Thursday, January 31, 2013

American Visions and Other Events Worth Noting

You'd think Northlanders would hibernate for the winter. The weather can be so very unreliable, interfering with the best laid plans. For some reason we keep our calendars full anyways, knowing that at any time we may have to make an adjustment. But we don't let it slow us down. 

Here are some ideas you might want to pencil in for the weekend of February 8 and 9 which is just around the corner. Then I will talk about the American Voice film series that kicks off this Saturday morning at the Zinema 2.

On the 8th, there will be at least four art openings. Nora Fie's inspired Love Your Local Artist III will begin at 5:30 p.m. at the Superior Public Library, with 31 artists showing their work this year. That's impressive.

At 6 p.m. the Washington Galleries will be opening its doors for Bound to the Light II, an exhibit featuring new work by photographer Ryan Tischer whose nature images are always spectacular. Also on Friday evening will be a show at Ochre Ghost and the Bitters show at PROVE and I hear rumblings that Art in the Alley down on Superior Street may be joining these three downtown galleries for these second-Friday celebrations.All I'm doing here is noting the fuzzy details for the moment so you can stamp it on your calendar.

We're not done yet. Make sure you get your Saturday established, too. Up at UMD the Proctor DECA team and Duluth Rotary 25 are pushing to set a new Guinness Book-worthy record for number of snow angels at one time. The target is 9,000 and Duluth/Superior, we need your help.  The event is being called Angels with a Cause and the gates will open at 9:30 with snow angel action to happen at 11:00 a.m. sharp. I do hope we'll see you there.

Saturday evening, if you're not yet exhausted,  Love at the Snoodle VII will be a-happening, with special guests including our local fire dancers. The theme of this year's show is Touch Me, in which artists have created art that you can touch. The Snoodle is at 7101 Grand Avenue out by the zoo. There will be an after-party at Beaners.

American Visions
One of the most exciting art events last year in the Twin Ports, of which there were oodles, was the ten part film series Shock of the New which was shared at the Zinema 2 theater by Annie Dugan and the Duluth Art Institute. Not only did we get an exciting overview of modern art, each segment was followed by lively dialogue led by various leaders from UMD, St. Scholastica and the local arts community. These dialogues were sometimes as stimulating as Hughes was dramatic.

Beginning this Saturday morning Duluth Art Institute has once again paved the way for the public to get a better appreciation for what has been happening in the art world with yet another Robert Hughes film series. Hughes called his American Visions series a "love letter to America" as he shows us the manner in which artists have responded to the natural wonders that surround us here, covering everything from early Spanish architecture to 1990's flabberghastation.

If the series is even half as good as last year's Shock of the New, it will be an enriching experience not to be missed. Anyone with half an inclination to learn more about the place of art in America will do well to join us over the next ten weeks, 11:00 a.m. Saturday mornings in the Twin Ports #1 theater for cool
See you there!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Advice for Would-Be Art Buyers

Sunday the New York Times published a lengthy, in-depth critique of the unregulated art market in a piece by Robin Pogrebin and Kevin Flynn titled As Art Values Rise, So Do Concerns About Market’s Oversight. The writers detail some of the shenanigans that art auction houses pull to make sure sellers get the prices they want.

The Big Apple art scene is an eight billion dollar business, so it's a bit more than a flea market. Nevertheless, the Huffington Post's response to the story was that for most Americans this kind of news is a big yawn. As chief financial writer Mark Gongloff puts it...

It's a story involving bubbly prices, lax regulation and shady market practices.  this sounds like a recipe for the next financial crisis, then you are right. It does sound like that. But it's probably not.... It turns out that your local Sotheby's is a wretched hive of scum and villainy, where the wealthy are bilked out of their cash by shady art dealers. Sometimes auctioneers just stone-cold make up bids until prices get closer to where the seller wants them. Galleries refuse to share their prices. Wealthy people may end up paying millions more for a piece of art than necessary. Naturally, if you're like me, when you read a story like this, you feel... um... not much?

The Times' influence is such that other publications weighed in as well in response to the Pogrebin/Flynn story. Kathryn Tully, writing for Forbes, used the piece to re-affirm some of her own views about art as an investment in a piece titled How Much For This Art?

As I’ve argued before, the opaque nature of the art market and the lack of price transparency are two reasons why art cannot be treated like other investments and certainly why it is not interchangeable with other commodities, even those with which it is commonly lumped together, like gold or silver.

Well, for most folks, making decisions like whether to buy the five million dollar Picasso or twenty million dollar Picasso is somewhat irrelevant. I'm fairly certain that offering advice on that decision would be meaningless for most readers here, but a few tips on how to purchase art wouldn't be a bad thing. At this point I am going to share this one.

Someone recently told me a story about how her mother was in Seattle or Portland many years ago and she saw a painting at an art show that she really loved. She wanted to buy it, but hesitated and ultimately left it behind. To her dismay she never stopped thinking about that transaction that failed to occur. Thirty years have passed and her mom still regrets that she never bought that painting.

My advice for the average person is this: don't buy it for the value you believe might accrue over time. Buy it because you love it. When you see it you take pleasure in it. When you share it, you take pleasure in it. When you see it tomorrow, you enjoy it.

I've often repeated this sentiment at art events I've been to: "You can enjoy this piece for a few minutes here or you can take it home and enjoy it for the rest of your life."

Yesterday I sold a painting to a happy buyer. The transaction was fun for both of us. I love knowing that a piece I've created is being appreciated and will have a new home. It is way more fun than trying to find more storage space in the garage.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Reading Is Not As Easy As It Looks

One of my projects for 2013 is to assemble into an eBook the artist interviews I've been sharing on my blog. This weekend I began reviewing my early blog entries in order to find them. In the process I discovered that there is a lot of other interesting material that was worth sharing again. This one was posted near the end of 2008.

During Thanksgiving dinner I was talking with the son of a friend who was working on his Master's or Doctorate in Literature. Our conversation meandered through miscellaneous topics as such laid back afternoons often go. At some point the young man got fired up about an essay pertaining to the topic of the moment: reading. He said he wanted to share with me an essay by Stephen Best and Sharon Markus on Surface Reading.

Over the weekend I read the essay and found it mentally stimulating. The premise is that styles of reading have changed. The following abstract encapsulates the theme.

In the text-based disciplines, psychoanalysis and Marxism have had a major influence on how we read, and this has been expressed most consistently in the practice of symptomatic reading, a mode of interpretation that assumes that a text's truest meaning lies in what it does not say, describes textual surfaces as superfluous, and seeks to unmask hidden meanings. For symptomatic readers, texts possess meanings that are veiled, latent, all but absent if it were not for their irrepressible and recurring symptoms. Noting the recent trend away from ideological demystification, this essay proposes various modes of "surface reading" that together strive to accurately depict the truth to which a text bears witness. Surface reading broadens the scope of critique to include the kinds of interpretive activity that seek to understand the complexity of literary surfaces---surfaces that have been rendered invisible by symptomatic reading.

For a long time I've suggested that we not take things at face value when reading the newspapers. Much that is written in a public space is designed to manipulate, not inform. Hence, to some extent it may be good to look beneath the surface. The problem comes when we never take anything at face value. On page 12 of the essay, for example, the authors cite Benjamin Kahan's argument that it is wrong to assume that when a person is celibate (eg. Nietzsche, Jesus) that he is a repressed homosexual.

The authors cite, among many other references, Susan Sontag's "Against Interpretation" in which she argues that interpreters (critics, for example) do not unlock new meanings but instead alter them.

My next question is with regard to how this all relates to interpreting poetry, art or song lyrics. Love Me Do by the Beatles is pretty straightforward, but how does one unlock the ambiguous word chemistry in Dylan's Changing of the Guard? My guess is that songs like this become an individual experience and we only engage and interpret them for ourselves.

The essay makes for a good read, and may be helpful in explaining why communication today is not as easy as it looks.

Featured eBook of the Day: The Breaking Point and Other Stories

Sunday, January 27, 2013

How Important Is Inspiration?

Rilke spent a segment of his life developing an external poetic form that enabled him to write without being "dependent on inspiration." He developed the concept through friendship with the sculptor Rodin.
Journal note, April 10, 1997

If you do a Google search of "How Important Is Inspiration" you will all kinds of links to articles and blog expressions regarding the importance of inspiration. At the top of my search is a Harvard Business Review article on "Why Inspiration Matters." Next is a blog entry at The Meaning Experiment on "The Importance of Inspiration." And it goes on from there.

In reading these various articles one becomes aware of a certain kind of inspiration that is perhaps more related to passion. The kind of inspiration I'd like to briefly digress upon has to do with the notion of the Muse.

Nearly all of us who are artists or writers, or have participated in other creative endeavors, have had the delightful experience where it seems The Muse has alighted upon our shoulders and showered us with a moment of gilded creative light. Some artists, writers and poets can find themselves so enamored by this experience that any results that fail to come from their Muse feel slightly less significant and a mere exercise of technique. Hence, we can be deceived into feeling the only way to accomplish anything is to wait... wait for inspiration to magically draw near.

But poet Rainer Maria Rilke felt it an achievement to have been liberated from this dependency on something seemingly random and beyond our control.

Dorothea Brande, in her book Becoming a Writer, says the same. We cannot be dependent on a Muse. This kind of attitude toward the creative results in an imprisoning mindset of passive waiting. The posture is not one of initiative, but of passivity. From whence does the creative urge emerge? If within our power, then we must learn the processes that stir it, that stimulate, that revive its power.

To some extent it is not about what we do, but rather the energy with which we do it. On command. The energy resides within us. We do not have to wait for circumstances and stars to align. We can choose to pour ourselves out, on demand.

We have no control over the things that lie outside us. But we can control our thoughts and actions. Learn how to prime your pump, how to take charge of your creative powers. The world will be there to absorb the streams of creative life you bring.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Twin Ports Arts Align: Crafting a Vision for a Vibrant Community

Somethin's happening here, what it is ain't exactly clear...  But it's getting clearer with every passing year. What I'm talking about is the future of the Twin Ports arts scene.

Today was the second annual gathering of the Twin Ports Arts Align, an inclusive affiliation of art administrators, artists and venues whose aim has been to stay connected and to communicate with each other, their mutual goal being to build a stronger arts community in the Twin Ports. According to their Facebook page the group is a result of the Arts Align seminar at the Sheraton/Zeitgeist on February 4, 2012. For the past year the group has been meeting once a month to continue the conversation.

It was an exciting day as nearly 65 people from all aspects of the Northland arts community gathered to move the markers forward and set a vision for the future.The energy was palpable as everyone rolled up their mental sleeves and tackled the challenges set before them. One group was tasked with defining the mission, a second tackled the challenges regarding art education in our schools, a third addressed affordable housing, facilities and venues, a fourth focused on audience growth and the fifth gave its attention to the upcoming May Arts Month which is coming to fruition after months of networking and laying groundwork.

The day began with introductory remarks by William "Bill" Payne, dean of the UMD School of Fine Arts, a central champion of the TPAA vision. Payne outlined the manner in which we would approach the day, stressing the importance of coming away with action items that we will distribute amongst our many participants so that the vision can get the necessary traction to become a reality. He then introduced Ann Markuson, recently retired professor of U of MN, now residing in Cromwell, whose career involved her deeply in the study of regional development by means of the arts. Markuson was involved with State of NJ policy development at Rutgers and California’s Arts and Cultural Ecology initiative. She has studied and written extensively along the lines of Creative Placemaking. Her presentation was jammed with real world case studies and examples of achievements as well as errors to be avoided.

After a short break we broke into our teams (called "crowds") and dug in, breaking briefly for lunch and later for cookies. At the end of the day we shuffled to the Zeitgeist for an informal afterparty to begin the process of cementing relationships with others in the group.

The highlight of the day was learning that the Twin Ports May as Arts Month was going to become a reality after discussions and buy-in by both mayors, Ness and Hagen. The "Name" of our monthlong Twin Ports celebration of the arts is as yet undetermined but here's the outline of what and when.

Twin Ports Arts Month, April 28 thru June 2
Kickoff Event sometime before April 28.
Homegrown Music Fest: Apr 28-May 5      
Visual Arts Week: May 6-12
Dance/Theater/Opera/Literary Arts/Classical Music and Dylan Days: May 13-26
DuSu Film Festival: May 29-June 2

In short, there will something for everyone. And it will only get better from here.

Friday, January 25, 2013

A Brief Interview with Alan Sparhawk of Low

I first met Alan Sparhawk as part of the multimedia happening titled 3N6D (Three nights in six dimensions) in February 2010. On other occasions since I captured his performances at a Halloween event, Rock Out Autism at the Clyde, a performance at Sacred Heary and last May on the Blood On The Tracks Express during Dylan Fest... but I've not had the privilege of seeing Low, until last week. The performance at St. Scholastica’s Mitchell Auditorium January 18 was one of a number of events that will be showcasing local talent in the months ahead.

Low is currently comprised of Sparhawk, wife Mimi Parker on percussion and Steve Garrington on keyboards / bass. One is struck by Sparhawk’s ease and confidence as a performer. The vocal harmonies between Sparhawk and Parker are also a feature of the group. This particular show appeared to be a live rehearsal in preparation for an upcoming tour in support of their new album. The new songs were inventively presented but earlier material was also shared with an appreciative packed-house.

EN: Who have been your biggest musical influences? 
Alan Sparhawk: Been inspired by many, many things. As a teenager, The Clash and other punk bands, then expanding as independent music thrived, eventually reaching everywhere with reggae, Neil Young, Roy Orbison, Mavis Staples, Native American songs, etc. My parents both loved and played music. My father wrote songs. Seeing that real people make music was pretty crucial, and punk/indie went hand in hand with that.

EN: How did your first tour in Europe get arranged?
AS: Our record company at the time sent us over to London to do some interviews and a couple showcase gigs on our first record ('94), Then we went to Belgium and did a show in a bar. There were people there singing our songs back to us. After the show, the singers (who barely knew a little English) took us out to the edge of the city to see the view. Pretty exciting for a bunch of farmers like us. Things have just grown from there.

EN: What do you like most and least about live performance? 
AS: Playing live is to me the most honest and pure expression of music. There are magical things that happen in the moment if you let them. It is humbling and exhilarating. I can admit that I've come to love and crave the interaction with people. That relationship has many dangers and wrong turns, but nothing beats creating something then sharing it with people who want it. It feeds my ADD, but makes me want to be better. As for the down-side: 8 hours to get there is getting a little old...

EN: You have several different bands, each with different styles, but your fingerprint is on all of them. What are the key characteristics of your songs that make them a Sparhawk sound?
AS: As you would expect, from where I stand it's hard to get perspective to even try to see what I'm doing, much less control it. It's always just me -- no masks. I think if you put your true self into something for some time, you eventually find your own voice, then it's just a matter of if anyone is paying attention. Trust that you are always going to sound like you, then set yourself free.

EN: Sometimes you play what I call "trance music".... slowly building layers in a patient crescendo. Is there a name for this style of song? 
AS: I sometimes call those songs "drones". I've always loved long, repetitive music -- it's psychedelic, which to me means it tries to go beyond the surface of consciousness, perhaps digging in a little. It can be meditation or even self-therapy. Years ago, the Duluth music community did a 25 hour collective drone as a memorial. It can be very powerful. Over the years, we have tried to push the extremes, and sometimes that means coming back to simple and short. The song usually lets you know where it needs to go.

Sparhawk plays music with at least two other bands that he's assembled, the Black Eyed Snakes and the Retribution Gospel Choir. In 2010, former Led Zeppelin front man Robert Plant recorded two Low songs from their album Band of Joy. You can read more about Low on Wikipedia. For a ten minute closeup of Alan Sparhawk produced by Twin Ports Underground visit this Vimeo link.

And have a great weekend... If you're here in the Northland, think warm.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Beyond Here Lies Nothin'

Part of Bob Dylan's success as a songwriter has been his ongoing in-depth analysis of our culture. His lyrics have writ large the injustices and demise of post-modern mankind. From the beginning he got our attention with questions like, "How many times must the cannonballs fly before they are forever banned?" and "How many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn't see?"

Though criticized for abandoning his folk roots and appeals to conscience in songs like "Hard Rain" and "Only a Pawn in Their Game'" (The Times They Are A-Changin', 1964), Dylan never stopped being the cultural critic, as witnessed in songs like "Hurricane" (Desire, 1976) and "License to Kill" (Infidels, 1983.)

Dylan's "Beyond Here Lies Nothin'" is the Grammy-nominated  opening track of his 2009 studio album Together Through Life. I associate it with my first solo art show titled First Hand Experiences at The Venue @ Mohaupt Block in West Duluth, the reason being that I played this album almost continuously while setting up the show.

At first, the song sounds like a love song, or relationship song, the first line being "Oh I love you pretty baby..."  But each verse is summed up with the bleak acknowledgment of doom: "Beyond here lies nothin'..."  

I'm reminded of the twilight of the gods, the Götterdämmerung, but in this case not the Norse gods of mythology, but rather modern mankind's eroded confidence that we ourselves could be gods after the decline of Christianity in Western culture. Modern man stretched his wings, tried to touch the sun, and like Icarus crashed to earth again. 

Postmodernism is a response to the false hope of modernism, whose pillars were Reason, the belief in progress, the belief in science as the guide to human progress, and the self-sufficiency of man. Post-modern deconstructionists and cultural observers like Dylan recognize the rickety foundations and dangerous place we have come to as a purportedly civilized race. It's after midnight, and not a pretty scene, a boulevard of broken cars. We look for something to hold onto, knowing that all that is left is bleakness and the mountains of the past.

Beyond Here Lies Nothin’

Oh I love you pretty baby
You're the only love I've ever known
Just as long as you stay with me
The whole world is my throne
Beyond here lies nothin'
Nothin' we can call our own

I'm movin' after midnight
Down boulevards of broken cars
Don't know what to do without it
Without this love that we call ours
Beyond here lies nothin'
Nothin' but the moon and stars

Down every street there's a window
And every window made of glass
We'll keep on lovin' pretty baby
For as long as love will last
Beyond here lies nothin'
But the mountains of the past

My ship is in the harbor
And the sails are spread
Listen to me pretty baby
Lay your hand upon my head
Beyond here lies nothin'
Nothin' done and nothin' said

Copyright © 2009 by Special Rider Music and Ice-Nine Publishing 
 It's a great song, but a disturbing music video, directed by Nash Edgerton (c) 2009 Sony Music Entertainment

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Bad Break

Many, if not most, poems have a story behind them, an occasion or emotion or trigger event. The poem Bad Break originated as a response to the unsettling sensation of growing up in a world where nuclear winter was an ever-present danger.

I’m not sure how much fear fire drills create, but there was something ominous about the widespread practice of air raid drills and what to do in the event of a nuclear war. Just as today’s Homeland Security processes for travelers keep evolving, so did our air raid drill instructions. I remember at one point we were all lined up and marched to nearby houses so we could hide in basements around the neighborhood. Evidently this was deemed time consuming and our later air raid drills involved getting seated in the hallways with our backs to the lockers, heads down between our knees, hands folded behind our necks. The place you did not want to be was in a room with large plate glass windows.

Either the threat of war diminished or the fears instilled by all this preparation resulted in our not needing to go through with these exercises. Or someone somewhere determined that it was all foolish futility anyways should those death bombs fly.

To be honest I still worry a bit about the bombs, knowing how many missiles are still out there, aiming here, there and everywhere.

Bad Break

face white
deep breath
hold tight
run down
look round
hope hard

ten seconds
ten years
dull moans
shrieked fears
wild thoughts
no tears
eyes wide
all ears
push shove
hide fast
screen view
whole past

breathe deep
make haste
taste death
bad taste
sky tear
bright light
no air
stomach tight

flame flash
all ash

e. 1975

This poem originally appeared in print in Zenith City Arts in 1987.
Photo: Ed Newman Lightwerx Series

Monday, January 21, 2013

All Systems Go

All Systems Go

Red is historically the color of Stop!
But we’re here to veer.
180 degrees is the direction;
musically intonated inflections
resonating in harmonic allegories
with stories that stream toward
cybernautical metric perfection.

We dance, we sing, we break out
toward unexpected ends
as we ascend. All systems go. 

e. 2012

A Visit with Visual Artist Ken Marunowski

Beaner’s Central in West Duluth has a reputation as one of the Twin Ports’ music hot spots. It’s possibly less well-known for the great venue it is for local artists on a monthly basis. January’s featured artist is Kenneth Marunowski of Esko. I've enjoyed his work, and find his insights in this interview both practical and instructive.

EN: You work in a variety of mediums. What are your favorites and why? 
KM: I work primarily in oil paint, painting landscapes mostly, but after a two-week “Drawing Marathon” at the New York Studio School in NYC this past summer, I’ve renewed my interest in charcoal drawing. I enjoy the rich, dark values one can achieve with charcoal, and especially enjoy wiping away what I have drawn with a chamois so that I can obliterate the white of the paper and begin again, always learning from the previous effort. Repetition is a key component to my working process, and charcoal, because it can be wiped away time after time, resulting in a deeper grey surface, is very amenable to my approach. The use of the eraser as a means of mark making is also very interesting to me in that what I take away becomes a positive rather than a negative mark (provided the surface is grey); in other words, I’m drawing in white as well as black. There is an immediacy to charcoal drawing particularly, and to drawing in general, that resonates with me. I’ve been drawing since I was a child, and love continuing the practice.

EN: Tell us about what you do at UMD. What are some of the classes you teach? 
KM: I’m an Assistant Professor in the Department of Writing Studies. I taught at UMD from 2006 – 2010, spent two years living and traveling in France, South Africa and Southeast Asia, and resumed teaching at UMD this past fall. I typically teach two classes: Writing for Social Sciences and Writing for Arts & Letters. My Ph.D., from Kent State University, is in the fields of literacy and rhetoric, so I infuse my writing classes with investigations into the art of persuasion, which is intended to assist students in writing more compelling and convincing arguments. We write various documents throughout the semester, some of which include resumes, cover letters, grants, personal statements, press releases, and short reports. One component we also focus on, likely due to my interest in art, is the visual aspect of a document, asking questions like, “How does a document’s visual appearance affect the intended audience?” or “How can one encourage an individual to read a text based on visual cues?”

EN: Besides being an art teacher, what are some of the other careers your art students might be able to pursue when they graduate? 
KM: I chose the teaching path, although not in an art-related field. One can always work for galleries or non-profits, or seek commissions, for example, in the form of murals (I recently painted one at the Redstar Lounge in the Fitgers Complex). What I feel is most important is to keep your art near no matter what path you choose. Surrounding yourself with like-minded, artistic people with whom you can discuss theory and practice is the key to artistic survival. It’s compelling to consider life as the Bohemian artist, throwing practicality to the wayside and simply living for one’s art, but I tried this for a short while and it was neither comfortable nor lucrative. Does this mean I will never be a “great” artist? I don’t know. Life is always about compromises, and how to integrate one’s art with one’s need to survive is the fundamental dilemma the artist must face.

EN: When did you first realize you wanted to pursue a career in the arts? Were there trigger experiences or did it evolve naturally?
KM: I have always been drawn to art and the life of an artist. I used to draw dinosaurs with my brother-in-law as a kid, and upon learning about the Impressionists and plein air painting in my high school French class, sought to paint the beauty of nature in situ as they did. During my junior year of college back in 1992, I studied at the Marchutz School of Painting and Drawing in Aix-en-Provence, France. This was a monumental experience as I not only learned an incredible amount about painting and drawing, but I also had the opportunity to both walk and paint in the footsteps of masters like Cezanne and van Gogh. I traveled all over Europe that year, visiting all the major museums I possibly could. More recently, I spent three consecutive summers in Castelnau de Montmiral, a quaint 13th Century village in south-central France where I studied at The Painting School of Montmiral, learning the theories and suggested practice of school director, Francis Pratt. A friend and fellow painter who I met at the school, Alan Ansell, and I twice camped and painted in the Mediterranean seaside village of Collioure where Henri Matisse and Andre Derain founded the Fauvist Movement. Inspirational experiences like these have certainly encouraged me to pursue the artistic path.

EN: Who have been your biggest influences as an artist? 
KM: In terms of painting, I’m very drawn to artists like Matisse and Bonnard due to their exceptional use of color, composition, and abstraction. Matisse is well known to have altered paintings time after time until he found satisfaction in them. I like this sense of searching. I need to do more of this! Upon viewing a Matisse painting, I often ask myself, “How did he ever come up with this?” and what I mean by this is the degree of abstraction he achieved. It’s uncanny.

As far as drawing is concerned, I’m very attracted to Rembrandt. Not only does he have this amazing sense of value, but his use of line is extraordinary. He can describe something so well in such a cursory fashion; with a few well-placed, essential lines a horse and carriage, for example, emerges. Rembrandt’s drawings also appear quite spontaneous, as if he did not have to think during the process of execution. This sense of spontaneity is something I aspire to in my own work and, I believe, achieve, after much repetition.

EdNote: Till the end of January you can see Ken's work in person at Beaner's Central. Check it out.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Come, Lie Down Beside Me

Last summer I wrote a review about an art show that featured the waters of Lake Superior. The five artists, whose work was displayed at our local food co-op, were honoring our great lake.

As I worked on the piece the following poem emerged, a metaphor for the relationship between our city and the body of water it hugs so closely. Inasmuch as towns and waterways have always had relations throughout history, the metaphor easily speaks to something more.

Come, Lie Down Beside Me

“You need me more than I need you,” she said.
“Come, lie down beside me.”

He stood there disbelieving, arms dangling,
eyes wide, inwardly torn;
Was this a dream?

He knelt, leaned forward, then lay alongside, 
hugging her tightly as he dared,
a snug embrace, fearful lest she pull away.
Resting there, he felt nourished, secure,
gave her a kiss and promised to care for her.

And she let him remain, daily soothing his anxious heart.

Duluth, languorous city nestled comfortably along her shoulder,
gloriously refreshed, abandoned no more.

e. 2012 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Charlie Parr Talks About Songwriting

"Never mind critics, what do you yourself think is wrong with your writing? How did you dream of your book before it was created? What were your best hopes? How have you let yourself down?"~Zadie Smith

This is not Charlie Parr
There sure is a lot of fine music here in the Northland. It didn't end when Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper passed through here. Last night I got to hear Alan Sparhawk and Low at Mitchell Auditorium, which was a very special treat. I'll share my impressions of that concert when I pull them together. 

This morning I was listening to a podcast interview at with Duluth musician/songwriter Charlie Parr as he talks about songwriting. Like Sparhawk, Parr's country blues music has developed a fan base overseas. In addition to citing song writers like Greg Brown he shared how some of his influence has come from literature, from writers like Steinbeck and Raymond Carver.

Parr's style often begins with the music first, he noted, creating the atmosphere for the song. Recording doesn't always reflect a finished song because for Parr most songs are never finished. They evolve over time. It makes me think again of my early thoughts about painting and how sometimes the piece ought to be permitted to keep evolving. Framing and signing is often premature because there's still more life to be invested in it.

Parr talks about how he's been strongly influenced by the way he grew up. He's also been influenced by the lyrical structure of traditional songs.

"Lately, the story seems to be more important than the structure of the song." His style of song writing has changed so that he writes a song and creates the atmosphere around it. "I'm a big fan of the sound at the end of a phrase."

For a high school dropout it's interesting to hear him speak of philosophers like Wittgenstein and Kierkegaard.

The interview ends with Parr singing one of his songs, "Jesus Is a Hobo."

Here's a link to Charlie Parr's official website. Enjoy.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Life Lessons

Chair a la Mondrian @ DAI Member Show
Over the years I have had a number of computers, mostly Macs, and have created a seemingly vast array of documents. Unlike writing that is produced with typewriters on paper, or by hand in spiral notebooks, much of the work one does on a computer is lost today because current versions of programs will not open files created in earlier versions.

Last year, for example, I had to pay another company some money to convert my screenplay Uprooted into an Indesign document that I could extract the text from. I'm currently hoping to share the project in book form as a novella, the story of a man's quest for freedom after experiencing the horrors of Stalinism in World War II Estonia.

All this to say that computers can be a blessing and a trial.

A couple weeks ago I was sifting through a folder full of documents looking to see which ones would open and which wouldn't. It's like going through an older drawer of manila folders. For a writer such explorations nearly always yield something of interest. The following are notes from a file titled Life Lessons that was in a folder called Redeemed Good Stuff. I'm guessing this file was created circa 1990.

Life Lessons

1. Never jump out of a moving car.  
~Things are not always what they seem. 
~You won’t hit the ground running. 
~Pick yourself up and get on with it.

2. If someone calls you stupid for jumping out of a moving car, they don’t mean you’re stupid, they simply mean you did a stupid thing.

3. It really is possible to pick yourself up and a put it behind you.

4. Streamers, Mae Wests and Cows: Even if your parachute opens smoothly, you can still hit the ground awfully hard. There are usually worse things that can happen.

5. Truth can come from unlikely places.

6. Purpose is more satisfying than pleasure, kicks and thrills. Life is temporal. What is yours all about?

7. When you get old, it’s what’s inside that counts... ‘cause all you’ll have left in the end is the disposition of your heart. Your charming smile ain’t gonna be what it used to be.

8. Learn a few practical things like how to use a hammer and turn a screwdriver.

9. If you can’t be loyal, then leave.

10. Entering the business world is a cross-cultural experience.

Have a great weekend. Life is for learning.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Peter Juhl's Jewel On Rock Balancing

“A Question of Balance” ~Album title, The Moody Blue

Physics plus calculus equals art.
Rock balancing… is it an art? A form of meditation? Is it sport? Is it play? A form of worship? In his newly released eBook, Center of Gravity: A Guide to the Practice of Rock Balancing, Peter Juhl writes, “I have discussed these questions with other balancers, and most would answer ‘Yes’ to all of them.” Last summer when I interviewed Juhl, he had this to say about what he does. “A good magic trick presents what we know to be a deception and makes us want to believe it’s real. A good balanced rock sculpture does the opposite: We know it’s real, but want to believe it’s a trick.” That is the essence of Peter Juhl's art.

Peter Juhl’s Guide to the Art of Rock Balancing begins with Juhl sharing how his rock balancing turned out to be part of a much grander fellowship of rock balancers. This small fraternity of rock balance artists has congregated in Europe and now stays in touch with one another via social media, sharing insights and photos with one another. Discovering this group and how they fit with the grander tradition was exciting for Juhl.

In actuality, the group sees a connection between what they are doing and land art like Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty, except on a smaller scale Though they differentiate themselves from the conventional stacking that many of us have seen on a trail or at the lake, they respect these first steps at exploration with rock forms.

Aristotle's Golden Mean illustrated.
The second section of his book gives names to the various styles, from early rock art to cairns to Inuksuks. This is followed with the critical chapter on the why and how of rock balancing. Juhl explains a few physics lessons and dusts off some calculus to help us understand basic principles that carry through the rest of the book. Locating the center of gravity of your rock is one of the essential skills you will want to learn.

From here the books shares every secret he has learned on how to counterbalance rocks and build zig zags, how to make symmetrical and assysmetric designs. And, importantly, how to select your rocks. Stages of this portion of the book address rhythm, proportion, dominance, unity, contact points, shadows, illusions and impossibility. Ultimately, the greatest joy is yours when your creation creates this reaction in your audience: "That's impossible!"

Juhl even gives instruction in how to photograph your rock art, a skill that all the rock balancers seem to have developed based on the photos shared here. I know that I'll be trying a few tricks from this volume at some point this summer. If you purchase this eBook I have no doubt that you will be doing the same.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Three New Shows, One Big Night at DAI

Morrison Gallery taking shape for opening.
If Thursday the 17th is not yet on your calendar, you'll need to mark it now for three very cool new shows opening at the Duluth Art Institute Depot Galleries. The free event, sponsored by GPM Inc., will run from 5 - 7 p.m.

In the Great Hall you will get to sashay about the 2013 Membership Show, which features one new piece created within the past year by DAI member artists. It's always a treat and worth a stop no matter what else is happening or not happening. Upstairs, however, there are two additional exhibitions, which is what will make this Thursday's opening extra special.

The John Steffl Gallery will play host to the 2013 Emerging Photographers exhibit. And inside the Morrison Gallery you will discover Confluence / Confluencia, featuring new work by Carla Stetson and Cecilia Ramon. I received two emails reminding me that the Stetson/Ramon installations are not to be missed. Here's an excerpt:

Hey Ed, I just wanted to see if you have this on your radar! The Art institute is showing work by Cecilia Ramon and Carla Stetson.... I have been stopping by to see the progress of their installation, and it is just amazing! The opening is the same night as the member's show, and they are working, with some of Carla's students from Ithica, NY art school, on the work all this week, and probably into the weekend a bit.

All Duluth is familiar with Stetson's Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial at the intersection of Second Avenue East and First Street. She was also responsible for a Lakewalk scultpure of importance.

Both Stetson and Ramon were collaborators in the Holy Fool event at Sacred Heart this past November which also included a performance by cellist Kathy McTavish and poet Sheila Packa as well as contributions by Cathy Podeszwa and Molly Tillotson.

Much of the work of Cecilia Ramon has been about the process of making peace with fear through making art. Ramon, a Duluth artist and professor, has used art as a means to bring internal resolution from a troubled childhood growing up in Argentina. Many Americans were either unaware or have forgotten the upheaval and horrors wrought when the military ruled from 1976-1983. Tens of thousands of civilians were tortured and disappeared. The terror left deep scars on many hearts and a nation's conscience.

According to a review by former DAI director Samantha Roth Gibb of one of Ramon's installations a few years ago, "Her pieces take time, which is an integral element in the artist’s delicate and intentional creations in wood and paint. Her most recent solo exhibit at the Duluth Art Institute titled Besides Fear was an installation that invited viewers to search within themselves for resonance. Comprised of several works in wood, the show displayed many moods and nuances. Ramon says this exhibit gave her a feeling of satisfaction she hadn’t experienced before."

Her installation in November as part of Holy Fool was nuanced and haunting.

For what it's worth, if I see you at the opening it's my guess that you'll also want to return another day to engage some of these works while in a more contemplative frame of mind. There will be plenty to experience.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Bitters: A Call for Submissions

"Love is only a dirty trick played on us to achieve continuation of the species." ~W. Somerset Maugham

Saint Valentine's Day is just a month away. Evidently Valentine’s Day is not what it’s cracked up to be for at least one segment of the population for whom Cupid's arrows have been blunted. This year the American Greetings Corporation added 10 anti-Valentine’s Day cards to its holiday collection.

For a lot of folks Valentine’s Day is a time for expressing romantic emotions and affirming attachments. Others will just go about their lives as is. Then there’s a third group that will feel a totally different set of emotions. Valentine’s Day is something painful, even bitter. The pervasive commercialization only aids in the backlash against the whole red roses and hearts extravaganza, just as the commercialization of Black Friday leads many people to a backlash against everything Christmas.

Now frankly, I’m not one of these, but if you’re an artist who shares this sentiment or has represented it at some point, the PROVE Gallery is inviting submissions for their upcoming show called Bitters.

The show description goes like this:
Each year in early February, homes and businesses are stuffed full of gaudy, gilded cardboard and horribly oversized stuffed animals; flower petals abound. It is Saint Valentine’s Day. In an effort to counteract the phony treacle of this wretched holiday, Prøve Gallery will be hosting ‘Bitters’, a celebration of the misery and loneliness that we all share. We are seeking art that disturbs, disgusts, or brings dark thoughts into the viewer’s mind in any way.

Work Guidelines:
• Any form and style of art is acceptable.
• Work cannot exceed 10' x 8' x 8' (h x l x d).
• All hung work must not exceed 50lbs, and must be READY TO HANG.
• All freestanding works must support their weight and may not be attached to the floor.

All submission materials must be written in English. PRØVE Gallery will provide publicity, exhibition invitations, mailings, and an opening reception. We will not provide insurance for any works exhibited at PRØVE Gallery. PRØVE Gallery claims a 40% commission on all works sold while on display at PRØVE Gallery. All work is shown at the artist's own risk. All work shipped to PRØVE Gallery must be sent with return shipping or be picked up by the artist or an artist's representative.

Submission Guidelines:
Please email submissions to or send via mail with enclosed return postage to:

PRØVE Gallery
21 N Lake Avenue
Duluth, MN 55802

As with all PRØVE shows the gallery requests the following:
• Artist Statement as a PDF, including a brief statement on each piece if needed.
• Up to ten images or video of work for consideration in pdf, jpg, mov, or avi format.

• Submissions are due by 28 January. This is not a postmark date, but an “arrive by” date.
• Selected artists will be notified the end of the day on 29 January.
• Drop off dates are 31 January through 2 February, from 3-7pm. All work shipped to the gallery must arrive no later than 6 February and MUST INCLUDE RETURN POSTAGE.
• The opening reception for ‘Bitters’ will be 8 February from 7-11pm.
• The show will run for two weeks and conclude on 23 February.
• Pick up will be 28 February through 2 March from 3-7pm.

Please direct any questions to Kathleen Roberts,

An Informative Chat with Bill Payne, Dean of UMD's School of Fine Arts

Bill Payne grew up Parma, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. His dad, a WW II veteran and a POW, flew 25 B-17 bombing missions before being shot down over Germany. His Mom, who started college in her 40’s after raising six kids, began her teaching career at age 50 and eventually wrote a book about his father’s war experiences.

Before ultimately moving to Duluth in 1993 Payne lived in Chicago where he saw the impact of a flourishing theater scene that he was part of. In January 2011 he became Interim Dean at UMD’s school of fine arts. After a national search he was officially tapped to take on the role of Dean this past May. His vision for the arts extends far beyond academic walls, striving to connect the school to the community and the world.

EN: What are some of the things that are happening to connect UMD to the City of Duluth? 
Bill Payne: The first thing people should know about our connection to the City of Duluth is the history of the Land Grant Mission established in 1862 by Abraham Lincoln. Land was issued to the states to create public universities that would educate citizens and give back to the community through applied research that improves life for the region and the world.

Through various fine arts disciplines and pedagogical strategies, our courses connect the students to the Duluth community. Our programs are practice based and demand that the student create performances, concerts, and exhibitions for the general public. Our students are encouraged to be active in local arts activity as their schedule permits. Our faculty are active locally, while continuing to share their national and international experiences with students, colleagues, and the region.

Twin Ports Arts Align is a grass roots conversation about the role of artists and arts organizations in the life and economic times of the Twin Ports region. Through Arts Align, SFA is reconnecting, and connecting for the first time, with a wider range of regional artists and arts organizations.

EN: The first meeting of Twin Ports Arts Align was this past February. In our discussion you said, "it was time." What were the indicators that it was indeed time for pulling together the arts here in the Twin Ports.
BP: Over the twenty years my family and I have lived in Duluth, there has been a great deal of change. Over the last ten years, the climate for the arts has changed. The state, the city, the area chamber of commerce are all looking to the arts community as a source of cultural and economic development. Though successful in small groups or as individuals, the arts community was not successful at creating a large community that could advocate for itself in the broader discussion of regional urban planning and economic growth.

EN: How do communities overcome the problem of silos with regard to their various constituencies?
BP: By being deliberately interdisciplinary in their lives. If all you ever drink is milk, occasionally take a few sips of iced tea or lemonade. Maybe some strong black coffee will enable you to see the silo and figure out how to move beyond its walls from time to time.

At UMD, the last fifty years of academic specialization has led to disciplinary silos that have little tiny windows that we can peep through and see our colleagues. Some want to put in some double hung windows that we can lean out of and carry on conversations with our neighbors in the other silos. I suggest we should install archways and begin to create the learning space that will accommodate people of many disciplines coming together to learn, imagine, and create. We still need the silos, we just need to be able to move freely in and outside of the specialty, bringing back inside our silo what we learn in the common space. I long for the space where all disciplines can explore old and new ideas together.

EN: There seems to be a shift taking place at UMD where it is moving toward a greater conectedness with the Twin Ports community and downtown. What's behind this? 
BP: The new UMD Strategic Plan, Mission statement, and Vision statement say it all. This was developed in 2010-2011, led by Chancellor Lendley Black, who has a PHD in Theatre History and is a fine artist as well as a scholar.

EN: During our most recent lunch at the Red Mug you spoke quite highly of Ann Markuson, who is newly settled in our region. Who is she and why is her relocation here something significant?
BP: Ann Markusen has studied and written extensively about the arts community in America and brings us a wealth of knowledge of and experience with successful attempts to grow and sustain artists lives. She lives nearby now and can be an active participant in our next phase of development as an arts community. We are fortunate to have her insights to guide us.

You can hear her discuss Creative Placemaking here.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Heidi Ash, Caramel Knowledge and 185Chocolat

I first met Heidi Ash at a Flood Relief fund raising event at JJ Astor in late summer. Her sweets were a delectable delight for everyone there who came to bid on photography by John Heino. I discovered first-hand that these are no ordinary confections. She urged great care when taking that first bite for the heart of each contains sensations to be savored, not dripped onto your chin.

The business she founded is called 185Chocolat, and it had a story. Because I like sharing stories I  wanted to share hers with you here.

EN: How did you come to be making chocolate candy for a living? 
Heidi Ash: After a series of events including a heart transplant and earning a Masters in Counseling Psychology. I realized that all my various jobs were a perfect training ground for my true calling-Chocolate.

After my heart transplant, probably due to the medications, I enjoyed sweets more. Chocolate was especially enticing but not the preservatives and corn syrup, which affected the taste. My solution was to start making my own hand-rolled truffles then alternate the basic recipe for more variations.

I got bored with that quickly and started learning more about chocolate. I also bought a home tempering machine, some professional chocolate moulds and… a few 11 lb. blocks of chocolate. This is how I taught myself how to make Truffles.

Long story short of how my business got started… I gave a lot of Truffles away and brought them down to Rochester when I’d visit the Mayo Clinic. I became friends with a woman who owned a beautiful Italian import shop across from the Clinic. One day she told me that once I moved into a Commercial kitchen she would carry my Truffles.

I'd been planning in my head to officially start the business for quite some time and this was the nudge I needed. She led me to her amazing import foods wholesaler, now mine. My chocolate got much better and in a matter of months the dream became reality.

Since April 2008 185Chocolat, LLC has been professionally a company. I now play with chocolate and caramel in a Commercial Kitchen with a lot of music and dancing. Each Truffle is individually made and painted.

Caramel Knowledge
EN: What did you learn through your experiences living in Las Vegas?
HA: The Las Vegas most people see is not the real thing. I lived there for years and worked on both sides of a bookstore/coffeshop much like Barnes & Nobles. The Strip, Downtown and buffets are for visitors and tourists.

The real beauty of Vegas is the mountains, desert and off the tourist spots. Some of the best food is off the beaten path, too. Rent a car, discover the people who call Vegas home and grocery shop with Elvis.

The city attracted a lot of people looking for something new, better. It was growing fast when I was there. Visit a few times first. For me it was just too far from my family. Elvis told me that in a grocery store.

EN: Why is your business called 185Chocolat?
HA: Choosing the name for my company was not difficult. I wanted it to express the core of why I started the company, it is more than chocolate (gasp!). 185Chocolat, LLC got its name because I was the 185th recipient of a heart transplant at the Mayo Clinic. The transplant was a joyous event in my life. It allowed me to follow my dream of making beautiful chocolates in a world that is not always predictable or beautiful. The company also allows me to be a voice for heart disease and organ transplantation. 185Chocolat is a blissful celebration, just like life ought to be.

EN: What is the most interesting event you’ve made chocolates for?
HA: Really treasured the wedding where the Bride and Groom decided on having 400 Truffles (Caramel Knowledge and Triple Chocolate) and no cake at the Greysolon Ballroom. The Groom built ten stands for me to arrange the Truffles on. The passion they put into the details of the planning and the setting made it special.

EN: Where do the names come from?
HA: The Truffles flavors come in dreams or from other foods I have made or tasted (“How would this be as a ganache?”) Sometimes I just look around the kitchen I work in and wonder how amazing would this ingredient taste with that blended in this great chocolate?

From the creation of the Truffle, sauce or Chocolate bar the names and descriptions come easily. Speaking of creation, all visual material and website has been designed by the beyond talented Kris Grant. She has made 185Chocolat, LLC look beautiful from the beginning. If you have ever seen a photo of a 185 Truffle or in person, the gorgeous plates are from Sheri Murray’s company Glass Matrix.
185Chocolat has begun making Chocolate bars including a joint venture with the Duluth Coffee Company. Watch for more specialty bars from this collaboration.

EN: Which is your personal favorite and why? 
HA: Everything is a favorite because when I am in the kitchen I always think of the people who will enjoy the beauty and flavor of their confection. Each hand-painted Truffle or bar is locally hand made for one purpose, to… Amuse your Mouth

February is just around the corner. If Valentine's Day is still something sweet for you, make it sweeter still with 185Chocolat. Or share 185Cocolat delights at your next social event. Visit her website at

Photo credits: Heidi Ash at JJ Astor, taken by Crystal Taylor. Product photos by Matt Carr of

1) Caramel Knowledge on a plate by Glass Matrix
2) Caramel Knowledge in front of pink box
3) Caramel Knowledge and Triple Chocolate on plate by Glass Matrix  
4) Espresso Roast Truffle with Duluth Coffee Company coffee

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