Variety Show

From sandwiches to surrealism.

Hintz during a rare moment of rest at Var Gallery. Photo by Kat Schleicher.
Hintz during a rare moment of rest at Var Gallery. Photo by Kat Schleicher.
If you think artists still hole up in their studios, courting the muse and drinking too much, think again. Josh Hintz, a 26-year-old drawing and sculpture graduate from the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, provides the latest evidence.

About a year ago, Hintz rented an entire building at 643 S. Second St. in Walker’s Point, calling it Var Gallery, and bringing along a cadre of artists he had already housed in a communal project in Bay View. Twenty-three artists now have studios at the gallery, and their rent pays most of the building’s expenses. Milwaukee has collective spaces like Material Studios and The Pitch Project, but what distinguishes Var Gallery is Hintz’s mix of programming.

Hintz cut his business teeth at age 15 when he began serving sandwiches at Cousins Subs. He never left. Working full time during college, he rose through the ranks of the footlong industry and now holds a marketing consultant position with the corporation. He applied his Cousins experience to Var in that he’s growing the business incrementally, and his long-term plan includes adding locations.

Var’s Cream City brick walls, high ceilings, handmade wooden benches, two floors of exhibition space and small stage host regular, diverse events. Hintz worked hard to secure a liquor license, and the gallery’s bar not only pays the utility bill, but makes it an appealing venue for comedy shows, music, figure-drawing sessions and poetry readings. Working full days at Cousins, Hintz spends evenings and weekends either staffing Var or working on the infrastructure, moving walls, adding workshop facilities and reconfiguring the space. Hintz absorbed the lessons of growing up in a Franklin family of carpenters, electricians, machinists, plumbers and dry-wallers. He augmented that education with expansive modes of thinking taught at art school, and the attention to detail required by cold-cut customer service. And there was the advice from fellow MIAD grad Jeremy Shamrowicz of Flux Design: “If you want to do something this big,” Hintz recalls, “you have to give everything you have to make it happen.”

‘Variety Show’ appears in the March 2016 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Find the March issue on newsstands beginning Feb. 29.

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Debra Brehmer, an arts writer and curator, owns and operates Portrait Society Gallery, a contemporary art space in Milwaukee. She was also the former editor and publisher of Art Muscle Magazine and teaches part-time at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.