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In Arts & Entertainment

Clive Promhows in front of his paintings, temporarily on display in his gallery.

In Arts & Entertainment

The large space takes on many forms and appearances depending on the show.

In Arts & Entertainment

The space during a recent Warhol-inspired show.

London-born Promhows brings Live Artists Studio to Milwaukee


Owner Clive Promhows describes Live Artists Studio, 228 S. 1 St., as a "creative speakeasy." In addition to being a working studio and gallery, the space is frequently recreated to host many special events.

"You can do anything in here, everything's on wheels," says Promhows.

Live Artists Studio will host "La Galeria Latina" on Gallery Night, Friday, July 29, to showcase the talents of 20 Latina artists. Members of Latinas en Accion (LEA), a partnership group with the Women's Fund of Greater Milwaukee, approached Promhows with an idea for a fundraiser, and the art show grew out of that.

LEA helps fund programs that support Latina women and girls in the Milwaukee area. Appetizers and a cash bar can be enjoyed along with the art and performances from 5 to 9 p.m.

Aside from "La Galeria Latina," summer is usually slow at Live Artists Studio. But there is a show every other week from September through May, and Promhows estimates that 5,000 people have come through the studio, the advertising for which comes via word-of-mouth and Facebook.

The studio is used for many photo-shoots and hosts shows by the UWM Photography Club. Some other recent events at the Live Artists Studio include a fundraiser for St. Aemilian-Lakeside, which had food, live music and featured the art of foster kids and other children the Milwaukee non-profit serves. Plans have been set for "Juke Joint Jellyroll 2," during which Promhows will once again turn off the air conditioning and decorate the studio like a 1920s juke joint.

Bucking the stereotypical artist's ethos that shuns practicality and commercial-viability, Promhows says that the Live Artists Studio motto is "What do you want and when do you want it?"

"It's good having creative people in here. Nothing gives me more of a creative boner than guests walking in and saying they didn't think there was anything like this in Milwaukee," Promhows says.

The studio is divided into three distinct rooms, with other areas designated more by what's filling the floor space than by walls. In the main room, there's a large area with a bar / kitchen, an office with desk and computer equipment and a traditional-looking gallery area. Behind walls are a make-up bay and Promhows' workshop. Promhows calls this space "command central" and it's filled with paints, all manner of materials and Promhows' current work.

"It's hard to describe what I do. I usually just say, 'Oh, I do stuff' when people ask, because I don't want anyone to think I'm bullsh*tting them," Promhows says.

Promhows means describing the details, because it can be said that he's a fine artist who does commercial and high-end interior work. Promhows has been around the world, and his storied career brought him to Milwaukee just over five years ago.

Before coming to Milwaukee, Promhows worked in concert production in Miami for 15 years. He did set design and construction for artists like Gloria Estefan, co-designing and building the sets for videos, like Will Smith's "Miami." Promhows worked for Prince, at his Miami Glam Slam dance club, and once spent a weekend at Paisley Park, Prince's home and studio near Minneapolis.

Promhows also worked as production manager for Rolling Stone Ron Wood's Miami club, Woody's on the Beach, where acts like Ray Charles and Buddy Guy would frequently play.

"I spent a year and a half at Ronnie's nightclub. Then he got a $30 million dollar advance, just before the (Stones') 'Steel Wheels' tour, as they had voted him in as a full member (of the Rolling Stones). So he quit the nightclub business," says Promhows.

Promhows grew up in Camberwell, near Brixton in Southeast London, but had a "Jamaican upbringing" because of the large numbers of Jamaican immigrants he went to school with in London. At 17, Promhows says he was "fed up with England." Running away from home, he joined the French Foreign Legion, who kicked him out in 1977 once they found out he wasn't of age. Finding himself in Marseilles with no money, Promhows says he traveled the Middle East, slowly making his way back to England, where he produced his first stage show when he was 21.

Promhows ended up in the U.S. only because he was emigrating to Canada, where his father grew up. "I stopped in Miami on my way. Thought it was going to be for six months; I was there 16 years," says Promhows.

While in Miami, Promhows studied with renowned "faux painter" Leonard Pardon, taking woodgraining and marbleizing lessons from him. Promhows can create veneers on inexpensive materials that look exactly like marble, mahogany and other expensive finishes. Promhows uses beer glazes in the wood grains.

"Everything flatlined in Miami after Sept. 11," says Promhows, so he began looking for his next move.

Promhows met a woman who said she could help him get set up in Chicago. Instead, they ended up in a converted farmhouse 25 miles outside of Madison. Bonton (the corporate umbrella group for Boston Store and other department store chains) started hiring Promhows to design advertising sets, which brought him to Milwaukee.

"I was driving around Milwaukee, noting the architecture and I liked what I saw. Then I saw the the art museum and I said, 'Any city that has a building like that has something going on'," he says.

Promhows has designed interiors for places like Bad Genie, 789 N. Jefferson St., which he wanted to be the kind of place Austin Powers would walk into. He still works for Bonton, Kohl's and other large retailers.

And he does custom dog portraits. He has three dog portraits under his belt so far. The first was of a Rottweiler, the second was painted for a division head at Johnson Controls and Promhows is currently painting another for a local attorney. Promhows and his former girlfriend had two dogs together.

"I miss her, but I miss the dogs. I love dogs," Promhows says.

Promhows likes his adopted city, but occasionally finds it frustrating, especially when referring to the recent spate of films being made here, like "Public Enemies," followed by the loss of tax incentives for filmmakers.

"Milwaukee has so much creative potential, but sometimes it's a bit like one step forward, two steps back," Promhows says. "But I do what I can to try to bring people together."


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