Jim Zwadlo

I grew up on a dairy farm in northern Wisconsin helping my family feed about 50 cows. I started my undergraduate degree at UW-Madison, and finished at SUNY-Potsdam, in upstate New York, with a BFA in Fine Arts. I lived in New York City and its environs for about 20 years, and now live on the South Side of Milwaukee.

Artist’s Statement  

My subject is people represented realistically in an abstract urban space, as seen from an imaginary aerial point of view. I title the series of paintings “Pedestrians” to make it clear that the point of view is the point of the painting; the people are not doing anything especially interesting, just walking in the street.

I lived for many years in New York City, working in office buildings, thinking about how to orient myself. From the aerial point of view, to me, the Manhattan landscape became, literally, a map of itself. The urban space flattened visually into a kind of “found” painting. Being a native Midwesterner, I translated my sense of the flatness of the Midwestern landscape into a solution to how to paint the verticality of the urban landscape.

I use photographs as a way to reconstruct images from the real world and transfer them to the real painting. For me, photography functions as a catalyst, as in a chemical reaction: photographs are instrumental to making the painting, but they do not appear in the completed painting.

I refer to Impressionist cityscapes, Bauhaus photography, New York School abstraction, and Minimalism as some important influences

For me, the urban pedestrian symbolizes a complex social milieu. I paint each figure as a detailed individual portrait, familiar yet anonymous. I construct the crowd from thousands of photographs, arranged randomly to suggest patterns, and in patterns that suggest randomness. 

Imagery from the aerial point of view is instantly recognizable even though we rarely directly experience it. In contrast with traditional perspective, with its closer-is-bigger implied hierarchy, from above each figure is equal in scale and in space, as in a democratic vision, but with the added ambiguity between the arrogance of “looking down” versus “looking at.”  The aerial view makes it possible to imply the entire infrastructure of the city: cars, buildings, streets, etc., without actually depicting any of those things. 

The aerial view compresses space. The spatial flattening of the images intensifies the surface of the painting, and enhances the colors in a unique way. The compressed space is a map, a kind of living map, which shows a way of seeing, and a way of being in the world.



  • 1967 – 1970      University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 
  • 1979 – 1980      SUNY-Potsdam, NY  BFA-Fine Arts 1980 
  • 1995 – 1996      Long Island University, NY  MLS 1996

Recent Exhibitions:

  • 2009    8 Counties, Kohler Art Center, Juried show, Sheboygan WI
  • 2009    Forward!  Juried show, Charles Allis Art Museum, Milwaukee WI
  • 2009    Group Show, Katie Gingrass Gallery, Milwaukee WI
  • 2009    Wisconsin Artists Biennial 2009, Juried, Rahr-West Museum, Manitowoc WI 
  • 2010    Art From the Heartland, Juried, Indianapolis Art Center, Indianapolis IN 
  • 2010    Jim Zwadlo & Philip Krejcarek, Urban Ecology Center, Milwaukee WI 
  • 2010    Real People 2010, Juried, Woodstock IL 
  • 2010    Vertigo In Flatland, Solo show, Wisconsin Union Galleries, Madison WI  
  • 2010    Annual Salon, Walkers Point Art Center, Milwaukee WI
  • 2010    Winter Juried Exhibition, Anderson Arts Center, Kenosha WI
  • 2011    Gallery 2622, solo show, Wauwatosa WI 
  • 2011    Wisconsin Artists Biennial 2011, Juried, Anderson Arts Center, Kenosha WI    2011   Suitcase IV, Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, Milwaukee WI
  • 2011    Group Show, Hennes Art Company, Minneapolis MN
  • 2011    Summer Group Show, Jules Place, Boston MA
  • 2011    Inaugural Show, Beals & Abbate Fine Art, Santa Fe NM
  • 2011    Summer Show, M A Doran Gallery, Tulsa OK
  • 2012    Solo Show, Beals & Abbate Fine Art, Santa Fe NM

Recent Commissions:

  • American Bankers Association, Washington DC
  • National Football League, Baltimore MD
  • Central Grocers, Joliet IL
  • Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston MA  
  • Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, Madison WI  
  • National Association of Letter Carriers, Baltimore MD
  • Stone & Youngberg, New York NY
  • Stone & Youngberg, Chicago IL
  • Fountaindale Public Library, Bolingbroke IL
  •  American Career College, Anaheim CA
  •  Marymount University, Baltimore MD

 Selected collections:

  •  Over 200 private and public collections including
  • University of Wisconsin, Madison    
  •  UW-Stevens Point and UW-Platteville 
  •  SUNY, Potsdam NY    
  •  SUNY, Canton NY
  • The Aldrich Museum, Ridgefield CT
  • General Instrument Corp., New York NY
  •  Prudential Life Insurance Co., Parsippany NJ