Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Fall of the Creative Class

Last week a Facebook friend posted a thought-provoking critique of Richard Florida's Rise of the Creative Class. For those who care about these things, and I realize a lot of folks don't, the article addresses the current relationship between the arts and contemporary culture, and challenges certain beliefs regarding the economic value of art in society. The article, by Frank Bures, is titled "The Price of Everything." It's popularity may be due to the fact that it attempts to knock over one of our newly erected sacred cows.

Having a little background on Florida's ideas, some controversial, is helpful but not necessary to find Bures' piece stimulating. (He briefly outlines them in the article.)

Early in the piece Bures laments that many people found his observations "depressing." After analyzing this reaction he concludes:

I suspect it has to do with a shift in our attitude toward art and its place in our lives over the last decade or so — namely, the idea that if something is worth doing, it should also make money. Intrinsic value – in virtually every sphere– has given way to the metrics of financial return. Or as political philosopher (and Minneapolis native) Michael Sandel notes in his new book What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, “We have drifted from having a market economy, to being a market society.” 

When I read these words I was reminded of Dr. Francis Schaeffer's concerns expressed in his book and video series, Whatever Happened to the Human Race? that he wrote with Dr. C. Everett Koop. It's basic premise is that there are some things that have value which should not be measured in purely economic terms. He illustrates this in a variety of ways, including the manner in which a price was placed on human beings during the slave trader days. The authors extrapolate that this same demeaning of what it means to be human is what led to justifications for abortion and euthanasia. When people are not productive, then we should get rid of them because they are a drag on society and progress.

Please don't stumble on the abortion statement there. My point, as Bures notes, is that capitalism seems to lay claim to everything nowadays, and that Schaeffer tried to argue that some things should remain in a more sacred realm. i.e. People.

In contrast, Richard Florida argues that art and "creatively 'activated' spaces can help jumpstart a local economy." Bures balks at this. Is this the role of art? Does art only have value when it is used to improve the economy?

In his summing up, Bures writes:

My fear is this: Once people realize that art may not be stoking a secret gravy train, they will simply want to get off it. If creative placemaking schemes don’t pan out, the false hope they engendered might do more damage to arts funding in the long run, because they will have shifted the focus away from our most compelling reason for support of the arts. We should fund art because it makes the space around us the kind of place we want to live.

Art matters. Design and beauty matter.

This is not to say that commerce is evil either. But things need to be kept in perspective. And like Bures, I am wary of what is hot today as an idea because it will be out of fashion tomorrow. The "hippie" movement was a statement against materialism that declared people are more important than things. A decade later the Yuppie movement swept 90% of those hippies away to chase BMWs and a lifestyle that was the complete antithesis. Alas.

Read it, think about it. It's a bite-sized morsel to chew on for today. The Price of Everything. And check out Richard Florida's response at the end. Let's keep the dialogue going. It's good for us.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Five Minutes with Artist Lisa Eddington

"Pure drawing is an abstraction. Drawing and colour are not distinct, everything in nature is coloured." ~Paul Cezanne 

Lisa Eddington grew up in Texas but now lives in Seattle. Her profile statement at Etsy reads, "My name is Lisa. I like to draw things that make me happy. I hope they make you happy too." I like the spirit that statement conveys. It has been interesting watching her style develop these past several years.

EN: You’re quite talented and creative. When did you first become interested in making art? 
LE: I have been interested in making art for as long as I can remember. When I was a little kid, I was always making something with my hands; whether it was with play-dough, silly-putty, legos, etc. In elementary school I won an award for a painting I made of a mouse holding a wedge of cheese. That was probably the first time I realized I wanted to be an artist.

EN: Where did you get your training and what did you enjoy most about that experience? 
LE: I received a BFA in Painting and Ceramics at the University of Texas at Arlington. My favorite part of being in school was the sense of community I felt in my classes. I loved always being around other artists, getting feedback and inspiration from my professors and fellow students. It was a great creative environment.

EN: What kinds of media do you like to work with and why? 
LE: Painting and drawing are my main forms of expression, and I also like to work with ceramics. Lately I have been focusing on drawings on paper with pen. I like the details I can achieve and the amount of control I have with this media.

EN: Who are some of your favorite artists and why? 
LE: Mel Kadel is one of my favorites. I love her subdued color palette, and the way she makes mirroring patterns. Inaluxe is another favorite (collaboration of Kristina Sostarko and Jason Odd.) They are very good at simple yet interesting designs. A new favorite is Jason Ratliff and his Walking Shadow Series. I like way he combines traditional illustration and design together.

EN: What are you working on now? 
LE: Currently I am working on a series of drawings inspired by kaleidoscope shapes. They are bright and bold designs with strong floral influences. They are fun to draw because I can be spontaneous in my process. Some drawings turn out completely different from what they started out to be, and that's OK.

EN: Where can people see more of your art? 
LE: I have some prints of my drawings for sale at my Etsy shop.

EN: Thanks for sharing!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Saturday in the Park

The energetic Vicci Martinez topped the bill.
That famous song by Chicago begins, "Saturday in the park, you'd think it was the Fourth of July." Here in Duluth yesterday there was no confusion as the Reader Weekly capped off a free concert for the city of Duluth called ReaderFest. Publisher Bob Boone was celebrating the paper's 15th anniversary by "giving back" to the city that made his paper possible. After a week of free events that included free Duluth Superior Zoo passes, free tours of the William A. Irvin ore boat, free Beer and Wine Tasting at the Depot, and other such events, he threw a bash at Bayfront Park for the city, with the first ten thousand people to get in Free.

As parties go, the music was great. Sadly the crowd did not come anywhere near emulating the sardine-packed Fourth crowd. Nevertheless, the bands all played their hearts out and the weather Boone dialed in was stellar. What a beautiful setting for concerts, a gift to the city from Lois Paulucci.

Headliner Vicci Martinez flew into town from the west coast and once she took the stage it was easy to see why she's a rising star. A runner up on last year's The Voice, she gave her heart to Duluth and everyone there appreciated the opportunity to hear her again after stealing their hearts last year during Blues Fest.

Those who think she’s an overnight sensation have it wrong. With more than a dozen years in the business, Martinez “is a testament to the power of perseverance, soul, and hard work,” according to the Seattle Music Insider.

Tuesday evening I spoke with her as she was about to catch a plane. Music has always been a part of her life. “Growing up around my house, my parents played all kinds of music. I’m a big fan of Michael Jackson, The Beatles.”

But two performers made a special impact on her when she was a young teen. “For me, someone that really triggered and inspired me was Sarah McLachlan. She was doing Lilith Fair here when I was twelve or thirteen.” Lilith Fair was a travelling music festival consisting of female solo artists and female-led bands. “And I said, ‘Oh wow! Look at these women, these musicians that I never would have heard of.’”

The second performer who made a life-changing impact was Dave Matthews. “I went to his concert when I was fourteen and just the experience I had there made me say, ‘I want to be on stage doing the same thing that that guy is doing.’ It was so much fun sitting there watching it, but there was this pull in me that said, ‘I want to just do that. I want to be on stage with great musicians.’”

How long did it take for the Dave Matthews experience to take root? “I think probably right then, that actual day. I started putting a band together.”

Martinez knew it would be a lot of work, but she was excited about the possibilities. Nine albums later and getting signed with a record label, Universal Republic, has been more than rewarding. But very early on she saw the road ahead and went after her dream. “I think recently getting signed and having my songs played on the radio… made me say, ‘Wow, this really is happening.’”

Knowing her audience is “having an experience,” while she’s performing on stage is important to Martinez. “I’m playing for them, not for me,” she said.

Her current album is called Vicci. Like her other albums the songs and music are all her own. “I’m the writer, it’s my music, but when you play live it’s all of us on stage, so it’s important to have a great relationship with everybody.” As I watched them perform last night you could see they were all very much into it. Vicci is the leader, “but I make it fun for all of us.”

And for the audience as well.

It was a beautiful day to be down at the Bayfront. The playlist included Brothers Burn Mountain, Hannah Rey, Ultraday, The Cutthroats, Bryan Olds Band, Uprising, Centerville All-Stars, Molly & The Danger Band as well as Miss Vicci. You missed something good if you weren't there.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Uprooted: Part XVII (Another Dark Day)

These Saturday blog entries have been devoted to a serial novel titled Uprooted, a story about Ralph Kand, a young crippled man from Estonia during those difficult and challenging years from 1939-1945. It's a story of alienation, of the relentless pursuit of freedom and a homeland.

Another Dark Day

The days were getting shorter and snow began to fall. The mountains were spectacular. The room where he stayed behind the resort opened onto a balcony and Ralph had put extra-long wires on the speakers that ran to his record player so that he could place them outside facing the mountainous slopes that swooped down into Schrunz. Then, he would put on Beethoven, full volume. The effect could never be reproduced in any other setting. In this manner Ralph, sipping his vodka, would escape the war, the pain, the insanities of the time and drift up into those ethereal spaces.

There had always been pressure to work longer hours, but one day an edict came that the paperwork must be fully brought up to date. This was not directly given to Ralph but Kapinsky, his supervisor, was unable to conceal his distress. "What they want is impossible."

The day came that two German officers arrived with instructions from higher ups to get the paperwork current. Kapinsky returned to the accounting offices wearing a frown. Ralph saw it immediately and asked what was going on.

"You can see how far behind we are on the paperwork."

"So, we're getting more help?" Ralph said.

"Actually, yes," Kapinsky said flatly. He then went on to say they needed to organize everything so it could be transported to another place.

Ralph looked puzzled but Kapinsky said nothing more about it other than that Ralph would have to be there early the next day, five a.m. sharp.

The following morning Ralph arrived at the accounting office where he was met by two Nazi soldiers. He was instructed to load the jeep with the boxes he had assembled with Kapinsky the day before. It was all very strange, and in the pre-dawn chill there was a special ominous quality to it.

In the back seat of the jeep, with boxes stacked behind and beside him, they wove their way down through the mountainous terrain as the sky slowly shifted from black to grey. Neither German answered when he asked where they were going. For more than two hours they drove in silence, the terrain eventually becoming rolling hills. The sun never showed its face that day but Ralph correctly guessed they had been heading north when they passed a border crossing. Roadsides indicated that they were in Bavaria.

The vehicle stopped again at another checkpoint and Ralph noticed an immense stretch of walls and barbed wire fencing. At various points along the wall there were watchtowers. The jeep bumped across a set of railroad tracks and paused at yet another barrier where the Germans had to show their papers. A guard pointed to a walled in lane into which the jeep crept slowly. Finally, they came to a small paved lot where numerous other vehicles were parked. A soldier came out to greet them.

Ralph and the soldiers carried the boxes into a brick building with numerous spacious rooms and down through a corridor to a room with a long table at which were seated gaunt men wearing striped prison garb. Ralph was shocked at their appearance, and totally unprepared for the hateful stares he received from these emaciated men. After the boxes were placed on the tables, a cart with boxes of ledger books was rolled in.

An officer entered the room and the German soldiers stood at attention. The officer then explained to Ralph that these men were Jewish bankers who were there to help him get the books in order. The project he was working on was extreme importance to der Führer. There would be a meal at noon, the men were told.

The soldiers left and Ralph presented the boxes to the men around the table. He did not know where he was and did not know how to talk about it with these men who identified him with the Nazis who brought him there.

The paperwork was sorted and by noon a fair amount of progress had been achieved when the doors opened and the food was delivered. To Ralph the portions were modest but the men assigned to help him behaved as if it were a banquet. Ralph, who was seated there amongst them as if one of them, became uncomfortable when he noticed that everyone in the room had ceased talking and was staring in his direction. He noticed their gazes were not at him, however, but at his plate. It puzzled him until he realized the plates in front of the others were licked clean and his still contained the peelings of his potato.

"Aren't you going to eat that?" one of the bankers asked.

"Potato skins are bitter. I don't eat the peelings."

The men continued to stare.

"You want this?"

The man across from Ralph stretched his arm across the table toward Ralph's plate. The man alongside pushed the arm away and a third hand reached from Ralph's left to grab the unwanted peels. Ralph let it happen and there was a rush a cursing from others at the table when that man scarfed it up without sharing.

That afternoon as the bankers helped Ralph organize the ledgers and spreadsheets, Ralph pondered the meaning of these things. It was very late that evening when the jeep returned to Schrunz. At the time, he never understood where he had been and only later learned he'd been to Dachau.


Friday, July 27, 2012

Introduction to Spanish Artist Poet Samuel Rosell

There are so many ways to find and follow artists now that we have the internet. I saw a profile of Spanish painter Samuel Rosell in the magazine Art is Spectrum. A Google search followed and my email reached him in minutes. Rosell is also in the medical profession and as I read his answer to the question about the influence of being a doctor I couldn't help but here echoes of Chekov, the Russian short story writer who also was a physician. It is my privilege to share him here with you.

Ennyman: When did you first notice that you were a creative person?
SR: I noticed that I was a creative person very late actually, about 5 years ago. Was by casualty, I was drawing nothing, just playing with a pencil while I was chatting by phone and a girlfriend saw it and said to me: do you know you are very talented for drawing? I didn't know really. I remember I used to draw a lot in my childhood but later I forgot about it.

EN: In what ways were you influenced by your grandfather, the Dadaist painter?
SR: The influence of my grandfather is very passive, a sort of intuitive flow we can say. We spent lots of time together just walking, seeing, drawing in silence, almost never sharing opinions... so I guess I learned to trust in my own intuition and how to express it in art. Also the bright colors, of course, jajaja... as a dadaist the sky could be clear green and strong red.

EN: You are a physician who longs to be a full time artist. How long have you been a doctor and in what ways has that influenced your art?
SR: I am a physician already for 10 years working in first aid. Before that I had to study 10 years, too, so we can say that I am in the medicine world during 20 years and I am 38. The influence is in as many levels as life itself, it is hard to me to say: for sure I learned about anatomy and human body, proportions, movements and more deeply about emotions, human being experiences like compassion, suffering, death, birth...etc. All this gives a spiritual vision of life on earth and what is behind social conventionality.

EN: You’ve also travelled extensively. What did you see and learn that most impressed you about the places you visited?
SR: Travelling for me is, as medicine and living in nature, a way of knowing myself, healing myself and learning. Maybe one of the places that impacts me more is the Sahara desert; the space, the sky, the light and the silence as a big being embracing you, watching you and advertising at same time. The people of the desert they are part of it, they belong to the landscape like a rock or a dry bush. You can feel very little there, crazy sometimes, other times blessed and touched deep in the heart. After few days in the desert you can here your name whispered in you ear.

EN: Both Picasso and Dali were from Spain. How has being a Spanish painter influenced you?
SR: To be honest I really appreciate artists such as Picasso, Dali, Velazquez but it doesn't affect me much. The most: Goya! But I do prefer other classic artists like Rembrandt, Da Vinci, Michelangelo. I am actually more influenced by modern painters: O'Keeffe, Clemente, Duras...

EN: You also write poetry. What prompted you to take an interest in poetry?
SR: Poetry and writing for me is essential. Writing always makes company to me in my trips. For me writing is like a journey where I express dreams, diary experiences, tabus, fantasies, insides...etc and always I do like to mix it with different kinds of drawing techniques. In my web you can see an example if you want: www.samuelrosell.es section: Books.

All paintings on this blog entry courtesy Samuel Rosell. Make time to visit his website at http://samuelrosell.es/

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Andrew Floberg of the Washington Studios Artist Cooperative

Andrew Floberg (top left) discusses his work.
My usual interview method involves asking questions, getting answers, and sharing sequentially in the typical Q&A form we're all familiar with. Sometimes one encounters a personality of such striking qualities one has to alter the playing field in order to set up the lighting and improve the view.

I met Andrew Floberg for the first time two weeks ago at his Washington Gallery opening here in Duluth. The quality of the reception was exquisite. He'd brought in a sound system that bled the most beautiful streams of classical symphonic sound.

His responses to the questions I put forward proved so fascinating I chose to print the questions as a group, and allow his responses to flow together like the music that is so woven into the fiber of his soul.

1. You have a strong interest in both music and the visual arts. How did this come about?
2. The pictures you show at your current show, what is the medium and what is the inspiration for what you are doing?
3. How did you first become interested in art? Who were your influences?
4. How do you stay in touch with what is happening in the art world at large? What do you read, or websites or whatever?
5. After college here at UMD you went to Montana. What was your motivation there and what did you learn while you were there?
6. What are you currently working on and why?
7. What are your biggest challenges as a professional artist?

Andrew Floberg
I must in fairness mention that my interests both in music and in the visual arts came innately by birth; for I have no other explanation for it really. Ever since being an infant, I can lucidly recall oneiric and magical things all around me. There was a teeny court jester with a dangling cap full of bells that would jingle and sing to me from outside my bedroom window. He taught me how to fly through the air from room to room.

My twin sister and I lost our mother to cancer when we were three, almost four. Our mother was a very talented dancer and actress; an instructor at the Cornish Istitute for the Arts in Seattle. She enabled both of us as toddlers to observe her and listen to sounds and view colors and to smell pleasant things. She once took me by the hand to the front window overlooking lake Washington in the middle of the night when I was two years old. She needed to share with someone, the crepuscular and chimerical transfiguration for the clouds with the silver light of the moon into a scenario of sylphs and sylphids. She chose me. I remember hearing music coming from the moons reflection off the glimmering waves of the water and the caliginous combinations of purple and cream. This has always been embedded in my heart and mind. It was never forgotten; nor was she.

Years later, after being inappropriately reared by an alcoholic/philistine stepmother whom my father finally divorced, I witnessed my father struggling away with learning the fist movement of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata" (a self therapeutic method I am sure, to help ameliorate the personal anguish accrued from his debauched marriage.) He, for endless months would study this piece with unavailed accomplishment. But it was enough to inspire my own interests in learning to read and understand music at the time. My junior high school choir teacher took a week away from singing lessons to teach the class basic music fundamentals. While the majority of the class was blowing spit wads and falling asleep, I imbibed and absorbed everything he taught, like it was some type of golden pablum from heaven. One evening soon after, my father came home from work and found me playing his Beethoven by memory with all of the forlorn beauty and expression required…C# minor became my friend then. My father rushed me out to find a piano instructor for me. I ended up with Mildred B. Anderson, who taught out of her small accommodated efficiency apartment crammed with two ancient Steinway uprights. She was a 1927 Graduate of Lawrence University and had met Prokofieff in concert there just prior to his return to Russia. How prestigious, I thought.

My intended fervor for sight reading however, began to weaken when my true desire to create and compose music intervened like a predacious wild beast in heat. Mildred B. Anderson was not at all willing to be a mentor to my compositions and finally expelled me from her tutelage. I have regretfully been a lousy piano sight reader ever since.

Throughout my adult life, I have been greatly inspired by my environment and natural surroundings with its colors and sounds. I cherish the mountains and the woods, lakes and streams and the mossy aroma of a forest’s breathe. There is a jocular and harlequinesque behavior together with a terrestrial cruelty that plays and teases with each other in the wilderness like edacious nymphs. It blends both, its piquant and sweet flavors into a steamy caldron of sarcasm, delicately seasoned with a slight sprinkle of sadness…then served into little bowlfuls of wonderment and romance.

I love the music of Rachmaninoff, Scriabin, Prokofieff, Szyminowsky, Hans Gal, Debussy, Ravel, Satie, Shostakovitch, Puccini and Poulenc. These sounds represent nature with its sarcasm, humor and magic, and have greatly influenced what I do and what I understand.

I relish the works of Maxfield Parish, Edward Hopper, Andrew Wyeth and the English and Russian folklore and French impressionists before them. Their masterful works are truly a manifestation for the curious presumption that there is in actuality, a cadre of tiny enchanted worlds inhabiting the air.

I try to stay in touch with the genre of art and music by studying and being a part of it on a daily basis. I relax by reading Kurt Vonnegut, Thomaso Landolfi, John Updike Mark Twain, Hermann Hesse and the complete anthologies of folklore by Andrew Lang. They offer me ideas for possible illustrations for what I am currently working on.

All of this, however, has instigated a rather fierce challenge for me as a professional artist… How to earn a living.

My own personal favorite in this show.

Washington Gallery is open both Saturday and Sunday from 1 - 5 p.m. for those interested in seeing Floberg's work in person.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Best Festival Money Can’t Buy

Who doesn't like a free festival in the park?
Reader publisher Bob Boone has been talking about it for months. The local rag is celebrating its 15th anniversary and Boone wanted to throw a party. It's his way of giving back... and letting everyone know he's still here.

It’s ReaderFest, a full week of free events for the Northland community. A lot of these attractions we take for granted because we live here, but if you've got company from out of town and their hankering to see a bit of the Twin Ports, or you just need an excuse to get out of the house, then here's your chance courtesy the Reader.

On page 28 of the current issue of the Reader, the one with a chimp on the cover, there’s a Clip & Save coupon with a list of this week’s special events. It’s a bit late for Sunday’s free Huskies game and Monday’s free admission to the Lake Superior Zoo. But it’s not too late for the rest.

Today, July 24, your coupon will give you free admission to the Adventure Zone from 4 pm to 8 pm with free arcade, mini-golf, lazer tag and more. And from 9 am to 4 pm you get free access for a ship tour of the Meteor at Barker’s Island. If you’ve never been, it’s a nice inside peak at a piece of our Great Lakes history.

Wednesday, everyone with a pass can take a ride on the Alpine Coaster, Zip Line or Mini Golf. We’ve all read about it in the papers. Now’s your chance to check it out. Something else you can do on Wednesday is to take a free tour of the Two Harbors Lighthouse Station Museum from 10 am to 6 pm.

Thursday is another special day with free admission to the Duluth Children’s Museum from 4-8 pm. Then there’s Beer & Wine Tasting at the Great Hall beginning at 5:30. Limited to the first 350 people. Be there or be…

Wait, you better save your energy for the weekend.

Friday there are free William A Irvin tours from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Uprising is one of nine bands performing Saturday in the park.

And then Saturday... the Big Bash in Bayfront Park. ReaderFest 2012. Here's the shakedown, with Vicci Martinez ripping it up as headliner.

12:30: Brothers Burn Mountain
1:30: Hannah Rey
2:30 Ultraday
3:30: The Cutthroats
4:30: Bryan Olds Band
5:30: Uprising
6:30: Centerville All-Stars
7:45: Molly & The Danger Band
9:00: Vicci Martinez

And let's not forget the DJs: DJ Path Annu, DJ Vincent Banks & DJ Nola. Cross your fingers for good weather, Bob.

Uprising photo courtesy Tara Stone.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Updike's Four Life Forces

John Updike once suggested that there are four life forces: Love, Habit, Time and Boredom. This morning's ramble here is the product of habit. I'm not sure I have that much to say, and the proper thing to do when you have nothing to say is to shut your mouth. But then, I digress.

When Updike speaks of love he is referring to passion. Passion is the driver that impels us to make sacrifices in order to accomplish great things. Passion is what makes Olympians, not simply skill. There are plenty of pianists with skill, but it's passion that sets apart the cream from the rest.

Time is another one of those amazing things that has been endlessly debated and dissected. What is time really?

Wikipedia explains it this way: Time is the continuing sequence of events occurring in apparently irreversible succession from the past through the present to the future, a measure of the durations and frequencies of events and the intervals between them. Time has long been a major subject of study in religion, philosophy, and science, but defining it in a manner applicable to all fields without circularity has consistently eluded scholars.

Like life itself, we all know what it is but don't always do well at explaining it. That doesn't stop people from trying. Here is an interesting article from Wired magazine titled What Is Time? One Pysicist Hunts for the Ultimate Theory. The article is an interview with Sean Carroll, a theoretical physicist at Caltech. He begins by noting something we all have noticed because it is obvious. The future is different from the past. We remember the past but we don't remember the future. Why? 

There was an album we listened to a long time ago called It's A Beautiful Day and it had a song on it about time. At the time I did not know that the most memorable line was actually a quote from Henry Van Dyke. "Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love, time is eternity."

In short, time is perceived differently based on our circumstances. Hence there are some who propose ideas like the notion that time does not exist, it is simply a perception.

The first point, "Time is too slow for those who wait," brings to mind a scene from Immortal Beloved, a film about Beethoven. Beethoven (Gary Oldman) is on his way to a hotel for a tryst with a woman he loves. But it's a rainy night and the wheels on his horse-drawn carriage get stuck in the mud. Time is slipping away and the painful strains of the second movement of his Seventh Symphony fill the theater with his anguish. Eventually, the woman becomes impatient with waiting, and leaves.

Boredom is another of those interesting forces that surprised me when Updike placed it in this list, but it's a real force. Bertrand Russell once observed, "Boredom is... a vital problem for the moralist, since half the sins of mankind are caused by the fear of it." What strikes me is that last part of this statement. People really do fear boredom. And this may be why some people fear death. What if there really is an afterlife and it was boring? Eternal boredom would truly be hell.

Much more could be said here, but it's time to go to press. Besides, I wouldn't want to bore you with more than you can digest. This is only a blog and I am only sowing seeds, not steaks. Have a great day.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Why I Paint Faces (And Other Thoughts On My Art)

Georgia O'Keefe painted flowers. Mondrian painted bright-colored squares. Monet painted water lilies. Bonnard painted his wife. Jackson Pollock is famous for his splatters and Warhol for his screen prints of pop culture icons. Ed Newman paints faces.

How do artists choose their subject matter? Especially now that everything is possible, that there is no dominant ruling "idea" that forces everyone into its mold. 

I'm sure there are a variety of forces at work when artists zero in on an approach or a theme or a concept that in some way defines them. This blog entry aims to share a few of these forces that led me to paint so many hundreds of faces these past few years.

As a fine arts student in the early seventies I was introduced to a variety of styles as we studied the art's evolution from representational to everything other. I found Rauschenberg's eclecticism fascinating loved the the exploratory expressiveness of Picasso who once said, "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up."

But there were so many other artists creating work that fascinated me,especially painters. I loved the feel of applying paint on surfaces in all the varieties of ways one can do so. And I liked the smell of the paint, and the colors. So I responded to David Hockney and Larry Rivers and many others whose works we were discovering. I really didn't take to Mark Rothko and the color field painters at the time. I also liked the abstract expressionists as well as the inimitable Dali.

My paintings went in variety of directions. A common denominator in much of my work as it evolved was the desire to connect with an audience. I myself can find pleasure in purely abstract expressions, but there are many people who cannot.

Is this why I paint faces, then? To give people something to look at? Not entirely. If the aim was to make things people can identify, I could paint geraniums, pygmy goats or the moons of Saturn. Instead I keep being drawn to faces. Why so?

I believe it's tied to something innate in our being human. An article at Time.com recently caught my attention and offered the answer to a question I'd been asking myself for some time now. Why am I so fascinated by faces? When people ask why I paint faces, I am often asking myself the same thing. I'm also asking myself why I see faces everywhere. I look at swirly patterns in the floor tiles and see all kinds of expressions. Clouds historical stir our imaginations to see various animals and such. I routinely see faces. The 2007 article by Alice Park was titled "How Babies Decode Faces."

It's almost instinctive -- you see an adorable baby, and you start to coo, smile or make a face to elicit some kind of response. But even if you get a blank stare back, rest assured that the tyke is processing every change in the shape and rhythm of your mouth and face. 

Upon reading this I immediately jumped to several other websites to learn more about this primal activity. I reflected on how early our own children learned to smile, learned to recognize Mommy and Daddy. The words came later, but visual recognition came very early.

Another feature of faces that I find endlessly fascinating is the manner in which they convey emotion. Sadness, pain, joy, suspicion, gravity, dignity, scorn... how vast the emotional terrain that is packaged in a facial expression.

Exploring how our minds decode information is, for me, as exciting as the process of creation. Watching the various ways in which a face emerges from a surface I am painting is equally exciting. I am simultaneously creator and spectator. Most artists understand this, whether it be the visual arts or music. It is a form of therapy for the artist and a means of connecting the wider world when our art is shared and we find a resonant response from our audience and our friends.

I'm not sure yet how to turn all these ideas into an "artist statement" but it's starting point. Hope your day is a very special one. And inasmuch as it is Sunday, let's all pray for rain.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Uprooted: Schrunz (Part XVI)

These Saturday blog entries have been devoted to a serial novel titled Uprooted, a story about Ralph Kand, a young crippled man from Estonia during those difficult and challenging years from 1939-1945. It's a story of alienation, of the relentless pursuit of freedom and a homeland.

As the Red Army approached Tallin, capitol of Estonia, Ralph secured a spot on the very last boat of exiles fleeing that country in the fall of 1944. When the overcrowded vessel neared Gdansk, a Nazi patrol boat brought them to port where they were placed in a refugee camp. When he and another man slipped away during the night they continued west by train. When they reached Prague, Ralph's travel companion chose to remain there for a time, but Ralph himself felt impelled to continue west. Eventually he reached the town of Schrunz at the westernmost edge of Austria, separated from neutral Switzerland by the spectacular and imposing Alps.

It may be of interest to some readers that in the early 1920s Schrunz was the favorite ski resort town of Ernest Hemingway who wintered there with his first wife, Hadley, and oldest son, who was then just an infant. It was in Schrunz that he revised the manuscript of The Sun Also Rises.


Ralph arrived in late October. Schrunz is the primary village in the Montafaron Valley. A cold rain had been falling for three days straight. Ralph took refuge at one of the local pubs as a means of staying out of the weather and also to make necessary connections.

By the end of his first night in Schrunz he'd learned several hard truths. First, there would be no passage through the Alps without encountering Nazi border patrols. This would be as far west as he could go. Second, unless one had a job one could not obtain a food ticket. The Nazis needed every available hand to contribute to the war effort, whether by labor or on the front.

Finding a room to let was an easier task than expected. Schrunz, being a ski resort town in the winter, had been hard hit by the war. Tourism revenue had fallen off a cliff. As a result there was an ample supply of rooms for lodging. By the end of the first week he'd decided on a small room that faced the mountains in the rear of a chalet on the north side of the valley, a fabulous view. The room was tidy and clean, and Frau Marsden who ran the place seem congenial enough.

There were several places in town to meet locals for idle chatter and information. Ralph had learned German during the Nazi occupation and was now finding it useful.

The pub where Ralph felt most comfortable was the Blue Moon. The Nazis had a cement works operation near Schrunz and many of the men and women in town worked there in one capacity or another. Some of these men were regulars at the Blue Moon. Two of these whom Ralph got to know were a Frenchman named Carpentier and a Czech named Kapinski.

Carpentier, a road builder from Paris, met and married his Austrian wife several years before the war. When the fighting broke out she asked him to bring her back to Austria to be near her aging mother.

Kapinski was an accountant who grew up outside Prague. When plans for the hydroelectric plant near Schrunz were being assembled, German officials recruited him to be a team member. At first he thought the notion insane to built a hydroelectric facility here in the middle of nowehre. But once on the scene he understood. The steep terrain would be ideal for advanced power generation.

Ralph never intended to settle down, but now he felt trapped. Unable to travel further west he found himself resigned to his beautiful cage. When Kapinski and Carpentier came in together that evening they immediately invited him to pull up a chair at their table.

"Ah, if it isn't the Estonian," Kapinski said, waving his hand as if pulling handfuls of air toward him.

Ralph moved across the room, grabbed a chair in a manner that caused Carpentier to grin. Both men were much older than Ralph. They found his exuberance entertaining. They also liked him because he had new stories to tell, and he was able to drink heavily without becoming stupid.

"I've decided to stay," Ralph said. "Now I need a job."

"What can you do?" asked the Czech.

"I'm a fast typist. And I'm good with numbers."

"That's good," said Kapinski. "We need help with the paperwork at the cement works. I'm in the accounting office."

"He's head accountant."

Ralph glanced at Carpentier, studied Kapinski, then looked past to catch a glimpse of the waitress gliding past a table near the wall. "Fraulein!" Ralph shouted. "Drinks all around for my friends."

"Irma," Kapinski said. "She calls herself Irma."

* * * *

Working again was good for Ralph. The paperwork was endless because all the healthy men had been extracted and put into uniforms. He never learned Kapinski's malady but when he saw that Carpentier was missing part of his hand he wondered that he hadn't noticed sooner. Carpentier was skillful in the manner in which he concealed it.

As winter set in the mountains were idyllic. His room at the chalet was just over a mile from the cement works office. Most days it was an pleasant walk, the snow-capped mountains rising up to kiss the sky. The offices were not so aesthetically welcoming. Boxes of papers were everywhere, piled in the corners and around the base of the walls. Loose sheafs of paper covered every surface in the room. The work was important enough that German soldiers would be brought in to keep them "motivated."

Some days they were instructed to stay late, but it seemed impossible task make real headway as the problem was staffing. They needed more accountants.

"What we need is shredders," Carpentier said one evening at the Blue Moon. "Wouldn't it be funny to discover that our failure to keep up with the paperwork was actually damaging the Nazi war effort?

Ralph asked why the rooms are just barely above fifty degrees. "If it were any colder my coffee would get ice on it."

"They're saving fuel. Heat uses energy. It's all physics," Kapinski said. "Last year we sometimes had to wear gloves in the office."

"You're lucky you don't have to work on that hydroelectric project. Those men are out in the cold from dawn to late. And I mean very late."

Ralph had sometimes walked to the project during his lunch break and watched as they poured concrete, studied the network of pipes, handles, gauges and general construction debris. He had been impressed by their industriousness, and the scale of the pipelines.


Friday, July 20, 2012

Eight Minutes with Artist Wynn Davis

As even the most tin-eared local knows, we have a lot of great music here in the Northland. One of my personal aims is to draw attention to the richness and variety we have here in the visual arts. Sometimes the two are woven together as in the re-issue of Charlie Parr’s wonderful album “1922.” The cover art for Parr’s offering was created by Wynn Davis whose work will be on display at the Ochre Ghost beginning July 20. The opening tonight should be a good one. The show is titled A Field Menagerie to Birds of North America.

Ennyman: Where are you from originally and where do you live now?

Wynn Davis: I have always lived along the St. Croix River Valley. I grew up in River Falls, Wisconsin along the St. Croix River across from Afton State Park, and currently reside up the river a little further north in Stillwater, Minnesota. I definitely plan on permanently residing in Duluth in the near future though. Much of my family has native ties to the Twin Ports area. I love the outdoors, running, and the community and culture of Duluth as a whole.

E: How did you first become interested in art?

WD: I’ve always enjoyed collecting and creating things growing up. A traditional photography class I took in high school really curbed my interest in art and the process of making art. After changing majors my freshman year of undergraduate studies in I pursued a degree in Art Education with an emphasis in photography. My parents are both retired educators, so I had a keen sense of awareness in regard to the education profession. Post-education I have had the time to steer and develop my ideas and draftsmanship via the medium of graphite drawing. I reached a point with photography where the print could no longer be a means to an end, especially with how I wanted to communicate my ideas visually. Photography obviously still plays a major influence as both a tool and a vehicle for inspiration.

E: Your drawings are quite fascinating. How did you end up having an opportunity to illustrate Charlie Parr's latest CD?

WD: I met Charlie at his RealPhonic performance at the James Hill Library in St. Paul earlier in the year, as I have been a great admirer of his lyricism and musicianship. His work is authentic and full-bodied, and that is something to be said in a world often fixated on compromising quality, instant gratification, and felonious profiteering. Anyway, we began collaborating for his next album release after I sent him some of my work. The confluences of styles seem to work well with one another. He had an idea in mind and I felt I had a good idea of how to articulate it.

E: When did you begin doing pictures with birds? 

WD: I am basically self-taught in the medium of drawing. I took one or two drawing classes very early in my undergraduate tenure, but it was not until about a year and half ago that I really became more serious about it. The theme of birds has stemmed directly from my participation in the outdoors. I run over 5,400 miles a year in various wilderness areas and urban terrain, my favorite being the Superior Hiking Trail! I’ve always found a curiosity and ever present likeness to the individual characteristics, habits, and resourcefulness of birds. Whether it’s waking up in the morning to their song, or witnessing a crow fly off with a happy meal bag in its mouth from the side of a road… they never fail to fascinate me. This of course melded with my earlier emphasis in traditional black and white photography, which now serves more or less as a reference tool. Old documentary courthouse and historic society gravure plates of the late 19th Century also captivate me. As a result my ideas are usually a raw amalgamation of ideas that I form into a collage, which in turn becomes for what I hope to be a successful drawing that is completely seamless.

E: You seem attracted to precision draftsmanship. How did you first become interested in Bosch, Brueghel, van Eyck and Caravaggio?

WD: I am infatuated with art history, particularly early figurative work by the Dutch Masters. Their diligence in observation, careful consideration in precision draftsmanship, and unbridled passion for the process of art is not only admirable, but also contagious. Their work can make you feel what a seedy atmosphere inside an old tavern was like through chiaroscuro. Make you feel the pain and anguish in facial expressions such as in Caravaggio’s masterpiece of “The Crucifixion of St. Peter.” These are qualities I often struggle finding in the constant thrust of modern contemporary art. Currently I believe the work of Laurie Lipton’s graphite drawings are at a very high level and her work ethic and visual scope has been a great influence to me.

E: Why is art an important part of life?

WD: Well, I am no philosopher, but I think it is important to live a simple and healthy life. Art along with other passions brings forth meaning and joy in the things that are simple and true. If you wake up anticipating the things you enjoy doing, than you are more than likely enjoying life. I also think art plays a vital role in challenging conventional methods of thinking.

TO SEE MORE works by Wynn Davis, drop by the Ochre Ghost Gallery in downtown Duluth tonight at 7:00 or visit WynnDavis.com

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Dylan Returns To Criss-Cross North America Yet Again

Bob Dylan announces 
North American Tour 
with Mark Knopfler
Though 71, Dylan is still hot in Europe. The old man has been still pulling them in with standing-room-only crowds. It would have been fun to see him in Italy this week. Now it has been announced that Bob Dylan and his Band will tour North America this fall with special guest Mark Knopfler.

You can find the details on the Upcoming Dates page at bobdylan.com for tour dates and ticket sales information, including exclusive pre-sale events for readers of bobdylan.com.

What did Dylan play when he was in Barolo Monday night. Check out this set list:

Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
It's All Over Now, Baby Blue
Things Have Changed
Tangled Up In Blue
Honest With Me
Spirit On The Water
The Levee's Gonna Break
A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall
High Water (For Charley Patton)
Simple Twist Of Fate
I'll Be Your Baby Tonight
Highway 61 Revisited
Forgetful Heart
Thunder On The Mountain
Ballad Of A Thin Man
Like A Rolling Stone
All Along The Watchtower
Blowin' In The Wind
"Meantime, life goes on all around you."
Life Cycles by Ed Newman

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Release Date Set For Dylan’s Tempest

We interrupt our Wordless Wednesday to bring you this special announcement.
Dylan receiving Presidential Medal of Freedom earlier this year.
The news release that I saw at bobdylan.com late Monday began like this:




Columbia Records announced today that Bob Dylan’s new studio album, Tempest, will be released on September 11, 2012. Featuring ten new and original Bob Dylan songs, the release of Tempest coincides with the 50th Anniversary of the artist’s eponymous debut album, which was released by Columbia in 1962.

By the following morning the news stories were criss-crossing the wires. Here are a few features about the album that may be of interest to Dylan fans.

1. This is not the first Dylan album with a 9/11 release date. Love and Theft was also released on 9/11, the actual September 11 of 2001 when the Towers came down. This happens to be my birthday and I was looking forward to going to Barnes & Noble to purchase the CD that week with my birthday money.

So has this date been selected as an attempt to "redeem" the day? Or to underscore it? It hardly seems arbitrary.

2. The release states that this album coincides with the 50th Anniversary of his debut album Bob Dylan, but don't be misled by this. His first album was released in March, more than a half century ago. That is a lot of original music by any measure.

3. Dylan's recent albums, all of them superb, have been produced by Jack Frost, a pseudonym he has been using. Interesting how similar this pseudonym is to the character he played in Masked and Anonymous, Jack Fate.

4. Much has already been made of the fact that The Tempest is the title of Shakespeare's last play. As I have noted elsewhere, it's not a stretch to be comparing Dylan to Shakespeare. Each has been an influential bard, and like "ol' Bill" Dylan's legacy will no doubt continue long past the horizons he's travelled while passing through this earthly realm. 

5. Though the album is set for a September release, individual songs can be purchased today on iTunes. The playlist for Dylan's Tempest is as follows:

1. Duquesne Whistle
2. Soon After Midnight
3. Narrow Way
4. Long And Wasted Years
5. Pay In Blood
6. Scarlet Town
7. Early Roman Kings
8. Tin Angel
9. Tempest
10. Roll On John

According to a Wall Street Journal article on the new album, one of these songs is about the Titanic and the last cut is about John Lennon. Like many artists, Dylan does not try to explain his songs but let's the work speak for itself.

For more links to stories about Tempest and all things Dylan, your best bet is to visit, and then bookmark, ExpectingRain.com

Paintings on this page are by Ed Newman. For more Dylan portraits by the same artist visit my Flickr Dylan Collection.

Wordless Wednesday will return next week at it's regularly scheduled time.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Hold Me Tight

With The Beatles, 1963
When we were young teens, twelve to fourteen or so, we thought it was funny to stand in the corner facing the wall with your hands wrapped around yourself as if they were someone else's hands, as if you were in the corner hugging someone. It must have been something we'd seen on television or in a movie, and in retrospect the really funny part is that none of us had ever held anyone tight like that. Alas, we were boys and we had to pretend, I suppose.

The song that most triggered this kind of behavior was The Beatles's Hold Me Tight, track two on side two of their second album, With The Beatles.

With The Beatles was the group's second studio album,  released on 22 November 1963… the same day of Kennedy was assassinated. In England the album had pre-sold a half million copies and by 1965 sold another half million so that it was the second album up to that point in history to make the million mark. (The soundtrack for the film South Pacific was first, if you want to bone up on your trivia.)

The Beatles fame came about in part due to the stellar songwriting of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, but that was a subsequent chapter in their story. Initially, I'm sure it was the pretty boy look, the solid rock 'n roll sound they produced, the primo harmonies and tight pants. This second album, With The Beatles, was actually comprised of no less than seven songs by other writers including Meredith Wilson, Chuck Berry, Smoky Robinson and others. No song here is explicitly a Lennon/McCartney collaboration.

Hold Me Tight was, however, an original tune, penned by a teen-aged Paul McCartney in 1961. (Sir Paul turned 70 last month.)

The song is classic early Beatles, in the same vein as She Loves You, yeah yeah yeah. Here is the first verse. 

It feels so right now, hold me tight,
Tell me I'm the only one,
And then I might,
Never be the lonely one.
So hold me tight, to-night, to-night,
It's you, you you you, oh, oh, oh, oh.

Now contrast that with the lyrics from one of Dylan's 1963 albums, also his second album, released in May of that year..

Young Bob
How many roads must a man walk down before they call him a man?
How many seas must a white dove sail before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, and how many times must the cannonballs fly before they are forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.
The answer is blowin' in the wind.

This is not to say The Beatles weren't doing something significant. They were an emerging force by virtue of the fact that they had learned how to connect with an audience. They had spit and polish now and were ready to sweep into American hearts in that famous wave called the British Invasion.

Phil Spector liked the song enough to produce a version of it with The Treasures, draped in his famous wall of sound style. But despite my appreciation for his production form, The Beatles have the superior version here, infusing the song with youth, energy, electricity and passion. What more should an audience expect beyond that?

Interestingly enough, Dylan made an impact on the content of Lennon and McCartney's music. After six straight albums of  love songs they began to explore the various themes that were emerging in the Sixties youth culture, from alienation to the generation gap. But the influence went both ways. Dylan, the folk singer, was soon to go electric, and with the new sound he'd found he electrified a generation.

With The Beatles was one of my first albums, and Hold Me Tight an early favorite. If you haven't heard it in a while, you can listen here on YouTube. Get up and dance!

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