Monday, August 10, 2015

How I Came To Be an Interviewer of Local Artists

When in the early 80’s I felt a sense of calling to become a serious writer – that is, to take writing seriously -- I felt impelled to read as many books on writing as I could lay my hands on, frequently adding the best of them to my personal library. (Advice I have given to many young writers over the years.) One of these was The Craft of Interviewing by John Brady.

Being naturally extroverted I’ve always enjoyed the energy that comes with meeting new people. Of course there are plenty of things one can’t ask in polite company out of concern for being rude or intrusive. On the other hand, when you’re a writer you get a lot of leeway here. There’s something of a tacit trust established that the interview is for a larger purpose of some kind.

Many of my early articles were interviews for human interest stories that ended up in newspapers. A couple that got married in their late seventies. A photographer who had a fascinating experience on Loch Ness at dusk, and captured it on film. A female weight lifter seeking to set a new record in the clean and jerk.

These early interviews showed me that people enjoy talking about their experiences and interests. And I discovered I also enjoyed the encounters. I liked finding out what makes people tick, why they do the things they do and make the decisions they make. And other people enjoy reading about it.

My first interview with a major figure was with the late Congressman James Oberstar, who during our initial encounter at Chisholm City Hall invited me to the home he grew up in where I met his mother and daughters. They kept me engaged while he called his wife who was ill in Washington, D.C. A dozen years later I had the opportunity to do phone interviews with Jonathan Winters, Ralph Steadman and Kurt Vonnegut for a feature about the screen printer Joe Petro who turned their paintings and drawings into fine art reproductions. These were the first of my artist interviews.

When I began writing articles in 1983 I had no idea that it would four years later lead to a career in advertising. In the same way when I started Ennyman's Territory in 2007 I didn’t know where it would lead either. Social media was just beginning to pick up steam around this time and I was eager to learn as much as I could about everything it offered. I soon became a fan of Twitter because it enabled me to find interesting people to interview from other parts of the world. By “interesting people” I mean artists. I found that when I reached out to artists whose work interested me they would frequently allow me to correspond so as to produce engaging content for the blog. It's always been my basic assumption that if something were interesting to me it would probably be interesting to others.

And so I began corresponding with artists in Brazil, Germany, Portugal, Spain, China, Russia, Australia and Antarctica as well as other parts of the U.S., sharing their work and their ideas on how they do what they do and why.

One of my initial aims with Ennyman’s Territory was to create an online space that was uniquely me. As both an artist and writer I decided to illustrate whatever I wrote about, often producing the paintings or drawings the evening before writing the next morning. As this wasn’t always easy to accomplish I gradually began doing five, six or seven illustrations and paintings the weekend before to use during the week ahead, the goal always being to have a blog comprised of good writing while aesthetically pleasing and original.*

All this lead to my having so much original new artwork that Internet entrepreneur Jon Thralow suggested I have an art show. The show took place at The Venue @ Mohaupt Block where I displayed 130 pieces in an exhibition called First Hand Experiences. Afterwards I began participating in numerous other shows. I quickly became impressed by how vibrant the Twin Ports art scene is.

One evening I met with Bob Boone, publisher of our local rag The Reader, to talk about the role blogging might have for his weekly. By the end of the conversation Bob asked if I might become a contributing columnist for his paper instead. This idea of having a forum to showcase local artists got me jazzed. It gave me an excuse to see more art openings and purposefully meet interesting people. For three years I produced content that also found a more permanent home online again at my blog.

What’s astounding is just how many artists we have here in the Twin Ports. When I visit group shows I’m continually surprised that even after interviewing 150-200 artists there are literally hundreds I have not yet been aware of. Again, I'm talking about local artists here.

It's not my lone interest, as regular readers will attest. Book and film reviews, poetry and Dylan are recurring themes. And who knows what will be next.

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Don't be a spectator. Jump in. The water's fine.

*Eventually I found that other peoples' art would serve the same purpose and was usually more interesting.

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