Milwaukee artist brings ‘Barely Visible’ exhibit to Little Rock

The work of Milwaukee artist and gallery owner John Riepenhoff will be featured in the exhibit “Barely Visible” at 420 Byrd St. in Little Rock. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Daniel McCullough, John Riepenhoff, Good Weather)
The work of Milwaukee artist and gallery owner John Riepenhoff will be featured in the exhibit “Barely Visible” at 420 Byrd St. in Little Rock. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Daniel McCullough, John Riepenhoff, Good Weather)

A new exhibit presented by the gallery Good Weather brings several aspects of work by Milwaukee artist John Riepenhoff to Little Rock. Oh, and there's also a beer element to the show.

"Barely Visible" will feature Riepenhoff's "Handlers" series, his nighttime plein air series and the "John Riepenhoff Experience." The exhibit will be on display each Saturday through May 27 at the old Winnelson Plumbing Supply building at 420 Byrd St. An opening reception is set for 1-6 p.m. Sunday.

Riepenhoff owns the Green Gallery in Milwaukee; his work and curatorial projects have been shown at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York; the Marlborough gallery in New York; the Tate Modern in London; Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville and others. In January, he was named Sculpture Milwaukee's 2023 curator of the nonprofit Sculpture Milwaukee.

"The Handlers" is a charming commentary on the behind-the-scenes work at an art gallery. The sculptural pieces, featuring casts created from a mold of Riepenhoff's lower body, look from the front like gallery workers holding up paintings. They're like easels, actually, and a subversion of the typical format of hanging paintings on a wall.

Among the artists whose paintings will be shown in the series are Bob Hooper, Hanna Hur and Ron Ewert.

The "John Riepenhoff Experience" is a gallery-within-a-gallery space in a wooden box accessible by a stepladder that features small-scale works by various artists including Mariel Capanna, COBRA, Jacob Goudreault, Dylan Spaysky and Yui Yaegashi.

En plein air is a French term that refers to painting outdoors. Riepenhoff's nighttime plein air series was conceived as direct impressions of the night sky.

"It's this idea of the furthest light you can see with your naked eye and requires patience to try and soak in the vastness of the universe," Riepenhoff says.

All of the pieces together are a survey of sorts of Riepenhoff's career so far, he says.

"'Barely Visible' kind of describes certain qualities of the work that goes on behind the art scene, the labor that builds these scenes. These are all conceptual pieces. There are elements that are visible, but there are a lot of elements that you can't really see, that you have to use your imagination to visualize and articulate."

The show is also a chance for the artist to work with his old pal and Good Weather founder Haynes Riley.

  photo  John Riepenhoff "Handler," 2014, papier-mâché, fiberglass, wood, clamp, wire, cloth, and shoes; with Bob Hooper, "Passenger," 2022, oil on canvas, will be part of "Barely Visible," an exhibit presented by Good Weather at 420 Byrd St., Little Rock. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/John Riepenhoff, Bob Hooper, Good Weather)  Good Weather was started in 2012 by Riley as an exhibit space in the garage of his brother Zach's lakefront home at 4400 Edgemere Road in North Little Rock. The gallery, which Riley runs with help from his brother Hunter and sister Erin, has been based in Chicago since 2019. "Barely Visible" is Good Weather's first exhibit in Arkansas since "Layman," the fantastic 2021 show of works by Hunter Foster at North Little Rock's Burns Park in what had once been jail cells built in 1915.

Riley says that he and Riepenhoff bonded over art and beer.

"I found a kindred spirit in John when I first met him in 2016 at an artist-run art fair in Los Angeles," Riley says. "Over the years we would meet at other fairs and events. We would bring beer from [Arkansas brewers] Lost Forty and Flyway to these fairs to hand out and John told us about his Beer Endowment project."

Riepenhoff started the project in 2014 as a collaboration between breweries and artist-run groups to create signature brews and promote the arts. After production costs are covered, funding is directed to the organization, Riepenhoff says.

"We build a recipe that is inspired by the structure of an artist-run organization. These are things that maybe don't fit into the standard places in society but are these creative endeavors that exist all over the place. The beer endowment brings recognition that they exist. For me, it makes art accessible and also supports art."

Through the project, Good Weather teamed with Lost Forty Brewing to produce Good Weather Cold IPA, described by the brewer as: "Forward-thinking, crushable cold-fermented IPA" with "notes of fresh citrus, melon, lemongrass and elderflower."

A portion of the proceeds from sales of the beer will be used to help other artist-run spaces, Riley says.

The illustration on the can was drawn by Little Rock artist Layet Johnson and tells the story of Good Weather's origins. Keen-eyed art lovers who have followed Good Weather in its decade-plus existence might also spot a few Easter eggs in the images.

"We hid a lot of little pieces in Layet's drawing that are fun to point out that tell even more of the story and the people involved with the project," Riley says.

Teaming with the like-minded Riepenhoff on "Barely Visible" and the Good Weather beer project is a perfect fit, Riley says.

"John has an interest in these types of further afield spaces that Good Weather is part of. You start to see qualities of yourself in each other and you see the commitment to community; to artist-forward, conceptual gallery programs that operate outside of any normal center of the art world, i.e., New York or Paris or London."

'Barely Visible' exhibit

  • Opening reception: 1-6 p.m. Sunday, 420 Byrd St., Little Rock
  • Hours: 1-6 p.m. Saturdays through May 27
  • Admission: Free

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misspelled the names: Hanna Hur and Ron Ewert.

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