Monday, March 9, 2015

An Art Show to Share

"Raider Newton With Donuts"

by Susan Kepecs
I admit to being a regular shopper at Whole Foods.  What does that have to do with the arts?  Usually not a whole lot, though a number of artists have worked there over the years.  One is painter Andrea Zeitko, whose personal, eclectic work caught my eye when I was checking out at her counter one day during the 2007 US troop surge in Iraq (which was, um, supposed to wipe out all the radical Islamic extremists).  Zeitko was about to hang some work at the Social Justice Center on Willy St., which she told me about.  I went to the show, and I've been waiting for more ever since.  
        CulturalOyster is dedicated to the performing arts, but every now and then I’ve found something worth sharing with my readers that makes me deviate from that definition.  And on Saturday, Mar. 7,  Zeitko hung a show in that odd-shaped corner of Whole Foods where people sit down to eat their lunch.  The show’s a little inconsistent – there are four distinct styles among the dozen or so small acrylic on canvas works – but with their quirky subject matter and eye-popping patterns they remind me very much of small folk paintings from Latin America, Africa and Asia, and a few have so much charm I’d snap them up in a minute if I had the money to buy art. 
        I’m not sure how long the show is up – I’ll add that info when I get it.  Meanwhile, I asked Zeitko to fill me in on her life as an artist.
        CulturalOyster: Your paintings are really unique – did you go to art school, where they train you to fit the mold, or are you self-taught?

Zeitko: I did go to art school.  I started out as an art major – which morphed into Art Education – at UW-Madison.  I graduated in 1994 with a BS.

CulturalOyster: I know you’ve traveled a lot, and you’re part Iraqi – but fill me in a little on your background, which I know informs your work.

Zeitko: My mom is from Richland Center, WI.  Her grandparents were German immigrants, Pennsylvania Dutch, and English from Devonshire. My father came from Iraq  to the U.S. in 1952 and got his PhD in Medieval History from UW Madison. My parents met at the university. I was born in Minnesota. From the ages of 8 to 16, I lived in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait because my father was teaching at the universities there. The most interesting time was in Saudi Arabia, because we lived in a town called Abha in the Asir mountain region near Yemen. I was young enough to experience it in an unbiased way, and the culture is unique and vibrant. A lot of Western people don't get to see that part of Saudi Arabia, so I feel fortunate to have seen the hidden gem that the rest of the country goes to for vacation (!) I moved to Madison in 1988 to start college, and have called this city my home ever since.

CulturalOyster: Where else have you exhibited your work?

Zeitko: I've exhibited my work as part of an anti-war/pro peace show put on  by the Art Surge collective. Our show was a response to the military surge in Iraq during 2007. I guess they wanted me to participate because I was the only person of Iraqi descent, I was angry about the war, and I could paint all right---so it was a go. We held the show at the Commonwealth Gallery on Baldwin Street for a spell, and then we had a second showing at The Social Justice Center on Willy Street. 

CulturalOyster: I know some of your interest in pattern comes from your background, but it’s also very Matisse-like – is his work an inspiration for you? 

Zeitko:  I get inspiration all over the place. I love the cartoons of Robert Crumb. I admire Wassily Kandinsky---and I was fortunate enough to see his traveling exhibit at the Guggenheim. I like Banksy and all sorts of street art. Whenever I travel, I always notice and take lots of pictures of the street art I see. One of my greatest heroes is Naji Al Ali, the Palestinian cartoonist who made his character Handala come to life. I'm interested in the work of Arab women artists like Hend Al-Mansour, who uses henna to paint on raw canvas. 

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