Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Local Art Seen: All Dunn at the Red Mug

The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider's web. --Picasso

I first encountered Christopher J. Dunn's drawings at the Washington Galleries in a joint show with Emma Rustan on the first day after the two were wed. It was Dunn's first public art show and an exciting weekend for the pair. This current exhibition at the Red Mug in Superior is a solo venture, with a range of new works framed for display throughout.

Like his first show, Dunn's pieces reveal a fascination with contrasts, between light and darkness, between sharply defined and loose, between hard edges and soft. An emerging artist, his draftsmanship is strong and the effects he creates appear intentional as he tackles a variety of subject matter. There are subtle features in many of the drawings which he produces with ink markers. The subject matter appears to be anything that fascinates him and will enable him to develop his skills of observation and representation.

Here are a few select pieces from this new show which will be on display till the end of the year.

EdNote: Kitty-corner in the park across the street, beginning Dec. 2 and 3, the 8th Annual Christmas Market in Superior will again set up shop. They'll keep a fire going to warm your cockles, but if you need to step out of the cold you can grab a bite to eat and swig java at the Red Mug before continuing on your way to do the rest of your shopping. While there check out Chris Dunn's latest work.

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Get into it.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Ali, Dylan and Gorgeous George: Audacity as a Marketing Tool

1. the willingness to take bold risks.
synonyms: boldness, daring, fearlessness, intrepidity, bravery, courage, heroism, pluck, grit;
2. rude or disrespectful behavior; impudence.
synonyms: impudence, impertinence, insolence, presumption, cheek, bad manners, effrontery, nerve, gall, defiance, temerity;

This week I've been reading a biography of Muhammad Ali by Jonathan Eig, a rich, in-depth look at the life of one of the 20th century's major sports figures. (Ali: A Life) The  book is filled with details, anecdotes and stories, as well as life lessons for everyone from the street to the C-suite.

At this point in the story the young Cassius Clay, a Louisville slugger, has been fighting his way up the ladder in order to achieve his dream, a title fight with the World Boxing Champion Sonny Liston, and the right to be called "The Greatest."

The author does a superb job of guiding readers through Cassius Clay's formative years, thus showing how the boy became the man we all came to know as Ali. Eig conducted more than 500 interviews with all of the key people in Ali's life, and its apparent he's produced a monumental story about a complex man who came through a complex period of history.

The trigger for this blog post is an incident that occurs early in Clay's pro career as a boxer. He's pulled off a victory (Gold Medal) in the 1960 Olympics and is now determined to climb through the pro ranks as quickly as possible in order to become the youngest ever heavyweight champion. It's a tough job to get consideration for a title fight, but a fateful encounter with the pro wrestler Gorgeous George made an impact on the young boxer, adding a dimension to his character that propelled him more quickly through the ranks.

"The Human Orchid"
Who was Gorgeous George? He was a pro wrestler of the 1940s and 50s who was rich, famous and charismatic. My dad saw him once in Cincinnati back in the 50s. He had wavy platinum blonde curls, entered the ring wearing a hairnet and gold hairpins, and preened while drawing excessive quantities of boos from audiences that paid money to see him beat. My dad says at one point someone threw an empty liquor bottle into the ring that hit his forehead and cut him so that he was bleeding. He sometimes painted his nails and always wore outrageous attire.

According to Wikipedia, "In addition to his grandiose theatrics, Gorgeous George was an accomplished wrestler. While many may have considered him a mere gimmick wrestler, he was actually a very competent freestyle wrestler, having started learning the sport in amateur wrestling as a teenager, and he could handle himself quite well if it came to a legitimate contest."

Serendipity played a role in his success as well as his audacity. Though he'd been "performing" throughout the 40s, by the time television began piping into American homes in 1947, his antics had been fine-tuned and "pro wrestling" became one of the big drawing cards of the new medium, on a scale comparable to Bob Hope and Lucille Ball.

It proved fortuitous for Cassius Clay when he unexpectedly met Gorgeous George while promoting one of his fights in Las Vegas, June 1961. George was in Vegas for a match as was Clay. While making the rounds, each hyping their own separate events to the media, they crossed paths and the young boxer found the missing ingredient in his career: audacity. Clay's goal was to fill arenas with spectators who would pay to see him fight. In Gorgeous George he found something of a role model, a compelling mix of arrogance, mouthiness and wit.. a persona that fit the young boxer like a glove.

Dylan Meets George

Photo by Ted Russell, 1962, courtesy Bill Pagel
As I was reading about Ali's meeting with Gorgeous George I recalled how Dylan, too, cited his own encounter during the wrestler's visit to Hibbing in 1957. The intersection of their two lives occurred while young Robert Zimmerman was playing in the lobby of the National Guard Armory of the Veteran's Memorial Building. George entered the room with his entourage of performers, which was easy for me to imagine because near 30 years ago I was seated in a small restaurant in the Indianapolis Airport when 25 or more WWF wrestlers walked in to catch an early flight, many of them attired in costumed plumage. Everything seemed to stop as people gaped, taking it, the wrestlers in return gauging the effect of their presence.

Dylan says Gorgeous George flicked him a wink and said, or seemed to say, "You're making it come alive."

Maybe George wasn't a necessary component of Dylan's audacity. It's possible, though, that the famous wrestler cast a catalytic spark his way. His performance in the Hibbing Auditorium was audacious enough to have the principal pull the plug. While still living at home Dylan made an attempt to join Bobby Vee's band in Fargo, audaciously claiming that he was a pro piano player named Elston Gunnn.

Dylan's gamesmanship with journalists was legendary. But most outrageous was his return to that nerve-jangling electric sound, after several years of being a folk singer/songwriter of major importance (while still so very young, like Cassius Clay.) That first world tour with The Band was so disrupted by boos and catcalls that Levon Helm couldn't take it and left the group before it left the country.  Helm wrote in his autobiographical This Wheel's On Fire that the more they booed the more Dylan seemed to enjoy it, a very different emotional response from his own.

When Dylan was announced as winner of the Nobel Prize last year his initial silence was considered by many an audacious, outrageous act of affront to decency. Alas. His detractors may have rolled their eyes, but not his fans who shrugged it off as Dylan just being Dylan.

Here's an aside for more along this line: Novelist Jonathan Lethem on Bob Dylan's 'Mad-Scientist Audacity'

All this to say that I found it interesting that somewhat forgotten golden-locks wrestler made an impact on two of the most significant men of the last half-century. Here's a YouTube clip you may find amusing, followed by another if you're up for it.

Yes, George was one of a kind...

Here's a CBS Sports account of how Gorgeous George influenced the legendary boxer Ali.
This Huffington Post piece sheds light on Dylan's encounter with the flamboyant wrestler... as a simple twist of fate.

Local Art Seen: Ryan Tischer's New Gallery Has Opened for Business

An out-of-town guest takes in this view of North Shore
Thursday evening there were three receptions of note for friends of the arts in the Twin Ports. Christopher Dunn's opening at the Red Mug in Superior preceded the two Duluth openings by a half hour. At the DAI paintings by Paul LaJeunesse were displayed in the context of sculpted pieces by the Lake Superior Wood Turners in the Morrison Gallery while Faith King's presentation flowed through the Corridor Gallery space.

The proximity of the Duluth Art Institute to the newly opened Tischer Photographic Gallery made it convenient for many to take in both.

I first met Ryan Tischer when he was the Washington Gallery Committee Chair five years ago. Since that time he has actively shown his work in numerous local galleries, shows and exhibition spaces. With his subject matter primarily nature, the Tischer len does its best to capture a sense of the spectacular. By varying the surfaces on which he prints his images he capably produces varying effects.

The past two years, with assistance from the city, he set up temporary galleries for the holidays. This year, the Tischers -- Ryan and Aimee -- have made a commitment to open their store for more than a season here at 5 West Superior Street in the emerging arts district. It's a fairly major undertaking and the third local gallery to open in the past six weeks. In addition to selling his photography it would appear that they will also be offering additional services. Thursday's Grand Opening was clearly a success, the space crawling with friends, well-wishers and fans.

Though his camera is primarily focused on the ever resplendent Northland, he's also captured and brought home some striking imagery from the Southwest, Northwest and California. You can see and purchase many of his pictures here at his online gallery.

Gallery hours are as follows: Tues, Wed, & Sat 10-5, Thurs & Fri 10-6.

Iconic ice slats at dawn.
Visually compelling images.
* * * *

We have so many talented photographers here in our region, and it's easy to understand why. The region is simply so inspiring. 

If you're downtown doing a walkabout leading up to the holidays, 
stop in for a few minutes and check it out. This winter, should the weather 
be especially brisk, consider the Tischer space and Lizzard's as hot spots
to warm yourself before moving closer to your other destinations.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Why I'm Tired of People Talking About "Awesome Content"

It has to be the most overused word in digital marketing. "Awesome." I understand the intent, but please, to hear the way people chatter on about it you'd think creating "awesome content" was as easy as kindergartners making mud pies.

Synonyms for awesome at include all of the following: awe-inspiring, breathtaking, alarming, fearsome, magnificent, intimidating, formidable, terrifying, wondrous...  It's a word best applied to the Deity, though the Grand Canyon might give us a sense of something approaching awesomeness. I mean, it is pretty grand, as in the dialogue, "This is a piano, and that is a piano, but this here is a grand piano." Unfortunately the way we use the word awesome these days it feels like any hack can produce mind-blowing "content" as easily as tying shoelaces. And if you can't do it yourself, you can hire people to do it for you... for pocket change. Or so they say.

In an ideal world, everything is awesome and everybody is above average.

Look at all these stories you find when you Google the phrase "awesome content":

6 Awesome Content Sources That Take the Stress out of Social Media Sharing

9 Tips on How to Create Awesome Content that Is Easily Discovered

How to Create Awesome Content People Actually Want

4 Rules For Creating Awesome Content Your Audience Loves

4 Steps to an Awesome Content Calendar (and 6 Things You Need on It)

25 Tools to Find Awesome Content to Share

15 Ways To Consistently Create Awesome Content That’ll Get People Coming Back To Open Your Emails, Visit Your Blog, And Watch Your Videos

7 Awesome Content Marketing Examples You Can Steal

How to Create Awesome Content for Facebook, Twitter and Google+

The 3 Keys to Awesome Content Marketing That Works
(Both this and the previous one are by Jeff Bullas. Awesome!)

Awesome Blog Writing Service

How to Create Awesome Content

7 Types Of Awesome Social Media Content Your Brand Can Be Creating Right Now

We All Want Awesome Content, Here's How to Start Making It

7 Elements of Awesome Content

The Principles of Awesome Content

Infographic: How to find awesome content topics

How To Create Awesome, Eye Catching Instagram Content

How to Plan Awesome Content That Grows Your Email List

How To Create An Awesome Content Strategy

12 Types of Awesome Visual Content You Can Use in Your Blog Posts

5 Ways to Transform Your Content From Adequate to Awesome

How to Find Awesome Content Writers for Less than $3 Per Article

Awesome Content Writer

Five Ways to Focus on Creating Awesome Content With Your Client

Awesome Content Tools - Grow Your Business with WordPress

Announcing our Awesome Content Targeting (ACT) tool

1 Awesome Way To Create Great Content

Five Tips for Awesome Content

How to create awesome content in 5 easy steps [infographic]

How to Write Awesome Content For Your Website

9 Awesome Content Marketing Tools That Will Make You More Efficient

10 Steps to Building an Awesome Social Media Content Calendar

Awesome Content

How to Write Awesome Blog Content for Your Nonprofit

Two Ingredients of Awesome: Content and Metaphor

Your Awesome Content Is Useless, Until…

5 Ways to Come Up With Awesome Content Marketing Ideas

* * * *
So, what do ya think? Pretty awesome, huh?

Bottom Line: I'm a big believer in attempting to set the bar high, but common sense says that when everything is awesome, nothing is. What is it you are really trying to do? Entertain? You're competing with Hollywood. There are plenty of other reasons for creating content though: to enlighten, to inform, to persuade, to comfort, to connect with a  community, to leave a legacy, to inspire, to spark a discussion, and maybe just because you have a need to express yourself so you can sort out what you really think and feel on a subject.

If you've read this far you pretty much know what I think. Let's use a different word and scrap the A-word. Try out some of these: useful, meaningful, engaging, etc.

Have a great day.

* * * *

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Local Arts Scene: Cohort Continues Conversation About Arts Writing

Jamie Ratliff leads a discussion in observation and interpretation.
The Duluth Arts Writing Cohort held its second meeting in the board room of the Duluth Art Institute this past Tuesday evening. The group's ultimate aim is to build a body of arts journalism with a focus on Twin Ports visual artists and their work.

The panel this month was comprised of arts writers Ann Klefstad and Christa Lawler, and Jamie Ratliff, who teaches art history at the U, with our moderator being freshman ARAC Executive Director Drew Digby, who earlier in his career spent a decade as a journalist.

At the beginning of the meeting Tim White brought up the idea of recording the meetings so that we might have a historical record available for the future. In a sense it would provide a snapshot of this moment in our community history as well as a reference point that we can re-visit. A concern was raised that recording the meetings could potentially dampen open exploration of sensitive subject matter. Ultimately, the group seemed to accept the adoption of Tim's idea for the next meeting.

After introductions we opened the session with an observation exercise in the John Steffl Gallery in front of one of the paintings in the current Art of Grief show titled A Figure Scape by Diane Bywaters. Jamie Ratliff led the exercise, asking us to write down on a sheet of paper what we saw when we looked at this large painting comprised of human figures of various races and genders as well as skeletons. "What do you see?" After a short period of time in which we were all busy scrutinizing and scribbling she then asked, "What is the artist's intent?"

Ratliff then led a discussion that began with the point that writing is a form of translation. The starting point is the work itself, what the artist has done, not simply how I feel about it. (This point was later reiterated by Ann Klefstad in the subsequent discussion.)

When we returned to the board room Drew Digby led a Q&A with the panel that circled around our theme from various angles.  Here are a few of the takeaways for me personally that came out of the discussion.

-- Sharon Moen said, "I write for an audience." In other words, who I am writing for dictates to some extent how I write, how I say it. Jamie Ratliff concurred that after making a formal analysis of a work the actual writing has to be restructured based on who you are writing for.

-- Ann Klefstad stated that her aim is to write about the art itself. "My job as critic is to raise peoples' interest" in the work. Her focus is on the work itself. As a writer she strives to become familiar with and really know the artist's work. The artist statement is not important to her.

-- Jamie Ratliff, on the other hand, always considers the artist statement and writings. The contrasting approaches showed that there is no one correct answer in writing about art. (Christa also reads everything, she said.)

-- The panel was asked about their approach to the large piece the rest of us wrote notes about. Jamie's theme would include something about gender and race, and about the representation of women and men. She would bring in context and perhaps reference Gauguin, Degas and the objectivization of women. Ann noted that she would discuss painting and drawing styles. Christa would write about it in the context of the show about Grief. "Always look for a moment of entry."

-- In response to a question from Drew about writer's block, Jamie stated that she writes in the middle of the night, a period of time when there are fewer distractions. Ann stated that she writes out of economic necessity. "Economic panic" doesn't allow her the luxury of writers block.

* * * *
In addition to the panel discussion we each received a useful handout that provided elements and principles for discussing art. Concepts like form, content and context were defined, as well as some general guidelines on the principles of design. Understanding principles of visual language are an integral part of arts writing, principles that help us better define what we are observing like the rhythms, patterns, visual movement, proportionality, variety, emphasis contrast, unity or disunity, and harmony or discord... all of it useful information.

My initial response to the discussion portion of the meeting was that the time went too fast, and the topics raised were interesting but insufficiently explored. I left hungry for further discussion, and believe others may have as well. The good part of this is that these meetings seem to be stimulating the possibility of greater dialogue outside the constraints of the ninety minutes we've been temporarily shoehorned into.

In short, the meetings are creating an appetite for more dialogue. And that's a good thing.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Brooklyn Museum Honors Rodin with Major Exhibition on Centennial of His Passing

The power of the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg is derived in part from seeing all these striking works in one place, experiencing the progression of his vision as well as the scale of so many of these pieces. This year, the Brooklyn Museum is doing a similar unveiling of its Rodin collection in what will undoubtedly be a rewarding experience for anyone able to take it in. The exhibition will feature 58 Rodin pieces, honoring the 100th anniversary of Rodin's death in November 1917. This body of work provides an overview of his career from 1840 to 1917 during one of the most significant periods in art history, the movement from classical to modern.

If you recall, this period included the transition through French Impressionism that included Monet, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Seurat, Renoir. The sculptor Rodin was a close friend of Monet, the famous painter of water lilies, to whom he once wrote: “the same feeling of fraternity, the same love of art, has made us friends for ever… I still have the same admiration for the artist who helped me understand light, clouds, the sea, the Cathedrals that I already loved so much,but whose beauty awakened at dawn by your rendering touched me so deeply.” *

Auguste Rodin, who grew up poor, was teased for his lack of academic prowess and retreated into shyness. Around age ten he took an interest in drawing and molding clay and no doubt got enough strokes from this that he kept it up and pursued a career in art. Failing to get the recognition he desired resulted in an emotional collapse after which he recuperated in a monastery. After his recovery he rented a studio and began hiring models to pursue the recognition he believed he deserved.

His best known works include The Thinker, and The Kiss. He also produced busts of notable literary figures including Balzac and Victor Hugo, indicative of the caliber of his associations. A visit to Italy in 1875 resulted in his first-hand experience of Michelangelo's sculptures, inspiring a renewed pursuit of heightened realism in his own pieces. 

Like many artists doing groundbreaking work Rodin's achievements were not appreciated during much of his life. He didn't fit the mold of what was expected, had broken with tradition and pursued his own vision. By the turn of the century, however, he was world-renowned after his work was displayed at the World's Fair.

Rodin's The Thinker may be universally recognized, but is only one of the many thousands of busts and fragments and statues he created over the course of five decades. If you have the opportunity, the Brooklyn Museum will be sharing its collection throughout the winter. Or, you may wish to make your way to the Philadelphia shrine devoted to Rodin's work, the Rodin Museum, the only museum in the world outside of Paris that is wholly dedicated to Rodin's art.

* * * *
Four Quotes for Contemplation

"Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely." --Auguste Rodin

"I invent nothing, I rediscover." --Rodin

"To any artist worthy of the name, all in nature is beautiful, because his eyes, fearlessly accepting all exterior truth, read there, as in an open book, all the inner truth." --Rodin

"The artist must create a spark before he can make a fire and before art is born, the artist must be ready to be consumed by the fire of his own creation." --Rodin

* * * *

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Dig it. 

Photo Source, The Thinker: Wiki Commons 


Friday, November 17, 2017

Flashback Friday: PRØVE Gallery Inaugural Exhibition Proves Art Can Be Exciting


18 November 2011
Last night I had the privilege of being able to attend the pre-opening of Duluth’s newest art phenomenon, the PRØVE Gallery. The collaborative project with a one-year commitment to its current location promises to bring still more excitement to an emerging Twin Ports arts scene.

The PRØVE Gallery mission is to become a conduit of powerful ideas and diverse viewpoints as well as fostering a greater appreciation of the modern arts, expanding community and providing cultural exchange. The gallery’s ambitious aims include presenting monthly shows, collaborating with like-minded arts organizations and create networking opportunities that benefit the arts retail environment.

My first impression upon arriving at the gallery was a huge “Ah, seriously interesting.”

The gallery is located in the heart of downtown, half a block up from the intersection of Lake Avenue and Superior Street. According to Richard Hansen, who serves with Sound Unseen, promoters of the Duluth International Film Festival, explained just how much work was involved is preparing the space for this event. “We didn’t even have a floor,” he said.

The artists are young, enthusiastic and serious about their work while simultaneously enjoying this opportunity to display. Justin Iverson’s Malignant Neoplasm on Steel is richly illuminated to produce a suitable vigor for those who stop to engage it. A vibrant variation on abstract expressionism, there is a fascinating assortment of colorations as a result of the application of salt, water and vinegar onto the surfaces of steel.

Nikolas Monson’s 5:30 PM in the rear of the gallery created interesting visuals due to the shadows and lighting. Monson explained the source of the title. It’s the color of sunset in October here in the Northland. Equally mysterious, based on viewer position, the piece is intended to create “the illusion of something more.”

Steven Read’s Showdown with Agassiz (below right) is designed to distort perceived space and adjust viewers’ relationship with objects in the environment. The name of the piece, along with the names of all these works, is both playful and cerebrally entertaining. I enjoyed taking numerous photos of gallery visitors engaged in conversation beneath the rubric of linear abstraction.

Anthony Zappa’s dynamic Tilt stretches into the interior of the gallery, serving as both wall and window to the space and designs within. The linear elements are wide enough apart to tempt viewers to barge through the piece but narrow enough to restrict such imposition.

Galleries like the PRØVE could not exist without the support of sponsors. And it really is great to see so many companies stepping up to support the arts locally. PRØVE Gallery sponsors include the New Scenic Café, Sherwin Williams, Sound Unseen, Lake Avenue Café and the Twin Ports Gallery. (As an aside, my father was a chemist who worked in the development of latex paints, and once was employed by Sherwin Williams in Cleveland way back when.) Thank you to all sponsors of the arts.

Tonight is the grand opening of the PRØVE Collective's newest art gallery. It is my earnest belief that anyone half-interested in the arts would be well served to pay attention to this new space, and if at all possible drop in tonight and check it out.

* * * *
17 November 2017
Tonight, the Prøve Gallery is conducting it's fourth annual exhibition and silent auction of 30 crafted skateboard decks by local, national, and international artists all sharing one purpose: building skateboard parks in our communities. The event is titled Plys with Purpose. Proceeds from the silent auction will be donated to the Gary New Duluth Development Alliance for their ongoing efforts to build a public, state-of-the-art skateboard park in Gary New Duluth.

Designed by nationally recognized skate park designer, Mark Leski, aka “The Wizard”. The skateboard park will not only give the local youth a new facility, it will bring new businesses and prosperity to the Gary New Duluth community. For more information and donations to the GND progress, please visit   For more info on tonight's event visit the Plys with Purpose Facebook pageAfterparty at The Rex.