral barriers that impede our ability to understand history. Currently, I see a climate where history is often perceived as having little relevance, due in part to the immediate accessibility of information through various technological platforms, along with cultural priorities that value superficiality over substance. At a time when our experiences are quickly documented through social media, moments are lost to distraction and so too are the significance of those moments in history. By investigating these various barriers, I look to create works that promote pause and self-reflection.

My work recalls landscapes, structures or spaces that encourage entry and hint at a larger narrative. It takes on various forms intended to draw in the viewer and evoke feelings of solitude, while at the same time creating moments of distraction. I use a variety of techniques and materials to create layers of meaning, inviting the viewer to engage with the pieces on multiple levels. By juxtaposing shapes, materials and imagery, my work is focused on the tension between our desire for connection and understanding, and the constant stream of information and distractions that vie for our attention. Overall, my work seeks to encourage self-reflection and introspection, while also challenging viewers to consider the ways in which society and technology shape our experiences and understanding of history.

Emmalie Engle

Nominated by John Adams, founder and owner of The Draw

Adams: I have started seeing Emmalie’s work pop up around town and on social media. I recently noticed a piece in a new art zine called Ripe which is a collaboration between Amano Printhouse and Only Child. I love the fact that so many young artists are supporting each other in so many different ways. Along with the physical art she also runs an instagram account that features local fashion in a street life type of photography. It’s encouraging to see upcoming artists work in unconventional ways and think outside the box.

Engle: A walk in the woods, watching loved ones meet in the cafe, the sunset on the drive home, street lights reflecting onto wet pavement, days spent at the beach with family, creating with friends, the slow snowfall on a quiet Sunday morning. These are the types of moments that inspire my most recent work, and it is my goal to capture them in my art. I believe that there are small and beautiful moments encapsulated in each and every day, all you need to do is take time to notice them.

The start of the year was my peak in creating. I would start my days in coffee shops, drink my cortado, and draw in a sketchbook I kept with my fountain pen. I would mostly draw whatever was in front of me, anything that was sitting on the table. The pastry I ate, the drink in front of me, my keys, the espresso machine, plants, or perspective drawings of the building.

Since the start of the year I have slightly fallen off this pattern, but it is something I really value having in my everyday life. It became a lesson for me on how to draw what was in front of me, and also in appreciating and noticing small things that are happening around me, forcing me to take time to slow down, and think about what things are going on in my life.

My most recent medium is paper cutting. Most are composed of just black and white, no color. I feel working in black and white really allows one to appreciate the composition of a piece. I first start with a black piece of paper and draw in pencil, my subject. After sketching a rough outline of what I want to cut, I begin. Most of my subjects are of a family member of mine, or a loved one and often consist of very small, intricate details. I’ve been liking this medium because there is no room to mess up, and since the details are so small I can get lost in the piece and let my mind take a break from anything else, focusing solely on the piece. I first started this medium in a high school art class about two years ago, and has been an obsession of mine ever since. Below are a few works of mine, done in the last two years.

Laura Pahlas

Nominated by Leslie Walfish, Director of Galleries & Campus Curator and Instructor in the Art Department, UW Oshkosh

Walfish: Laura Pahlas is an art educator and painter who has a studio practice in Oshkosh. Her figurative paintings carry a sense of nostalgia found in the everyday. They depict moments in time that are inconsequential but stick with us. Like memories, they are imperfect. Objects and light on surfaces are made with expressive brush strokes and details are not necessarily as important as the impression of the scene. These paintings feel like daily observations. Pahlas also creates paintings that explore the notion that all children contain untamed, wild wonder. One such painting depicts a young girl standing face to face with a hare. Both appear curious about the other. The animal leans in to investigate as the girl’s head tilts slightly forward, their noses almost touching. There is a sense of peaceful wonder in all her work.

Pahlas: “I am among the fourth generation of artists in my family.  Creating art has always been central to my life. My roles as a teacher and a mother inspire my work on many levels. I have always had a reverence for childhood and the natural creativity we’re all born with. Many of the themes in my work come from my experience as a solo mom of two young kids. Experiencing the world through their eyes and doing my best to help them learn to navigate this big world are both processes that feed my creative work. I’m forever evolving when it comes to integrating artmaking with motherhood. Sometimes this means shifting my schedule, or changing gears and working on small pieces that can be created in my home studio with kid-friendly materials.  When I’m able to work on a larger scale, many of the moments I capture in my paintings I consider “glimmers”or those unexplainable, rare moments of pure emotion and peace. Spending time in nature with my kids often leads to moments like this.  They’re not grand or celebratory or extravagant in any way.  The glimmer is usually in the tiniest, most ordinary fleeting details…the way the light moves through the trees or just the energy emitting from my kids as they move through nature with total presence. If I’m lucky, I can capture these moments in photographs which I then combine and turn into paintings. I occasionally add other narrative details, often an animal or bird. I like to play with scale and perspective as a way to bring the natural elements of the painting onto the same level as the human elements. My hope is to offer the reminder that making our way through this wild world is in fact a solitary journey, but we are never truly alone.”

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