By Jon Mueller   Published Aug 12, 2001 at 5:12 AM

Emerging Milwaukee artist Gabe Lanza puts every bit of effort into his art. Not only are his illustrations and paintings critically belabored during their creation, he also works very hard organizing the events to present the art.

Milwaukeeans may be familiar with his Rust Spot exhibition and installation project, open in the Third Ward during Gallery Night, but Lanza admits that he received more commissions while living in New York. So why move back to Milwaukee? Read on to find out why he creates art and why it's important to do it in Milwaukee.

OMC: Give a bit of background on yourself, and how it led up to the type of art you do.

Gabe Lanza: I live in Milwaukee. I graduated from the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design in 1999 with a BFA in Illustration. I spent a year during that time studying in New York at Parson's School of Design. I have a design background and I am still pursuing a career in illustration. I watched a great deal of cartoons when I was younger and now I watch even more. This began my love for minimal and very outlined images. Very graphic, simplistic and to the point. This led to my direction in my fine art paintings.

OMC: What do you try to communicate with your art? Does this remain consistent from project to project?

GL: What I try to communicate depends on what I am doing, or what project I'm working on. With my illustrations, what I communicate is the concept. It's pretty simple, I get to throw in my opinion once in a while but I mostly have to stick with the main concept presented to me.

My paintings are about the basic fundamentals. Composition, color, placement...this is especially seen in my abstracts. For two or three years I treated my abstracts and my illustrations as two separate things. I have just recently combined the two. So now I am painting my characters and drawings into large scale, flat and graphic paintings.

I don't try to communicate much. I paint what I paint because I want to. There is no hidden meaning or deep thought in it. It's just me sitting and drawing and saying to myself, 'I would like to paint a magician.' Then I will do it how I view it. What I hope to communicate with the shows I organize, is that there are a great deal of talented people in Milwaukee and Wisconsin, emerging into the art field.

OMC: How do you view your work; what does it mean to you?

GL: Honestly, my paintings lose a great deal of meaning to me when I am finished. I love drawing my ideas and working on sketches to where I feel they look finished. I love taking 2x4s and cutting them on my table saw to make stretcher bars. I love to take canvas and stretch it along, stapling it down to make a perfect surface. I especially love paint a solid ground color. Sometime I'll just sit in front of my canvas staring at nothing but a solid square of blue. It's really very beautiful. When I finally finish the painting, something is lost. Its attachment to me is gone. All I want to do is start again. So, I toss the finished piece in my closet and go back to my basement to cut another 2x4.

JM: Is there a goal, or a level, within the process, that you hope to achieve?

GL: I set my level very high when it comes to painting. I need to have everything perfect. My line work must be perfect in width and in color pertaining to the depth I want it at. The surface must be flat and the paint must be opaque. I always try to create a sense of depth within the surface of the canvas even though I paint flat. I can achieve this by color, line width, line color and overlapping. I must also have great composition. Composition is a key element in everything I do, without it everything is lost.

JM: What do you think about working in Milwaukee? Does the location influence you?

GL: I use to hate living here. There wasn't a single thing that inspired me and I felt that there was no future as an artist in Milwaukee. Many artists felt the same way. I couldn't find a single gallery that had work I liked so there were no galleries to take my work to. Even my illustration career was suffering.

When I lived in New York I was offered tons of work but when I tried here half the companies didn't even know what I was taking about. That really brings a person down, especially when you just spent a shit load of money on an education and you don't know what to do with it.

I think Milwaukee has changed a great deal in the last year or two. A great deal of non-commercial galleries have opened up and the ones that have been here for years are increasing in popularity. Many supporting organizations such as VAM!, are helping to increase public support and funding from the state. Not to mention what the Calavatra has done or the Wisconsin Arts Board which somehow finds more and more money to give to artists. It's just great. A lot of opportunities are popping up and the number of people who want to be a part of it is overwhelming.

When I first thought of doing Rust Spot it started out as just me and a couple of people wanting to show some work. I could never have imagined what it has become. Even with this last show I did, I was afraid that the TENANT show might be to far for the art crowd to make their rounds. Instead there was a huge crowd and a great deal of supporters. It was unbelievable; I don't think that these kinds of things could have happened five years ago.

OMC: What do you consider was your most successful project and why?

GL: I would have to say the TENANT: Art Inhabitant show. I was just so overwhelmed by its turnout. I couldn't have asked for a better time. All of the artists worked very hard and (it) showed. The space was unbelievable and the crowds of people were even more impressive.

I wanted to achieve more that just a pit stop on the Gallery Night tour. Like I said before, I was very afraid that since it was located so far from the Third Ward, that no one would want to make the trip. However, the crowds kept coming and staying, and everyone who came to the show came out there just for the show. It wasn't just a pit stop on to the next place because there was nothing nearby. No one was just poking their head in and then leaving, which was good.

OMC: What are your future plans, exhibitions, etc.?

GL: I am lying low right now and most likely will until spring. I get pretty wiped out mentally, physically and financially after putting shows together. I will continue to paint all winter, focusing on the figurative/character style. Along with snowboarding. I'm thinking about starting a children's book and seeing what happens with that. As far as organizing exhibitions, there are plans for something in spring but that's still hush-hush.