Open View

Open View is an abbreviated arts guide for Milwaukee, WI.

In Memory of Art Elkon

Self-portrait, provided by Debra Brehmer

Self-portrait, provided by Debra Brehmer

Art Elkon, a stalwart staple and relentless photo-documentarian of the Milwaukee art scene, passed away on August 17, 2015. In honor of Art, we’ve asked members of the community to share their thoughts and memories. Thank you to Debra Brehmer, Lisa Sutcliffe, Demitra Copoulos, and Skully Gustafson for their contributions.

Open View: How would you describe Art?

Demitra Copoulos: Art's essence was his smile, his camera, and his love for life. To be around him was to feel his joy and gentle demeanor. He was always quick to acknowledge your presence in the gallery, and through his smile, he radiated appreciation for sharing that moment with everyone present.

Lisa Sutcliffe: I came to know Art through the Milwaukee Art Museum Photography Council when I moved to the city two-and-a-half years ago. Art was kind and courteous to me from the moment I met him and his friendly manner made me feel welcome. He had an infectious enthusiasm, a warm spirit, and the special ability to make you feel like you were in on a private joke with him. I will remember the twinkle in his eye as he circled events photographing the scene.

OV: What impact did Art leave on the community?

Debra Brehmer: Art breezed into events and lightly touched his shutter, taking thousands of images in an evening. He would then get up before work the next morning, edit and post the file to Facebook. There were mornings that I would sit in bed with my computer, waiting for the file to appear, so I could glimpse what actually went on at the gallery. When I am in the middle of an event or opening, I'm too preoccupied to take in much. Art was the all-seeing eye. His work always helped remind me that what I was doing with my life (increasingly enslaved to running a commercial gallery) really was worth it. Art's images, I believed, were sometimes taken intentionally to encourage me: "Look, see how many of these people are enjoying themselves and truly looking at the art, talking about it. This is meaningful. Keep going."

Skully Gustafson: [Art's] photos will be great historical documents for the future. His presence made being at an art show feel more performative because of the camera.

LS: Art was an important part of the cultural community in Milwaukee and his presence will be sorely missed. We are lucky to have the legacy he left through extensive documentation of all of the art and music events he attended (which was all of them). He didn't only make the pictures for himself, but to share with the community.

OV: What was your favorite memory with Art?

SG: Art liked to photograph people in their natural state, and me being a fan of modeling, we always played this game where I would notice he was aiming the camera to take a photo of me and then he would put his camera down and not shoot me because I was too aware of the photo. Over the years, we found a delicate balance of nonchalance with photographer and subject. 

DB: Art didn't just document the art scene. He was a part of it. His work supported the ecosystem of visual arts and music. He was almost predetermined to not be able to say a critical or negative thing about anything he saw. "How was the show at INOVA, Art?" "Great. Fantastic. Really interesting." The reply was always the same. The only thing he was critical about was pizza. For his birthday, which was celebrated in a hospital bed when he was very ill and weak, he and his sister Barbara got in a spat about whether Zaffiro's pizza (his favorite) could survive the 6 minute car ride from the restaurant to St. Mary's. Art insisted that it could not, that it must be eaten at the table, immediately out of the oven. He wouldn't have been able to digest pizza that night anyway, but his principles held.

DC: The memory I have of Art is not of one particular image but a culmination of memories. I will always remember his soft welcomes with a hug and a smile. As we spoke, he always had one eye on our conversation and the other roaming the space for the next moment of inspiration. Observing that enthusiasm only enriched my own. His presence will be missed.