Ann Mikolowski

1940 – 1999


Ann Mikolowski, self portrait, photo by Tim Thayer

Ann Mikolowski, self portrait, photo by Tim Thayer

“We don’t generally think of a painter as being self-effacing, but that is exactly what makes Ann Mikolowski’s paintings so special. The conundrum is that there are no signature brushstrokes, no palette she favors, and no overt signs of her personality in her realist paintings. She used photographs to get her subject matter, but she was neither a photorealist nor someone who perfected a machinelike approach. When we consider that her two recurring subjects are landscape and portraiture, both of which we think of as being inseparable from the artist’s style—and here I am thinking of Alex Katz, Alice Neel, and Lucian Freud—the fact that she eschewed every kind of overt mannerism becomes all the more remarkable. It would be a mistake, however, to think that these are signs of her modesty, because, if anything, they are a confirmation of her deep and unshakeable confidence in both herself and her project.”

–John Yau; “To Have and to Hold”, Poetry Foundation



Ann Mikolowski, born in Detroit, Michigan in 1940, passed away in her Ann Arbor, Michigan home on August 6, 1999. She fought a long and inspiring battle with breast cancer.

Mikolowski was associated with the Cass Corridor art movement in Detroit. While attending Wayne State University and Center for Creative Studies in the 1960′s, she and her husband, Ken Mikolowski, founded The Alternative Press. Their letterpress editions of contemporary poetry and art were celebrated in a thirty year retrospective exhibition and symposium at the Hatcher Graduate Library, The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1999 and a twenty year retrospective at The Detroit Institute of Arts.

Light, clarity, and beauty infused her art. It was the collaboration between artists and writers that first inspired her miniature portraits, oil on linen, an intimate size for an intimate subject. These portraits were featured at the Gotham Book Mart in New York; Intersection for the Arts in San Francisco; The Saginaw Museum in Saginaw, Michigan; and a number of galleries. Solo exhibitions featured her work in New York, New York, San Francisco, California, Detroit, Michigan and Ann Arbor, Michigan.

While living for a time in Grindstone City, Michigan, Mikolowski painted the immense sky and water of nearby Lake Huron. “It would be impossible to ever make these paintings big enough,” she said.

She was awarded the Michigan Arts Award from the Arts Foundation of Michigan and Individual Grants from the Michigan Council for the Arts. Her work is in private and public collections including The Detroit Institute of Arts and Absolut Vodka. Between 1994 and 1997, Mikolowski collaborated with Stewart & Stewart on four screenprint editions.




Ann Mikolowski, “Robert Creeley” (1988). Oil on linen. 3 1/4” x 2 3/8”. Collection Penelope Creeley.

Ann Mikolowski, “Robert Creeley” (1988). Oil on linen. 3 1/4” x 2 3/8”. Collection Penelope Creeley.

“Mikolowski’s process was rigorous. To achieve an almost photorealist accuracy on the tiny canvases, she worked with modified brushes, pared down sometimes to a few bristles. In a portrait of the poet Robert Creeley, the soft folds of the poet’s denim shirt seem palpable in the shifting blue hues. Creeley’s lips are parted slightly; a cigarette between his fingers is burned down; a green glass bottle, reflected on the countertop, is visibly low. Each detail in the portrait is an invitation into the poet’s private space, and the artist’s.

Amid an art community in the 1970s preoccupied with the detritus of a crumbling, post-riot Detroit, Mikolowski’s paintings read like glimpses of a fabled world. During the ‘80s and ‘90s, her realism countered the broader theoretical positions of postmodernism, which pointed away from reality and toward the simulacrum. Mikolowski’s work was, and remains, neither an avowal nor disavowal of the real (and realism), but the evocation of a personal reality. In one of her only self-portraits, she sits, smiling, against a wall of evergreen trees. The portrait translates the infinitude of time and space into an elegant language of moment and place–of an ordinary moment that is noticed for its singularity, and then passed by.”

–Natalie Haddad:  “Ann Mikolowski: Two Ways of Looking in a Mirror”, Rain Taxi

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