When Trent Miller and Toby Kaufmann-Buhler both moved to Madison about the same time in their early 30s, their lives were on a similar track.
Both were practicing artists who had studied in interesting places. Both landed in Wisconsin because their wives were entering graduate school at UW-Madison.
It wasn’t in their plans, but here’s what happened: The two men have become an influential presence in the Madison art scene. And they’ve become very good friends.
They’re also sharing space for their artwork in the James Watrous Gallery at Overture Center. The gallery, run by the Wisconsin Academy, is featuring the side-by-side solo shows “Toby Kaufmann-Buhler: Hidden States” and “Trent Miller: Spindrift and Tether,” through Feb. 24. The artists will present a gallery talk about their work from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Jan. 27.
It’s worth going. These personable, well-spoken and energetic artists are full of fresh ideas and plugged into the local art scene.
Miller, who works at the Madison Public Library, was the force behind last year’s “Bookless” event that turned the Downtown library — vacant at the time before it began a $30 million renovation — into a one-day art gallery and public studio for more than 100 local artists.
More than 5,000 people showed up for the event, which became one of the most talked-about art happenings of the year.
The connections from Bookless led Miller and Kaufmann-Buhler to launch the blog Spackle Madison, essentially an online showcase of the area’s gallery scene with event listings, interviews and show reviews.
Friends who are artists themselves furnish the content, so blog entries have the special insight of an artist’s point of view.
Though Kaufmann-Buhler and Miller do much of the writing, “there’s no curatorial agenda,” Kaufmann-Buhler said.
Spackle Madison, found at spacklemadison.com, also archives images of gallery shows that have come and gone, giving visitors a sense of “this vibrant art scene in Madison,” Miller said.
During Bookless “I realized there are a bunch of mid-career, mid-30s-to-40s people here,” he said — artists in the post-grad phase of their lives. “I thought we needed to make a regular group, to establish a community.”
Miller, himself in his mid-30s, grew up in rural Indiana and attended graduate school at Boston University, with a heavy concentration in painting. Along with the show at the James Watrous Gallery, Miller has paintings in a current group show at Milwaukee’s Tory Folliard Gallery.
Kaufmann-Buhler spent his early years on the East Coast and in Florida, followed by graduate school at Royal College of Art in London.
It was there he met his wife, Jennifer, who now works in the same UW-Madison department as Miller’s wife. In fact, the women’s offices share a wall.
Miller and Kaufmann-Buhler met through mutual friends in 2006 and now talk almost daily to share ideas or work on their arts blog, Miller said.
In their current gallery show, which features the mesmerizing video installations of Kaufmann-Buhler and Miller’s forceful and geometric paintings, “There’s no irony, no political themes,” Miller said. “There’s a high level of sincerity, I guess.”
Although the two artists’ work is very different, it does share “an open-endedness to the narrative and a sense of mystery,” he said.
“You need to spend some time and let yourself experience the work.”