By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Jan 23, 2003 at 5:38 AM

Sometimes you just need a change of scenery. If you're an artist that new setting can also provide new inspiration. Just ask Port Washington native Lisa Albinger, an accomplished painter who recently left Milwaukee for the considerably warmer Phoenix climate.

The move helped give her a new perspective, she says.

"I always knew that I wanted to move out of the Midwest one day, in search of warmer weather year round, and an active visual arts community," Albinger says. "Last summer I went on a three-week road trip. I am a fan of Frank Lloyd Wright, and I had to see Taliesen West if I was going to drive out west. I arrived here, saw the house and connected with Phoenix.

"I knew this was the place. I was looking for a different kind of inspiration. I can see a mountain, palm tree, cactus, green grass and the desert from the street I live on. In Arizona and New Mexico there is a real connection with the Earth, and I knew I had creating to do out here."

Albinger -- whose paintings are usually portraits of women and girls (sometimes rabbits) are effusive, alive with color and full of charm -- was born in Port Washington, the eldest of three sisters. She studied at UW-Stevens Point and earned her BFA in Drawing and Painting in 1999 from UWM, where she studied under Steven Samerjan, Kay Knight and Dennis Sargent.

Although Albinger points to the weather as part of her desire to move, she also mentions her search for "an active visual arts community." It's hard not to wonder about her experiences in Milwaukee.

"I think everyone will have their own take, but for me it was a bit difficult," Albinger says. "Difficult to get exposure if you weren't a 'known' artist from somewhere 'notable' like NYC. It was as though your name meant more than what your art looked like. My art was -- and still is -- showing at Victor Allen Coffee in Fox Point and Brookfield, and that is where I got exposure. From there I was asked to show at Chameleon Gallery (now closed) and Reflections of the Heart in Waukesha. I now have private collectors in Milwaukee and Mequon. I find the coffee shops in Milwaukee to be very down to Earth and local artist friendly."

But the reality of life as an artist didn't exactly jibe with what Albinger's teachers had told her at school, she says.

"In college, the art students were told that we were all going to be showing in galleries once we finished school -- as though some magical carpet was going to carry us from the university courtyard to the echoing white rooms of the art galleries," she says. "I had my degree and had no clue how to market myself. So, artists have to learn how to market themselves -- maybe a class is offered now. Any step ahead is farther than where you were before."

Is there way to improve the conditions for artists here?

"I don't know if I have the right to comment," Albinger says tentatively. "I think it could work. There is a lot of money in Milwaukee, and I think the local artists should be supported more. Every 'known' artist starts off somewhere, usually small. I've seen galleries bringing artists in from European countries, when a beehive of talent is buzzing around Milwaukee, and those bees deserve some recognition. If Milwaukee can recognize and celebrate the talent of these local artists, I think there may be a thriving energy. But if peoples' concept of art ends at Picasso, I don't know if there is much hope."

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Albinger -- the only artist in her family -- has taken many steps since she first discovered art as a youngster. One of her earliest memories, she says, is of her mother teaching her to draw the human body.

"There was never a doubt in my mind," she says of her career path. "Not too many can say they stuck with their first love."

Maybe that direct lineage of her work from childhood is what helps keep her work so full of joy, so playful, so fun. Her "Girls" series draws viewers in because the portraits are so vibrant, so vivacious.

"Many times I forget they are 2D," she says. "They each have their own personalities, like humans do. I don't paint from live models or actual people, it all stems from my imagination. When I paint, I don't really realize that I focus on 'women.' I sit down at the desk and let the energy go. They are never pre-planned or sketched out. It is as though the girls choose me -- I just filter them through.

"Some of the girls are obviously human, while some flutter along the lines of faeries and such. Many of them do not have physical faces, and that is because they don't need them. Sometimes the face is too much information, and I think it is important for the viewer to use their imagination."

You can see Albinger's work at Victor Allen Coffee in Brookfield and Fox Point and on her Web site, www.lisaalbinger.com. Laser Jet prints of the "Girls" are available for $18, including shipping and handling.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.