Monday, April 30, 2012

Eight Minutes with Artist/Curator Jeredt Runions

The signs of spring vary depending on where you live, but one sign of spring here in the Northland is the flowering of music and art in the month of May. Beginning with the Homegrown Music Festival and ending with the Battle of the Jug Bands at Amazing Grace, with Dylan Fest cranking out history in between, this really is a special time and place. The Homegrown Music Festival has been growing for 14 years to where it now includes 175 bands, and I know still more local musicians not involved so it could grow even more.

The idea later emerged to include the visual arts as part of this creative experience. Three years ago this was discussed and it came to pass. In 2012 there is more art than last year and who knows how far it will go. Jeredt Runions has been part of the impetus behind the Homegrown Arts wing of this all-encompassing display of local talent.

EN: What is the Homegrown Art Festival and what is its relationship to the Homegrown Music Festival? 
Jeredt Runions: The art portion of Homegrown this year has been a work-in-progress for three years now. I’ve been putting on group shows during homegrown for many years because I felt that music and art up here in the Twin Ports should be presented together or at least inspire one another. Finally, the homegrown crew decided to include it officially this year. I’ve been involved with the music scene for a long time now so it is natural for me to think this way, I guess. After three years and showing people I’m serious when I say I’m putting on a group show full of awesome talented artists. 

EN: How did you first become interested in art and especially painting?
JR: Art is what I live off of I think. I was raised with art everywhere, a crafty mother and a wild-thinking step dad.  My good friend Gary Reed, my friends and family I considered inspirational during my tender years of growing up. I picked up a paint brush literally to save myself from a crazy path I was heading down in life with drugs. I personally think it was amazing what art did for me to vent and express what I was going through then and now.  Painting just came so naturally for me at that time, and I took to the styles of Graffiti and this cartoonish aspect that I really loved.  

EN: Do you have any live painting gigs lined up? How does live painting differ from painting in your studio space?
JR: I have some live painting gigs lined up for the summer. I will be at Harmony Park for the Bella Festival at the end of May and then some in Iowa in June. Live painting is a fun way to practice your confidence and quickness in composition. It just brings me back to the days of when I used to run around the city and countryside creating quick street art.  I have also noticed my timed sketches in school have improved greatly because of my past with live painting.  The studio art is just really great to sit back and take your time. I like not having anyone shout  to put something stupid in the work like a heart or their girlfriend’s name. 

EN: You also curate shows. How did you get into that facet of things?
JR: I feel that curating shows is part of my public duty so to speak. I’ve had so many people help me out in the long run of my career, but I never forget the people and galleries that couldn’t give a crap.  I feel that I can make a difference in doing this little thing. For the longest time I never saw any group shows being put on. It was sad; I had to change that message that the gallery scene wasn’t doing here. I never received any help from the galleries that should have stepped up in those days. I was a young kid pushing boundaries in a town full of seagull and lighthouse art, but knew there were more artists like me than the ones that were down in Canal Park being displayed to the tourists.  Time and patience show that a scene can build if you establish a network of like-minded people and continue to push limits. Now we have galleries that are helping to create a dream I and others have had here in the Twin Ports. Galleries and people  such as Ochre Ghost, Prove, Phantom Galleries Superior,  Anne Dugan from the DAI, Andy P. from Goin’ Postal, writers and critics such as you and Ann Klefstad. 

EN: When did you begin incorporating collage and mixed media into your work and what is it you find interesting about this form of expression.
JR: I have always mixed collage in with my work but have really enjoyed it now that I’m in UWS. This school is a collage incubator. I really enjoy the quick pleasure of collaging. It is just like my abstract backgrounds I use. I find it very rewarding when you have some time in the day to make a piece of art. This is my quick fix for the break in the day. 

EN: What are the dates and places where Homegrown Art can be seen? Do you have a list of artists whose work will be in these various places?
JR: There will be a show at the DAI that Anne put on which will be showing on Sunday the first day of Homegrown. It starts at 5 p.m.

The shows I curated this year for Homegrown Art are: "Rent Money" at the Zeitgeist Arts Building Atrium, "Local Walk" at the Duluth Photography Institute, "Soup Town" at the Red Mug, "Abstract Obscure" at the Ochre Ghost and Beaners, and "Saturday Morning Cartoons" at the PROVE. 

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Theater Review: Rubber Chicken Theater Presents Picasso at the Lapin Agile

Friday evening I went to see a local production of Steve Martin's Picasso at the Lapin Agile directer by Greg J. Anderson. The play is hilarious and the production company did an excellent job of conveying the nuanced wit of Steve Martin. When the stars came out at the end, you got it.

The setting for this play is a bar in Paris called the Lapin Agile. For the non-French speakers here, Lapin means rabbit. And "agile" (pronounced ah-jheel) means agile. Or nimble. It's the nimble rabbit, and home-away-from-home for the womanizing young Picasso, as famous for his women as for his work.

People who write for Hollywood or for the theater understand that script writing is about creating great moments and great lines. It's a a mark of Steve Martin's giftedness that he has been able to produce so much rich material over the course of a lifetime. I would compare him to Oscar Wilde on this score. Had Wilde been born in the twentieth century he would no doubt have been at home in Hollywood after getting his start on Saturday Night Live.

Live theater is such a high risk venture. No matter what you're feeling or going through you have to be on. There are no second, third and fourth takes if you don't get it right the first time. The show proceeds, unedited. And in this show the pace is fast, with lots of dialogue for all the main characters. If anyone forgot their lines you couldn't tell. There were no prompters and apparently no need.

Returning to the set, it's simple and comprehensible as a bar. There are a couple small tables, one stage right and the other stage left, and a few bar stools in front of the centrally located bar itself. Behind the bar is a painting of sheep in a pasture, which at various times becomes the focus of conversation. How the various characters respond to the picture is revealing.

The first to arrive are Freddy (Quentin Roth) and Gaston (Nick Elias) who do what bar settings must do. They banter as bartender and bartendee. Next to appear is an odd looking fellow in a suit who says he's here to meet a woman. He takes a seat and begins scribbling notes in a book. The banter goes on until finally he's asked his name. When he says he's Einstein, the bartender gets angry and says that Einstein is supposed to appear fourth in the play and not third. He leads Einstein into the audience, grabs a program from someone's hand and points out the cast "in order of appearance." Einstein leaves, apologizing for his error. Steve Martin's fingerprints are all over the place in this script.

Amanda Sjodahl as the waitress Germaine enters next and this trio of regulars at the Lapin Agile discuss themes that will set up the later arrival of Picasso himself. Einstein (Jonathan Manchester) returns and awaits the lady he is to meet at some other club in the Moulin Rouge. The bar staff are confused, but Einstein notes that "she thinks like me." It is soon learned that the book he is writing is called The Special Theory of Relativity. And indeed she does eventually arrive before it's all over.

Suzanne (Laura Grieme) arrives fifth, another one of Picasso's amore's (victims) smitten by the art world's most beloved narcissist. Her story continues the setup. She has one of his drawings. But when Sagot (Tony Barrett) the art collector arrives and sees it, he notes that it would be worth more if she could get him to sign it and offers to buy it. Barrett played the role well.

The discussion is re-directed to the painting of a pasture with sheep and it gets compared to one of Picasso's drawings. The pasture scene has a simple explanation (except for that of the complex Einstein) whereas the Picasso drawing has "a million, a billion, a trillion opinions, yet the drawing remains the same." Can this be a summing up of the great divide between elitist art and popular art for the masses?

Finally Picasso arrives, the star we've all be waiting for, played wonderfully by Pat Carrol exuding confidence and charm. Except when it comes to Suzanne who is there to worship him, and he can't remember who she is. "You're a womanizing bastard fraud," she exclaims. His retort: "If you're trying to praise me that's a poor choice of words."

Once Picasso's on the set Carrol turns him into a real presence. But so is Einstein. But who could have anticipated these bright lights having to compete with yet two more unexpected characters. The first is Schmendiman, played with hilarious aplomb by Stephen Bock. Picture a cross between Steve Martin and Will Farrell. You laugh just because. Schmendiman is an entrepreneur businessman. When Einstein, Picasso and the entourage are talking about what the twentieth century will be like, Schmendiman chimes in that he knows what the building materials will be like. He's just developed a new product for building walls made from uranium, cat's claws and asbestos.

Well, you get the idea.

Finally there is yet another star, this one from the future. But I'm not going to spoil it for you. He just brings another dimension to an already multi-dimensional story. It's a little like the foam that spills over when you pour too much beer too quickly into a frosted mug. Except in this play they were all relishing the wine.

Some lines that I especially liked in the play included these...
"Ideas are like children. You have to watch them carefully or they might go wrong."
"A mirror is like the mind. If you don't use it, it won't reflect."

Kudos to director Greg J. Anderson for assembling this cast, for doing what it takes to bring to life one of Steve Martin's treasures here in the Twin Ports. 


Saturday, April 28, 2012

Uprooted: A Story of Estonia (Part V)


* * *
During the months Karl was in hiding, his country began to change. Banks were closed, churches were locked up, and important people were arrested. Statues of Lenin and pictures of Stalin and Lenin were erected in pubic buildings. Flags with the Hammer and Sickle were prominently hung in pubic places.

One night the following spring, Ralph's cousin Uno came to their home and said that Karl wanted to see him. Late that night Ralph and Uno rode the train out to where Karl had been hiding in a crawl space beneath his uncle's house. Karl had decided to give himself up and wanted to say goodbye before he went away. After that night Ralph never saw his brother again.

* * *

They called him Kand, which means Root. 

Estonia is one of several small countries located in what is known as the Baltic Region of Eastern Europe. Like its neighbors, Lithuania and Latvia, the Estonian peoples have suffered much at the hands of larger empires which overran their lands at various periods of history. 

In the very earliest part of the 19th century, the land was owned by Russia, but the Germans were their landlords. The half million Estonians were serfs who were treated cruelly by their foreign masters. 

Up until this time people had no last names. One day everyone was given a name. The German overseers decided it would be easier to identify people this way. 

Out in the fields German commanders would call an assembly and give names to the people. Sometimes the Commander would stand up on a wagon. Looking at each one in the crowd he would say, "This one will be called Brook" because he saw a brook. Another he called Farmer because he was a farmer. He gave whatever name came to his mind. There was one man who had a hard heart toward these cruel oppressors and when the commander looked at him he said, "I know you," and the German called him Kand, which is the immovable root of a tree stump. He knew the man was very stubborn. 

It was this same Kand who later led a famous uprising against the German oppressors. 176 men were forced to run the gauntlet and were put to death. Their deaths helped mobilize the people so that serfdom was abolished in 1819. 

This was Ralph Kand's great great great grandfather. 


Friday, April 27, 2012

Kinkade, Elvis and American Conservatism

"Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art." ~Andy Warhol.

The recent passing of Thomas Kinkade brought to the surface a number of questions that in another context might make for a good discussion. Is a person a good artist because he has technical facility? Is a person a good artist because she is good at selling her work? Is the price people will pay for a piece a measure of its worth? What is the relationship between the artist's work and the way the artist lived?

According to the website Celebrity Networth, Thomas Kinkade was worth 70 million dollars while he was alive. His estate will no doubt increase in value since it is customary for artists' work to have great value after they die. He made this small fortune through a combination of talent, mass-production and American enterprise.

There are not a lot of artists who have become a household name. Picasso and Dali are two who crossed over into popular culture. Though not of their ilk in importance, Kinkade did succeed in creating a name for himself as a "Painter of Light" and something more. His Christian-themed art was beloved by the masses because, he says, God was guiding his brush and his life the last 20 years.* In a New York Times article he was quoted as boasting that he is a successful American artist because his works are in 1 of every 20 homes in America. 

I'm having a difficult time articulating what I want to say here. Maybe that there is something weird about the way liberals and conservatives line up behind people for reasons that have nothing to do with the art itself. For example, Last Temptation of Christ was a dumb film, but liberal critics praised it to the hilt. Martin Scorcese is a friend, but it didn't work as a film and to give it four stars was silly. Christian conservatives for the same reason (because of Thomas Kinkade's marketing) say his art is great when it is simply technical facility and sweet themes. And he was a Christian.

But the guy was not who he says he was. According to reports he was an alcoholic, a bully and was living with a younger woman instead of his wife of thirty years. According to this story in an LA Times blog the woman says he died happy. The Kincade estate would prefer his image be less tarnished so that his paintings maintain their value. (One of his originals flew up in price by over $200,000 after he died last month.)

I've hardly scratched the surface here as regard what I am internally wrestling with. In my mind are images of Elvis wrapping himself in an American flag, and of Elvis portraits painted on black velvet. And an Elvis mansion. And... somehow this is all wrapped in our fascination with the surface of things and what they stand for instead of thinking more deeply about what is really going on.

I'll be returning to this subject soon because it ties into another theme that I have had on my mind, the National Endowment for the Arts. I used to be agin' it and now I'm for it, more than ever.

Have a good weekend, friends.

*Kim Christenson, L.A. Times, Dark Portrait of a "Painter of Light" (Mar. 5, 2006)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Spotlight on Artist / Writer Jeffrey Woolverton

My first encounter with Jeff Woolverton was at last year's opening night of the Duluth International Film Festival. That evening's multi-media event, which took place at the Sacred Heart, was a creatively stimulating experience. If my facts are right (my memory is imperfect at best), the non-profit organization Life House had a booth at the event. Life House is the only drop-in center serving youth in Northeastern Minnesotan with an aim of helping at-risk kids break cycles of poverty. Woolverton has been on staff with Life House for the past ten years, committed to the mission of making a difference with Twin Ports young people.

He invited me to lunch to discuss the work of Life House and I learned that Woolverton is also a writer. Several months later I was participating in a group art show and discovered Woolverton was also a very talented painter. His painting especially intrigued me so that I wanted to introduce him here. Meet Jeff Woolverton.

EN: When did you first take an interest in art and do you still paint?

Jeffrey Woolverton: I first became interested in art at a very young age – five or six, maybe.  Of course, I never called it “art” since I had no concept of the term itself.  As a shy kid in school, a perfectly acceptable pastime during class hours was to draw things – doodles of cartoon characters, caricatures of my classmates, and the like.  It wasn’t until my doodles got noticed by my classmates and then by the teachers when I began to get serious about it – when I started thinking:  hey, maybe there’s something to this whole doodling thing.

It was fun to get noticed by the girls in class, of course, so I pursued it.  The boys couldn’t have cared less about that stuff – that “art” stuff – so I wasn’t viewed as much of a threat.  And when you’re young and in school, the smartest way to make it through is to draw as little attention to yourself as possible.  It was a safe way of making myself known, of asserting my personality.  Respected but not revered, so to speak – because to be revered is to invite an adversary, was the line of thinking at that time.

I didn’t actually pick up a brush until high school.  My first oil painting was the logo of a popular rock band at the time.  And when the art instructor showcased it on display in the hall before the cafeteria it was promptly stolen.  I thought that was spectacular – that a fellow classmate would risk suspension to own that painting.  It was later recovered.  They never did tell me the name of the student, which disappointed me.  I would have liked to shake his hand.

From then on, I worked solely in oils. Very detailed illustrations, reproductions of photos I’d taken or landscapes – realistic and romantic, nostalgic in both color and contrast.  It wasn’t until just recently – the past six years or so – when the paintings themselves developed a personality, when they began to speak things and tell a unique, original story.  That frightened me a bit, to be honest.  After that happened, I stopped painting temporarily and focused instead on my writing – the latter over which I became obsessed.  During this time I gave away most of my paintings to friends and family – for safe keeping, I suppose.

Do I still paint?  Yes, though not as intensely as in years past.  I now mostly take on projects for shows with local artists, most recently Limbo Gallery with Eris Vafias.  I do find the visual arts an extremely viable medium for self-expression, and occasionally I’ll get the itch to pick up the brush again and attack a canvas to that aim.  That said, today if I have a deliberate mind to express an idea or concept through art, nine times out of ten I choose the written word.

EN: You’ve self-published how many books and what are you working on now?

JW: To date, I’ve published three projects through Black Umbrella Books:

·         Given in to the…Blue Feelin’ (poetry, published August 2007)
·         Apples of Arcadia (novel, published March 2008)
·         Octopus Moons vol. 1 (poetry, published September 2009)

The past few years, I’ve focused primarily on projects related to grant writing – not for Black Umbrella Books, but on assignment for a local nonprofit.  It is very rewarding work, taking part in a community project that is meaningful in a “sustainability” sort of way.  I enjoy it immensely.

Creatively, I am writing mostly poetry these days.  As with grant writing, in poetry one must be impactful through brevity, concise and focused wordplay.  I have learned to take great pleasure in communicating a rather intense and complex idea with as few words as possible – without sacrificing meaning or connection with the reader.  I believe that is the essence of writing – to maintain a level of honesty and brevity through expression without risking one’s humanness in the process.  Truly, a difficult thing to accomplish at times.

As for Black Umbrella Books – I’m looking into a few projects.  I’d like to publish a volume of new poetry as soon as I can get the themes and words to align appropriately.  That should happen this year, I predict.  I’d also like to publish a second novel before I reach the age of forty.

EN: Which is harder, being a writer or a painter and why?

JW: It’s difficult to say which is harder – writing or painting – because the act of expression itself can be a very hard thing to do in a successful, meaningful way.  As with most tasks, the more often a barrier is tackled and overcome, the easier it becomes when that same barrier rears itself again.  I don’t feel this process is different for writing, painting, music, sculpture, culinary, papier-mâché or otherwise.  In all these mediums and methods, the common link is a near-sadistic discipline.

In pondering this question, I am reminded of a quote by author Henry Miller – from Tropic of Capricorn, I believe – wherein he likens the creative process to that of peeling away the layers of an onion.  Imagining oneself as the onion, initially the peeling of layers is excruciatingly painful, so much that it takes great courage to continue the process.  Over time, the peeling becomes less and less painful with each layer – finally to the point where it becomes enjoyable, a thing to look toward with fond anticipation.  That sums up fairly well the seasoned artisan, me thinks.

EN: In what ways are art and creativity good for this community?

JW: As human beings, individuals or groups, we all need in some form a creative outlet to celebrate our humanness, to express our unique thoughts and ideas – however insane or half-cracked those ideas may be.  Without the ability to exercise this very basic human need, history reveals, we as humans return to the basest of tendencies the likes of which exist within the insect world.

Paying attention to the progression of art since the mid-nineteenth century, this idea of the need for creative expression has remained the central theme to each important artistic movement from the Impressionists and Fauves to the Abstract Expressionists and Pop artists – at last culminating (however awkward) in Postmodernism.  If one examines even closer each movement, it becomes apparent that it’s not the product itself which is essentially important – but rather, it’s the attitude and process through which the product, the art, is achieved.

Within the context of community:  art – or, more appropriately, artistic expression – is essential to give rise to a collective consciousness, incorporated by the individuals, which in turn gives meaning and purpose to the life experiences of a locale and people.  The result of this creative process, if it be ongoing and allowed to develop – is a bond which is strengthened by and itself strengthens the goals and achievements of all current and future community members.

This process begins and ends – is indeed cyclical – with the positive development of youth.  In fact, the vibrancy and health of a community is demonstrated by the happiness – the creativity – it promotes inside its own children and youth.  Without this, a community instead promotes the opposite, which is akin to the cold senselessness of the automaton and the machines.

EN: Did you try to make straight A’s in school?

JW: I may have tried at one point. Stronger for me, I remember, was the fear of failing rather than the striving toward success – if success can be equated with making straight A’s.  I actually achieved straight A’s only once in high school – my senior year.  Like anything, there is a trick to getting A’s in school.  Once I learned the trick (more having to do with personality, less with academic ability), the actual A itself ceased to be the end-all.  I also got straight A’s in college a couple of times, to see if the method applied at a higher educational level.  It does.

After I’d discovered the methodology behind the grading system, the “thrill’ in getting all A’s escaped me.  I had grasped the golden apple, as it were.  Since then, the most important thing for me has become the substance of the experience, as opposed to the results.  Again, the “creative process vs. the product” thing….

EN: If you could change one thing about the Twin Ports, what would it be?

JW: I would like to see more street vendors – perhaps a traveling burrito bus or a falafel cart.

EN: Thank you for your time. And for your efforts on behalf of Twin Ports youth.

All images here are paintings by Jeffrey Woolverton with exception of my photo portrait of the artist/writer at top left. Click images to enlarge

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Morgan Exhibit at Zeitgeist: Catch It If You Can

"The artist fills space with an attitude. The attitude never comes from himself alone." ~Willem de Kooning 

Last night was the opening for a new exhibition of paintings by Bill Morgan, a UWS professor with strong roots in the painting traditions. When we spoke earlier this month he shared his relish for abstract expressionism, and his love of applying paint to surfaces.

When I arrived a few minutes early it was like any quiet evening at this cafe in the Zeitgeist Arts Building. I looked around, walked upstairs and found Penny from Perry Framing placing name tags and putting finishing touches on the exhibit.

Since its opening a couple year back this balcony area has been showcasing artists' works, but never in such volume as this. Usually a few paintings have been spaced out casually against the restored brick walls that augment the feeling of an old country art space. Morgan's paintings were generously distributed as if the curator were saying, "I really want you to see as much of this work as possible because it's really worth seeing."

And it is worth seeing. Morgan arrived with his lovely wife after I had eyeball-scanned every surface. I'll return to enjoy the work another time when I can be more leisurely about it.

The pictures and paintings have been hung thematically. One section clearly shows the influence of Mexico. One piece is tagged Milagros, which is miracles in Spanish. Nearby is another titled Imaginary Mexican Chapel. There were a few of these and if you've been to a Mexican chapel you'll recognize echoes of the experience in these works.

In the back of the room there were several paintings with Japanese or Oriental influence, faces perhaps from the theater or a Samurai dream.

On the wall to your left at the top of the stairs are numerous pieces combining painting and collage, reminders of art movements that passed through the mid-twentieth century. The collages included words and though Morgan had said they were simply design elements, one had to wonder when the word Mapplethorpe descended from the sky in one of these grey designs.

There is great variety in terms of color, sometimes vibrant sometimes muted, and theme, but overall the collection hangs together as the work of a man who seems to love the creative process, of making pictures moving paint around within defined spaces. I encourage you to catch the show...

Looking for a place to grab a bite downtown? What a great environment for enjoying a fabulous lunch.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Another Visit with Artist Coulter Prehm

Coulter Prehm is a fine painter and tattoo artist whom I interviewed here in early December 2010. In our last discussion he talked about his approach to painting and his influences.This is a follow up.

EN: What's new in your life since our interview 18 months back?
Coulter Prehm: Well, I think that a lot of things have been changing in the past year and a half. I’ve now settled into my new studio space in Santa Fe, NM.  It’s beautiful and is allowing me room to create a lot more works, some of which are larger than I have painted before.  I’m currently working on a 6' x 4f' landscape painting.  
In addition to the new studio space I have also started showing with a new gallery, Beals and Abbate on Canyon Rd here in Santa Fe.  They are really great and I will be having a solo show with them this coming fall, the weekend of Thanksgiving.  The show is called Of Love and you can see a promotional video for it on YouTube at this link or by typing in my name into YouTube.  The show will hopefully be a demonstration of what it is I care about and devote my time and energy to.

EN: Respond to a few statements for us...
a. Beauty is only skin deep.
CP: My initial response is that beauty is not only skin deep… I feel like it goes much, much deeper than that.  For me, when I look around at the world or the people surrounding me I am almost overwhelmed by how much beauty there is.  When I am painting a model, the superficial, skin deep, beauty is the least of my concerns.  I have a belief that governs my life that each person I encounter has been uniquely created and loved and while I’m painting them that is the thing I am looking to discover. I feel people are far more beautiful, on the surface and below, than is possible for me to ever really discover in this age.

b. Artists make art because _______. 
CP: Because…. We are made to be creative.  I believe that God is creative and that everyone he makes he designs to be a creative being.  Whether we make art or do math or are a stay at home mom.  A mom who works with her family at home is creative in that she has to find ways to manage her household interact with her family and maintain a life/ existence of her own. Not to mention if she cooks great meals…that’s artistic in itself!  I think it’s not too different for painters, sculptors or draftsman.  We all have a creative drive that needs to be sustained and nurtured and when it’s not I think we start to go a little crazy. And when we stop being creative we die…

c. Detail is the lifeblood of fiction.
Man… I don’t really know how to answer this. I think that whenever we create a fictitious experience through any of the arts, detail is important. When I say detail I am only referring to information that conveys a message and story.  In terms of painting, I suppose every image made is fiction. A painting is not a real thing other than a painting.  Even a painting of a field and mountains is obviously not a field and mountains. There has to be enough information in the work that the viewer can have an experience and an understanding of what is being conveyed.  I feel like this is an area I probably really struggle with.  I paint pretty straight forward portraits of people much of the time and I have don’t know if I do a good job of getting people to relate to them.  My goal with the paintings is to investigate the beauty that is in humanity and to meditate and make a statement about that. Even my portraits really aren’t about painting the specific person most of the time.

What kind of music do you listen to when you're painting?
CP: Classical if I have music on.  Most of the time though I really enjoy listening to audio books while I paint!  

EN: Why are artists and art an important part of our culture and communities?
CP: I think that art is a visible expression of the human spirit and that’s what makes it important. Realistically, paintings for paintings' sake aren’t really important I think… I believe it is all about the spirit of what creates the things that drives people to desire and care about them. Being an artist is a rare opportunity to share yourself with other people in ways that many never get the opportunity to do.  When a collector purchases a piece of art it is an awesome thing. You are obtaining a living artifact or piece of the artisan you collected from… anyone who owns a piece of original art work knows this. Yeah, I think this question again comes back to the creative spirit in people. I believe that is what makes art so important.

EN: If you weren't painting and doing skin art, what would you be doing today?
CP: Probably looking for opportunities to go to or live in impoverished places, helping out and loving people. Being there to be Jesus to those people… I really need to be doing more of this whether I am painting or not.

EN: Where can people see more of your work?
CP: People could check out my website at You can keep up with my upcoming shows there and could also visit Beals and Abbate Fine Art for more details. Again, I would like to encourage you to check out my video, it will give you a better idea of who I am and what my show will be about.  For purchase or commission information feel free to contact me directly via my website.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Language, Rock 'n Roll and Love

It’s interesting to study the history and evolution of language. We seldom realize that many words once had very different meanings. For example, the word “awful” once meant something wonderful, delightful, amazing… full of awe. Today, a New York chef will not be too pleased when you tell him the main course was awful.

The word manufacture has also changed significantly. The Latin root from which this word is derived meant “to make by hand.” In olden times to say a thing was manufactured meant that this product had been hand crafted by craftsmen. Now it means the opposite. A manufacturing plant today produces machine-made goods. Strange.

There are an abundance of examples of words with meanings that have altered over time. A balloon was once a game that people played with an inflated leather ball. Evidently the first hot air balloons in France must have reminded people of this ball, so they borrowed the existing word. The word cute had once been acute, meaning “keenly perceptive” and shrewd. Today we call babies cute and puppies cute, but I doubt that either of these are keenly perceptive in the manner of the original word.

The word propaganda is another word that has undergone change. It is actually a Latin word that was introduced in 1622 by Pope Gregory XV in response to the global rise of Protestantism. He formed an “Office for the Propagation of the Faith” to oversee Catholic mission efforts in the New World. (The official use of inquisitions was instituted four centuries earlier in 1232 by Pope Gregory IX.) The Nazi use of propaganda pretty much placed a stake in the heart of this word representing something good.

The preceding is simply a setup for a brief discussion of another word that has undergone change, and that is love, though maybe the problem isn't the word itself but the English language and its use of the word.

C.S. Lewis wrote a richly insightful discourse on this which became his book The Four Loves in which he outlines the meanings behind four Greek words that are translated "love" in our language, but which convey distinctly different meanings: storge (familial love), philadelphia (friendship), eros (romance), and agape (selfless, unconditional love.)

The distinctions Lewis makes are painted with such detail that a single reading of the book permanently etches the four images in one's mind. But Lewis makes another distinction in this slim volume that is often less remembered. Perhaps this is due in part because the book is titled The Four Loves and once we get that, we think we've gotten it.

An analysis of modern rock 'n roll brings it home with a measure of clarity, though also much of it serves to dilute and obfuscate the word's meanings. For example, I was listening to the the Rolling Stones song Happy the other day, and noted how in the chorus Mick Jagger implores, "I need a love to keep me happy." And since our minds are a catalog of contemporary music, a dozen other songs came readily to mind from Love Me Do to Honey Don't.

Pop music is saturated with songs that use the word love. But Lewis' book examines love from a different angle beyond the loves its title is derived from. An important distinction that he makes is between "need-love" and "gift-love."

The painful pleading in a song like, "Baby, I need your loving" can strike a chord in our hearts because we've all known this neediness. When we were infants it's all we ever knew. Who has not wanted the affirmations of love to assuage our isolation and loneliness?

But there is another kind of love, a love more mature, perhaps not unlike that captured by Coltrane's classic A Love Supreme. On his album Shot of Love Dylan masterfully brings this clarification through his song Watered-Down Love. In a world of needy hearts Dylan admonishes those who would take advantage of the needy. He also explains the difference between the common need-relationship and the higher way.

Watered-Down Love

Love that’s pure hopes all things
Believes all things, won’t pull no strings
Won’t sneak up into your room, tall, dark and handsome
Capture your heart and hold it for ransom

You don’t want a love that’s pure
You wanna drown love
You want a watered-down love

Love that’s pure, it don’t make no false claims
Intercedes for you ’stead of casting you blame
Will not deceive you or lead you into transgression
Won’t write it up and make you sign a false confession

You don’t want a love that’s pure
You wanna drown love
You want a watered-down love

Love that’s pure won’t lead you astray
Won’t hold you back, won’t mess up your day
Won’t pervert you, corrupt you with stupid wishes
It will not make you envious, it don’t make you suspicious

You don’t want a love that’s pure
You wanna drown love
You want a watered-down love

Love that’s pure ain’t no accident
Always on time, is always content
An eternal flame, quietly burning
Never needs to be proud or loud or restlessly yearning

You don’t want a love that’s pure
You wanna drown love
You want a watered-down love

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Uprooted: A Story of Estonia (Part IV)


Ralph lived with his mother Ida and brother Karl in Rahumae, a suburb of Tallin. Even though the Russians had passed a law making it illegal to own radios, Ralph and Karl, like many other Estonians, secretly owned radios in order to maintain contact with the outside world. The country's newspapers now only carried propaganda approved by the Communists.

At first, the Soviets established their presence by building army bases. But after a short time the terror began. As a policeman, his brother Karl began to see many dreadful acts in the streets of their homeland.

One day Karl was riding his horse along a narrow street in Tallin when he saw a terrible thing happen. A man, woman and small boy were walking along a sidewalk, followed by a large black car driving very slowly. The car window was open and a man inside was calling to the man. The family kept walking and ignored the people in the car.

The car pulled to the curb just ahead of them and two men jumped out, one of them clutching a pistol. They were secret police. Karl dug his heels into his horse's ribs and galloped to the scene, but was too late. The woman had been clubbed to the ground with the pistol butt and the man, forced into the car at gunpoint, was taken away.

These kinds of things were occurring all over the country.

* * *

Ralph and Mutti were best friends, but when it came to Eitzi they were rivals. Both of them loved Eitzi very much. That spring Mutti and Eitzi announced they were getting married. Ralph was happy for them, but sad at the same time because he never thought he would find someone as special as Eitzi. A wedding had been planned for the end of June.

But on June 14th a great and horrible thing happened. During the night, while Estonia slept, the NKVD (Soviet Secret Police) broke into homes all across the country and abducted 11,000 men. The next morning the streets of Tallin were filled with the cries of wailing mothers and wives who lost their sons and husbands. One of the people whisked away in the night was Mutti. There would be no wedding.

Because Eitzi's family had a cousin in Sweden, they were able to send her on a vacation to get her away from this place. In a week Eitzi, too, was gone, never to return. Nearly overnight Ralph lost his two best friends and he was ill in his heart.

This was only the beginning.

* * *

As the cold northern winter came on there were more and more stories of Estonian men being taken away by the NKVD. The Soviet Union was now at war with Finland and they were taking away the men to help fight in the winter war.

Ralph's mother Ida was afraid for her two sons. Karl comforted her by saying that the Russians would leave Ralph home because of his bad leg. Karl knew that one day they would come looking for him and so he seldom slept in the same place two nights in a row.

Actually, the Russian soldiers were not so bad. They were seen here and there at dance halls, at stores and in the park. Rather, it was the NKVD, the Soviet secret police, that everyone was afraid of. It was the secret police who came in the night looking for you or your husbands and children.

The day finally arrived when the NKVD began arresting the Estonian police. The first arrests were made at the police barracks and headquarters downtown. Ralph's brother Karl was not there when the raid came. When he heard about it he went into hiding so that even Ralph and his mother did not know where Karl was. Ralph did not know why they began arresting police, but he guessed that it was because the police had guns.

A few days later, shortly after supper, Ralph and his mother Ida were sitting at the table talking about Karl when two army trucks pulled up in front of their house. Suddenly there was a rap on the door, but the intruders did not wait for an answer. A half dozen NKVD in civilian clothes and greatcoats burst into the house, pistols drawn, and forced Ralph and Ida against the wall.

Ralph could feel the steel barrel of a pistol jabbing into his ribs. He could see by the wincing face that there was a gun in his mother's back as well. He could also hear the radio playing upstairs and became afraid because radios were now illegal.

The secret police, however, seemed as nervous as the Kands. They rummaged through every room, cautious and reckless at the same time. Two of the men went out back with flashlights. Two men stayed in the dining room.

"You know where he is, don't you," the apparent leader barked.

"No, I don't know," said Ralph. "And I don't want to know."

"I don't believe you," said the officer. Even so, he finally gave the order to let them go. Then he turned to Ida and said, "Listen, when you hear from your son, let him know that his country, Mother Russia, needs him. If he turns himself in, everything will be fine. Otherwise, when we find him he'll be shot like the rest."


Friday, April 20, 2012

Last Night Was Fun. Let's Do It Again

Where does one even begin? Last night was simply wonderful celebration of the arts in our community. The Earth Day Gallery Hop has been a late April tradition here in the Twin Ports for many years, but this year's pre-party grand openings seemed to jump it up a notch, thanks to the enthusiasm and energy of our Duluth Art Institute.

The festivities began in the Great Hall at the Depot and then spilled out into the various sections of the cities. The night, though brisk, was refreshingly late April.

I myself primarily took in the Superior galleries and events last night, beginning with Goin' Postal where I have been showing a lot of my paintings these past two years. John Heino had some new pictures including a spectacular piece of what appears to be driftwood, reflected and re-directed in unexpected ways. Carla Magnuson, Eric Horn, Tara Stone, Sharon Davis and others shared the space which is a business by day but has become something of a meeting place like the plazas in small Mexican towns where people gather to learn what's going on in the scene, courtesy Andrew Perfetti, proprietor.

Tonya Sells' productivity binge is nothing short of remarkable, much of it on display in one of two Phantom Galleries Superior, Ellen Sandbeck and Jim Grittner occupying the other.

Saturday I will try to make it to the Canal Park galleries and mosey about the other downtown spaces where artists showcase their stuff.

As for the future, I was reminded of the Olympian city-wide Luci d'Artista that takes place in Turin as artists from all over Europe contribute to transform the city itself into a spectacle of arts and lights. As our local galleries continue to work together I see great potential for the enrichment of our Northland and beyond. For now, the future remains unwrit.

If at all possible check out your favorite galleries in this weekend's Earth Day Gallery Hop. Visit the Duluth Art Institute website for details.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Eight Minutes with Prøve Gallery Director and Co-founder Steven Read

Last year ten UMD art students collaborated in a pair of shows in the space once occupied by the European Bakery on First Street here in Duluth. The shows were so successful that four of these students got fired up by the idea of starting a more permanent gallery in an abandoned space. Steven J. Read was one of these and the gallery they opened has been much talked about in the nearly six months it has been planted in the heart of our downtown scene.

Read is Gallery Director and Co-founder of the Prøve Gallery at 21 N. Lake Avenue in the Sons of Norway building. His exhibit (un)natural reactions got a lot of attention last fall in a Duluth Art Institute show in the Depot.

EN: How did you first get interested in the arts?

Steven J Read: Kindergarten. We had free time, and I was obsessed with dinosaurs. Not just, oh I like dinosaurs, but I could talk your ear off about them. I started making paper models of every dinosaur that I could find in my books. Dinosaurs, wood blocks, and Legos, that’s what
makes up my very early artistic career.

EN: Can you summarize briefly the stages of your art development? How did you evolve from strict visual arts to the kind of work you do now?

SJR: So, from paper dinosaur models in kindergarten, my next formal arts education would be all my time spent in school bands and orchestra. After we moved to Anoka I started getting very serious about the technical side of live theatre. This led me to UMD to pursue my BFA in Technical Theatre with an emphasis in Scenic Design. While pursuing my theatre degree, I grew unhappy with my training and decided to supplement my scenic design training by taking art classes.

It was in these fundamental art classes that I knew that I wanted to be an artist. When I think about my work I see a very natural progression to the work I do now. Currently my work is steeped within the conceptual and minimalist camps. My training as a Scenic Designer is essential to where I am now. As a designer, one of your jobs is to help visually re-enforce the play, to help to tell the details that are not in the script. My work tells a story, it’s never a straight narrative, and sometimes it is as simple as a movement or a cadence. I also work a lot with natural elements. I spend the majority of my childhood living in the country. When you’re a kid and you live next to a nice hardwood forest you spend a lot of time out there. We build tree forts, bike trails, catapults, and swings. All this time spend playing in nature gives you this guttural connection, you can’t shake it, I can’t shake it, so I work with nature. The last element of my work is my formalist side. My work has a minimalist slant to it, but it is not minimalist. When I am in an art museum I am drawn to the minimalist and abstract work. I do work I love, can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t.

EN: Duchamp said that making art was a subversive activity. Yet so many artists today look at it as a way to achieve commercial success and validation. Where do you stand between these two poles?

SJR: Money is great, but I don’t try to sell work. But, this doesn’t mean I don’t want to sell work. My first goal is to make something that is interesting, something that I enjoy, and if it sells, cool.

EN: What are the biggest lessons you've learned through your experience with the PROVE Gallery?

SJR: Community is everything, without a strong community around you, your just a crazy person. It has also re-enforced, “if you want something, don’t wait for it, do it.” Thank you Grandpa for that guidance.

EN: Where do you see yourself in five years?

Graduated from Penn State with my MFA, being an artist, oh, and I will have a dog by then. Besides that I don’t know. I am not against the idea of having another gallery, teaching art at a university, or making a living as an artist. We’ll see what falls into place, I’m just excited to see where everything goes.

EN: If you were not doing art, what would you be doing?

SJR: Working. Beyond that I have no idea.

EN: Please describe your past exhibit at the DAI, (un)natural reactions? And what's the underlying philosophy behind these works?

SJR: With (un)natural reactions I wanted to dive further into my two main focuses, nature and formalism. All the work has regional influences; all but one piece has something to do with the lake. I hope that the exhibit changed how people view the area we live in. It’s hard for me to find an underlying philosophy. When I did the work I would first start with a feeling, the pressure from a storm, the history of a rock, the movement of a map. I know that these are very hard to understand, this is why I wanted to work with them in an art piece, for me to explore these instances and then for the audience to be able to join in to. When I do work I spend a lot of time thinking about the views of the piece and how they will interact with the work. It is very important for me that the view and the pieces have the space and time to “talk”.

EN: Who have been your biggest influences in the arts? Which people and period of art history have most inspired you?

SJR: Starting with Duchamp and going just past the minimalist, that’s my formal focus, but I do look at a lot of contemporary art, you have to. I also am influenced a lot by field guides, Euclidian geometry, and music. I also read a lot, beat poetry and prose like Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and Garry Snyder , art writings like Sol LeWitt, Richard Serra, Carl Andre, Donald Judd, and John Cage, outdoor writing like Sigurd Olson, and technical and how-to books. I feel that to be a good artist you need to have a strong studio practice and you also need to continue to learn and study.

Follow Steven Read and the other members of the Prøve Collective on Facebook.

Popular Posts