Monday, September 30, 2013

Local Art Seen: Gary Nelson's "Working Through"

The North End Arts Gallery is located in the historic Trade and Commerce Marketplace at the corner of Hammond and Broadway here in Superior. For Duluthians who don't know their way around on the other side of the river, here are your instructions. When you cross the High Bridge, go straight about eight blocks or so. This is Hammond. When you cross the tracks and reach the traffic light, look to your left. There it is!

Trivia: Arnold Schwartzeneggar used to have his girl friend Maria Shriver stay at the Hammond Inn (which you passed a few blocks earlier at the foot of the bridge) when she visited him here while he was in college at UWS. 

The building really has a lot of history, and like many cities Superior is in the midst of renovating and re-purposing some of its historic buildings, this being one of the first, which is now home to art studios, the Red Mug Coffeehouse, a bakery and more. 

The North End Arts Gallery is located upstairs the second floor. Gary Nelson's well-attended opening was Friday evening.

One big difference between an art opening and a gallery is that you can meet and talk with the artists themselves at their openings. If you want to know more about his or her motivations, techniques or personal history, this is the place to do it.

Gary Nelson is from  Maple, Wisconsin, one of many small communities scattered along the South Shore between here and Bayfield. Though the population is only 677 as of the 2000 census, I have met several artists from Maple. Must be something in the water there.

When I spoke with Nelson I discovered a man not unlike myself, and probably many others from all walks of life. Though an art major in college, Nelson had spent 25 years in the Douglas County Human Services department and had been making art. After retiring he returned to his passion for making pictures and has become very productive this past year, working primarily in pastels, pencil and craypas. His subject matter is "the human condition."

The pictures are brightly colored and graphically intense. Some are somewhat disturbing and others simply bring you to a different place.

Several of the pieces had Native American words in the title and I asked about that. He said his wife's family is from the Fond Du Lac tribe. It was nice meeting her as well and especially nice to see the strong turnout for this show.

Special thanks to the Superior Council for the Arts for assembling and hosting the artist reception and other events like these. Working Through can be viewed from 11-5 T, TH, F, SA until November 2. There will also be another special opening the evening of October 11 during the Twin Ports Gallery Hop. Mark you calendars and prepare to get your walking shoes on.

The North End Arts Gallery has become a very special place.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Local Art Seen: Ottertoberfest at the Duluth Aquarium Features Three Artists Who Love the Beauty of Our Region

Dark Moon Risen, Mary Power
Friday evening I had the opportunity to stop at two really special art openings. Ottertoberfest at the Duluth Aquarium was one of these. (I'll write about Gary Nelson's "Working Through" in the next day or two.)

Let's just start with what I've been saying for quite some time. The Northland here is one heckuva beautiful corner of the world. So it's only natural that people with a keenly developed artist aesthetic would either want to move here or would be already here and want to respond to this Northland experience. The three artists featured at the Aquarium this month -- Rachel MaKarrall, John Pastor and Mary Power -- exemplify this idea profoundly.

The exhibition is titled "From the Lake to the Forest."Merrill Lynch is title sponsor of the show which is an outgrowth of the Artists of Project Art for Nature. There are costs associated with presenting art, and benefits to the community when art can be shared in such a public manner. Framing alone is an expense, and though dollar store frames will help put pictures on the wall, a wonderful drawing or painting is significantly aided when the frame is worthy of the piece. All this to say that if you want to become a friend of the arts and have the means, perhaps you can assist an artist to get his or her next show looking it's best.

I think it's safe to say that the world has been greatly enriched by the music of Tchaikovsky. But it was the financial assistance of his patron Nadezhda von Meck over a period of many years that enabled him to focus his energy on composition.

OK, back to the show. Rachel McKarrall love bugs and beetles. I mean really loves them. MaKarral says that to her they are more beautiful than butterflies, and her work sets out to prove this assertion. After seeing MaKarral's beetles you just might take a new interest in these fabulously varied friends of the earth.

At one point I was watching and listening as John Pastor explained the stipple technique he uses on many of his pieces. Stipple is a technique of applying ink in dots or very tiny strokes. The gentleman was fully engaged in a drawing as Pastor stated that one little section took eight hours to create.

John Pastor (foreground)
Pastor, who grew up in a Hungarian community in New Jersey, is a biology professor at the University of MN, Duluth here in the north country. He's also a writer, having published a book on mathematical ecology, which is essentially the mathematical modeling of biological systems. It's apparent he has many passions, but the dedicated devotion he shows to a drawing or watercolor painting of a bird demonstrates that he has a serious fascination with his subject matter.

Mary Power's creative spirit goes far beyond the technical reproduction of nature's attractions. Power produces work derived from nature, totally liberated from traditional forms. Her artist statement opens with the question, "How can we integrate our lives with the natural world?" Her art demonstrates a measure of this, fully integrating native fibers such as cattails into a graphically appealing whole, a form of re-invention that is equally engaging.

Today, or any upcoming day this month, will make a good day to venture forth to see this special show.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Eris Vafias and Artist Kamikaze V

Next Thursday is the opening for Artist Kamikaze V, at Pizza Luce in Downtown Duluth. Kamikazes were Japanese fighter pilots who had been trained in the art of making suicidal crash attacks during World War II. The literal translation of the word kamikaze is "God wind." The name has since been co-opted for a cocktail that includes Smirnoff Vodka, triple sec and lime.

Here in Duluth we have a couple kamikaze events. One involves musicians, and this one involving the random pairing of artists who work in disparate media. The theme for Artist Kamikaze V is MONOCHROMATIC and will feature work by Kristin Martin, John Heino, Aleasha Hladiek, Lesley Ross, Kat Singer, Patricia Mahnke, George Ellsworth, Ali Peace, Jonah Cannon, Tobin Dack, Sarah Riley, Nichole Cannon, Jeanna Aldridge, Peyton Farrell, Eris Vafias, Wally Mahnke, Rebecca Domagala, Tina Luanna Fox & Melissa Griffith. The public is invited to vote for the winning submission from 7:00 till 8:45 p.m. The winning team will be announced at 9.

The founder/mastermind behind this event is Eris Vafias of the original Limbo Gallery. In addition to the events she assembles, she is an artist in her own right.

Here's some Assorted Random Trivia about Eris...
Favorite Artists: Hieronymus Bosch, Dali, Basquiat, Schnabel, Picasso, Chuck Close, David Lynch, Jeffrey Scott, Biafra…just off the top of my head.
Favorite Curators: Leo Castelli and Mary Boone.
Favorite Hot Beverage: Cubana Breves with whipped cream.
Sign(s): Leo in astrology, but a Dragon zodiac wise.

EN: Where does the name Limbo Gallery come from?
EV: It is apt due to the nature of the gallery. We are always moving, always transforming…but whatever shape Limbo Gallery ultimately takes in the future, I have had a wonderful time organizing same and working with some of the best artists in the area.

EN: What motivates you and/or inspires you?
EV: I look around and I am inspired. Everything has a story and intricacies from which ideas can spring forth. Once all pretense and suppositions fall away, it is the quirks and oddities that make us distinct and memorable. I am fond of the exposition of the inherent weakness & vulnerability present with all that is transient. Moments caught in time when facades fall away, exposing the beauty of fragility… I love contextual contrast and “mistakes”— aside from photographic tinkering (of which efforts I would gladly sell the end result due to the relative ease of reproduction), I do not make art to make money, I don’t make art to please others. I think any work that can elicit any type of emotion, good, bad or ugly, is in fact…art, but that is really incidental. I have had more than my fair share of tragedy... art serves as an outlet for me. Ideas/concepts pop into my head and I feel compelled to do them, it is a release that gives me great satisfaction. I don’t curate shows to make money, which is good because we seem to live in a town full of artists, less so collectors. I have an idea for a show I would like to curate and once it is all up on the walls for people to appreciate and enjoy, I can relax. I love finding emerging artists to work with and watching them grow.

EN: Where else have you shown your personal art work?
EV: Aside from the Limbo Gallery shows, my work has been shown at the Rochester Art Center, the Kruk Gallery, Beaner’s, the Phantom Galleries (Red Interactive), Jitters and the Cult Status Gallery (Minneapolis). I was the “poster child” (and contributing artist) for the first Night of Steampunk at the DAI and was a participating artist again this year at the Steampunk Extravaganza and recently I had work up at Clyde Iron as part of the Snobarn c.d. release party and at KLM Studio’s for the Pre-Fest Art show for the (UCF).

EN: You make art in a variety of media. What are some of the forms which your creativity has taken in recent years?
EV: I enjoy painting, writing, photography, mixed media recycled, upcycled/repurposed found art—which I like to refer to as “pack rat art,” conceptual/installation art, sculpture, jewelry, costumes, graffiti, modeling…even hanging a show is an art form, figuring out the most complimentary/interesting layout in the ever changing location. I hesitate to fully define or label what I do, as I fear being boxed into this or that. I would, however, like to branch out into short films eventually and write some books.

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

Friday, September 27, 2013

Disc Three of Another Self Portrait Provides Rare Glimpse of Dylan’s Return at the Isle of Wight

New Morning by Ennyman
Self Portrait was Bob Dylan’s tenth studio album, released in June 1970 by Columbia Records. This summer’s release, Another Self Portrait, is the tenth set in the Bootleg Series.

Self Portrait was Dylan's second double album, primarily featuring cover versions of well-known pop and folk songs. Having been proclaimed the bard of our generation, critics seemed to take it as an insult for him to do other peoples’ songs. Upon reflection it’s evident that Dylan was, to some extent, paying tribute to his roots and to his peers.

Another Self Portrait offers a whole lotta new material to chew on from this period which some people called lame and, essentially, crap. By way of contrast I know at least one person who called it his favorite album. Truth be told, it’s a gold mine here.

If you’re a long time fan you’ll recall that Dylan abandoned Woodstock to become the featured highlight of a similar music festival in England called the Isle of Wight. This rare concert appearance, Dylan’s first since the famous motorcycle accident that enabled him to bow out of the public eye for three years, is now available on the third CD of Another Self Portrait, should you choose to get this slightly more expensive but more complete collection from the period. I’ve listened to Isle of Wight ten times thus far (this week) and thought I’d take a moment to share a few of my impressions.

I’m fairly certain I’ve already heard a couple of the songs from this concert on KUMD’s Highway 61 Revisited hosted by John Bushey. Manifold thanks, John, for your remarkable collection of rare Dylan tracks assembled from various concerts about the globe this past half century. For over ten year I’ve scheduled my life around catching Highway 61 Revisited, which now airs on Saturday evenings at 5:00 p.m. and can now be heard in streaming audio anywhere in the world via

The 1969 Isle of Wight Festival took place on the last weekend of August, eleven days after the close of Woodstock. A lot of people expected Dylan to be one of the highlights of Woodstock since it practically took place in his own backyard, but by the time Hendrix was closing the show at dawn Monday, Dylan was already settled across the sea.

This was actually the second year of the Isle of Wight music festival. In ’69 the headliners included Joe Cocker, The Who and the Moody Blues. But it was Dylan who made it a legendary event.

Dylan's previous trip to England, not to be confused with the one documented in the film Don't Look Back by D.A. Pennebaker, included the Manchester concert of 1966, which has also been preserved on Bootleg Series, Volume 4. That previous experience must have been on Dylan's mind when he went back to England for the Isle of Wight show.

One is struck by the contrast. In '66 Dylan famously walked on stage at the outset and held the audience in the palm his hand with an acoustic set beginning with She Belongs To Me, then presenting Fourth Time Around, Visions of Johanna, It's All Over Now, Baby Blue, Desolation Row, Just Lie A Woman and concluding with his eloquent anthem Mr. Tambourine Man. After a break to set up instruments for the band, Dylan and his wrecking crew proceed to smashmouth the audience with this new sound he'd wrapped his songs in. It was raw and, for many, still confusing. There were hecklers. He was called a Judas. But the band played on.

Interestingly enough, here at the Isle of Wight Dylan once again opens with She Belongs To Me. The second song selection is from new material no one had ever heard yet, I Threw It All Away. He sang with a new kind of voice here, too. Some have called his Nashville Skyline voice "affected" but then, wasn't his early Woody Guthrie sound something he created as well? 

In his previous visit to England Dylan showed a ragged vitriol that stunned some people. At the Isle of Wight he carried himself with an entirely different countenance. It was as if he'd made some kind of peace with himself this past three years. Songs like I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine and Lay Lady Lay, as well as the resurrected Scottish folk song Wild Mountain Thyme, showed the tenderness of his heart. There were no real "finger-pointing songs" in this bunch, except maybe Like A Rolling Stone, but even here it was sung with a softtened edge.

The performance also telegraphed the manner in which his next thirty years of performing would go. The acoustic songs and those with full accompaniment were more seamlessly woven into a whole piece of cloth. It was no longer Part I and Part II.

And he was still taking chances. The performance was not a side show at the carnival. It was simple and unspectacular in many respects. The songs were his gift to an audience that had gathered to hear.

Some people have called Dylan a minstrel, and in the encore he and The Band (Robbie Robertson and crew from the House at Big Pink) offered up the somehow chant-like Minstrel Boy, sung like an end of the night melancholic bar song, the chorus comprised of haunted harmonies. The following year it would appear on side four of his original Self Portrait, but it seemed so un-Dylan, like much of that album. And yet, in its own way it is so Dylan. In the middle of the night when I couldn't sleep, this simple song kept playing in my head. And as I passed through my days this week it has frequently returned.

Who's gonna throw that minstrel boy a coin?
Who's gonna let it roll?
Who's gonna throw that minstrel boy a coin?
Who's gonna let it down easy to save his soul?

If you came up short and only purchased the two-version set of Another Self Portrait, you're missing something. This is a very special addition to the puzzle that is Dylan.

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Embrace it.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Changing Colors and Open Studios Make for a Potentially Spectacular Weekend

"Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower." ~ Albert Camus

I'm not usually one to mark the days on this matter, but if my memory is intact the leaves have been changing from green to brilliant oranges, reds and yellows a little later this year. For what it's worth, there are certainly places in the country where is spectacle of the changing seasons is especially rich. Washington Valley Road in Bridgewater, NJ was an explosion of color every fall. My drive from Scranton to upstate New York one year was one long tour of wonderland the autumn I did a business trip there. And Minnesota's North Shore is second to none.

So, it doesn't surprise me that a group of local artists would arrange to have this particular weekend be their "open studio" art tour. The Lake Superior 20/20 Studio Art Tour is a group of 20 artists within 20 miles, sharing not only their art but their work spaces, both this weekend and next. Friday, Saturday and Sunday there will be art, crafts, music and the fall colors to get subsumed into.

There are brochures around town in some of the places where art can be found (like the Depot) but there's an easier way to go... visit their website. Here's a link to the Art Tour Map, but you can catch the whole site by stepping back to the home page.

Next weekend, from September 27 through October 6, begins the Crossing Borders Studio Tour, another fabulous event designed in conjunction with the fall colors. This tour, however, doesn't stay tight-wound to our Southern tip of Lake Superior. Rather it shuttles you up the shoreline from here to Thunder Bay and all points beautiful in between. It's easy to see, and self-evident, why so many artists have chosen this corner of the world to call home.

A few other upcoming events to note include the opening for the Limbo Gallery's Artist Kamikaze V at Pizza Luce next Thursday. The theme is Monochromatic, which when I was a student became a fascinating opportunity to discover the range of possibilities inherent in a single color. Visit the MONOCHROMATIC Facebook page for details.

For what it's worth, my collaborative Intergalactica project in Artist Kamikaze IV was so rewarding that we made an eBook out of it. You can download a Free copy of INTERGALACTICA from the Apple store if you have an iPad.

Other events to get on your calendar include the major Tweed Museum exhibition called Blood Memoirs: Exploring Individuality, Memory and Culture through Portraiture, curated by Amber-Dawn Bear Robe, October 22.

Also next week is the beginning of what the Tweed is calling Tweevenings. Tweevenings will be held the first Tuesday of every month. It's an event designed for people to not simply look at art but to talk about it. The kickoff will be next Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. Bill Shipley will discuss "Redwing #29," a sculptural relief in aluminum, by Charles Biderman. Take your art appreciation to the next level.

And don't forget tomorrow evening's Working Through, at the North End Arts Gallery space at the corner of Hammond and Broadway in Superior. 5-7 p.m. addressing issues of domestic violence.

And then there's a special art and nature opening at the Great Lakes Aquarium featuring art and otters. Ottertoberfest is also from 5 to 7. So whatever side of the bridge you're on, you have a little end of the week inspiration to look forward to.

In the meantime... art goes on all around you. Engage it!

NOTE: The picture on this page is in my files from a show but I do not have contact info and would like to give credit to the artist (and get permission to use it.) If you know who did it let me know. (It was in our Red Interactive collection.) If you have something you would like to send me to replace it, please do and I will give you credit. Thank you.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

When The Post Called Dylan King

"When you're young, you think you're going to live forever. The sooner you learn that you're not, the more time you have to do something about it." ~Alfred G. Aronowitz

So begins the 1968 Saturday Evening Post feature story on the royal family of pop music. It's more pictorial than text, but that's what magazines like Life and National Geographic did for us in such vivid color. The showed us, and didn't just tell us the stories, each picture worth a thousand words.

The cover of this November 2 issue is a photo discretely captioned, "A rare picture of Bob Dylan in seclusion." In the upper right of the page, where it lists the exclusive stories in this edition, we read, "Bob Dylan and the Pop Scene."

Publications like Readers Digest and the Post work overtime coming up with story titles and cover shots that will sell more magazines. Testing must have shown that for this story Bob Dylan would draw more buyers than the clan of pop music characters assembled within.

The first portion of the article is called "Pop: The Royal Family." In retrospect, the opening lines are almost frightening by their prescience. The first three pictures feature Jim Morrison and the Doors, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. All three would be dead by age 27. It's a sobering beginning to a piece that is aimed at celebrating the antics and excess of youth. But in the world of pop, excess appears to be the path to success.

The selection of celebrated musicians ranges across genres and anticipates much. Janis holds center stage on her page, surrounded by smaller images of Buck Owens, Frank Zappa, Country Joe McDonald, B.B.King, and Arlo. Grace Slick and the Jefferson Airplane feature prominently on the next two page spread, surrounded by The Fugs, Aretha Franklin, Ravi Shankar, Dionne Warwick, Tiny Tim, Al Kooper, Otis Redding, Merle Haggard, Mavis Staples and the Beach Boys. The next spread is equally exciting for fans of the era. Ritchie Havens, Diana Ross, Charles Lloyd, Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Simon and Garfunkel, the Beatles, Herb Alpert, and The Rolling Stones fill this spread.

Turn the page. Big black and white shot of Dylan playing his guitar and smiling big. Caption across the centerfold reads: Enter the King, Bob Dylan. The article is a one page summary of how Dylan ended up in Woodstock, how he'd gather Robby Robertson and the band to join him there where the rented a house nicknamed Big Pink. It's the story of Dylan's controversial motorcycle accident and convalescence out of the public eye.

Aronowitz spells out why young Dylan was king to many followers of the scene. "He had started a civil war in the folk community, rearranged the pop charts, fathered a new generation of poets and helped shaped the probability that contemporary music will become the literature of our time. Even the Beatles, after they met Dylan for the first time in 1964, yielded to his influence."

This period of seclusion seems, in retrospect, to have been one of the most significant decisions the young Dylan made. Pulling out of the spotlight gave him a chance to incubate in preparation for a much longer career than many of his peers.

The following summer a major event occurred in Woodstock. Everybody who was anybody would have loved to be there performing. A motion picture came out of the event. Albums as well. And the musicians who played became household names.

But quietly, the resident of Woodstock spent the weekend packing his bags, for he was heading to another concert that week, where he would be the headliner. It would be his first live performance in three years... the Isle of Wight. 


Monday, September 23, 2013

Kat Singer (Part Two): The Senn of Art

This is part two of an interview with Twin Ports artist Kathryn Senn, a.k.a. Kat Singer.

EN: Did you have any formal training? If so, what kind?

KS: Really, no. I took the usual primary/secondary/college classes, but artistic technique and media is evolving all the time. Polymer clay (along with HTML programming) wasn't even invented when I was a student. I was a Psych Major. Did you want fries with that?

EN: What are some of the media you work in? Do you have a favorite?

KS: I like designing soundscapes. I have a little studio devoted to engineering recordings of songs I write with my husband and another long-time bandmate, so this leads me directly to engineering the audio sound effects and mock commercials for the Twin Ports Stage radio production of "Twin Ports". (It's hard not to call an ensemble production like that a favorite!) I enjoy building websites and HTML programming, and digital graphic art comes along with that, which leads directly to the creation of some nicely decoupaged altered trinket boxes. Decoupage has been a favorite fascination of mine for a while now, and testing it's limits amuses me. I decoupaged the foundation of my house for goodness sakes... along with the usual assortment of plates, cookie tins, and tabletops. (How can you not love an art where the vast majority of your supplies come right from the local hardware store?). Polymer clay became an interest initially because there isn't a kiln required, so, you know, I'm obviously a sucker for "easy access" artistic endeavors, and if Richard Dreyfuss can sculpt a mountain out of mashed potatoes... well then, the sky's the limit, right? But, mixed media/found object/repurposed work is where my heart is at these days, and mixing media to take trompe l'oeil to the next level is by far my favorite kind of creative expression.

EN: You also paint… How long have you painted and how would you describe your style?

KS: I'm a cheater. I paint only because I have found no better way to handle light sources in the more two dimensional stuff that goes on canvas (or tagboard, or other flat surfaces meant for hanging over the sofa.) I will happily glue dryer lint to get texture on some part of some piece that calls for texture, but I still need to paint in the play of light light that allows me to push a certain perspective over the dryer lint. I will eagerly decoupage an image I want to incorporate into an overall work, and then use paint to blend the colors and shade the whole. I will amuse myself affixing found objects onto a canvas and then use paint to try to create precise, (and precisely incorrect), shadows in order to deliberately mess with the perspective.

 I think I can safely describe my style of painting as "happy accident". I experiment a lot with brush strokes, and blending, and color, because I'm not schooled or skilled enough to adhere to the rules of any given technique, I'm still free to find satisfaction in whatever works for whatever I'm working on at the moment. This doesn't mean I'm not in absolute awe of representational artists who can make something so breathtakingly photo-realistic that you can't help but suspect Kodak is somewhere there in the mix. I am. Absolutely in awe. I'm just not that skilled. I have to do whatever works to make it look as close to what I originally had in mind as I can... and then I need to stop before I muck it up. Yeah... my whole painting style is all about "cheating".

EN: Where do you sell your work?

KS: I have only recently begun to think about monetizing my work because money isn't a very good motivator for me (hence the career in civil service), but, I am drawn to art shows and craft tables for the opportunity to see what other artists are doing... get inspired by that... and have the fun of learning from others with shared interests... and the more I get inspired the more I try to make... and the more I make... the more I need to find a destination for it... "sales" does seem to be the generally accepted route, and even though I have absolutely no objection to placing an objective value on my time and effort, in a very protective way I think cash is a slippery yardstick for artists. If I give someone a painting in exchange for x dollars ... tomorrow they have the painting, but I have x dollars minus the impact of inflation... and the day after tomorrow I have even less. The only time I get jazzed about the "business" end of it all is when I can work out a barter exchange. When someone wants to trade something of theirs for something I made, the next day we will both still have exactly what we traded for without the built-in value erosion of currency.

Don't get me wrong. Cash is king in our culture, and money is what pays the bills. But, you are interviewing an artist... not a merchant. I don't want to spend more time managing than making. I believe this is why art galleries exist, and I am greatly encouraged by the way some local galleries are opening themselves up to the whole benefit of operating as collectives. It isn't enough for me to just set up a table where there are likely customers, so I'm more inclined toward participation in events that include some community element. North Central Windows Program sponsors a local Festival that contributes to their efforts working with survivors of sexual assault and abuse; the Umbrella Cloud Festival incorporates community art projects and access to art for children as a part of the event. It's more motivating to be a merchant for a good cause. I would love to see a "collective" storefront established here in the Twin Ports, where artists could pool their resources... share a till, and a bookkeeper, and all the other infrastructure/overhead that it takes to effectively monetize the art created here... you know... without sucking the soul out of the artists in the process.

EN: Thank you, Kat.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Space In Time with Kate Senn (a.k.a. Kat Singer)

I became acquainted with Kate Senn (a.k.a. Kat Singer) via the loose association of artists known socially and locally as Twin Ports Arts Align. An artist in her own right, Kat has been an active participant in the TPAA Facebook community and an ongoing advocate for the arts.

EN: Where are you from originally and how did you come to the Twin Ports?

Kat Singer: I was born in Chicago, and my family migrated here when I was 8 years old. Although I had tried mightily in the past to escape the Sargasso-Grip of Gitchi-Gummi (or "Gitch, the Bitch" as I like to call her) I have recently made my peace with the reality that karma had planted my roots here too deeply to migrate elsewhere. Of course, just as soon as I came to that revelation, I started to really appreciate what the Lake Superior Basin has to offer... and even more, I began to notice the real artistic vibrancy bubbling just under the surface of Twin Ports culture. Now, (just as I am supposed to, I suppose) I am ever so grateful that I have remained here, because I finally understand the real value of the creative freedom afforded to communities that aren't awash in manufacturing, money-making, or marketing. What we have here is an opportunity to make art on every level of our community experience, and I am watching (and hopefully helping) as artists of all kinds "lead the way" in ways that just wouldn't be possible in areas with a more generic economic structure.

EN: What do you call this genre of art that you make?

KS: I guess we all find it hard to pigeon-hole ourselves that way, and I'm no exception. I aspire toward a New Romantic/Gothic/Retro-Futurism style.... but I tend to produce many things that could more properly be labeled "Creepy Kitsch". It could be that as I continue to perfect my techniques I will produce work closer to my aspirations... or... maybe I'll just make things that are creepier and kitschier.

EN: How did you come to take an interest in making necklaces and jewelry?

KS: Much of my work is about re-purposing, and a great deal of re-purposing can be accomplished in the arena of "wearable art." I like to scavenge rummage and estate sales for broken bits of adornment from bygone eras and incorporate them into something different, or give them new life, while still honoring their origination. Broken jewelry does tend to take wonderfully well to becoming re-purposed jewelry... and the time-consuming, fussy, detail work demanded by findings and fittings is perfect for occupying my mind on long winter nights in front of the Telly. It's also the kind of work you can do to keep up your momentum while waiting for a painting or a sculpture or a decoupage to dry. "Time Management for the Artist: Priming the Pump."

EN: How long have you been making this kind of work?

KS: What artist hasn't, in some way or another, been making art since birth? And who isn't born an artist? I just re-read this sentence... it sounds really pretentious and twee doesn't it? But, it's still true. Creativity isn't an ability limited to the exceptional few. We should all be able to answer this one similarly. To be sure, many are dissuaded by other factors, most notably the "I'm not good enough" albatross everybody seems to have hung around their necks... except for maybe Dali, who apparently escaped the usual self-esteem issues. In my case, I put much of my creative impulse aside while I worked a career as a government drone. Then, I retired, which gave me the time to do what I enjoy doing: creating interesting things from other things.

EN: Did you make the things on this page? What media?

KS: No. Those are memes I have grabbed off the internet. I made the things on the page next to it (titled, prosaically enough "Things I make"), but, I am a real student of themes, and memes, and all sorts of influences on the collective consciousness. I love the way the communication explosion of the new millennium has power to shape a shared understanding of our separate experiences. I'm also more than a little afraid of it ...


Saturday, September 21, 2013

Local Art Seen: Robin Murphy and the Clay Show in Duluth

Gatherer by Barb Broadwell
Nine days ago I shared images from the Possession Show, which will be on display in the Morrison Gallery at the Depot till November 2, and Canvas of Flesh. This past Thursday the Duluth Art Institute (DAI) held the opening reception for its three current shows, which included Robin Murphy's New Work in the Steffl Gallery.

Robin Murphy lives in Bayfield, on the south shore of Lake Superior. This truly great lake inspires artists on all of its shores, from Thunder Bay down through Grand Marais to the tip here in the Twin Ports and on to points east in Wisconsin. Little hideaways like Cornucopia and Oulu and Madeline Island are rich with arts expression.

Murphy received her M.F.A. from the Cranbrook Academy of Art and has taught here at the University of Minnesota, Duluth among other places. Like much of our local talent, their work has a far great reach than simply this region.

Robin Murphy's New Work
Evidently the past few years have proven to be a time of transition for her. When I found her artist statement on her website, it seemed to make a good to introduce you to what her current work is about. You'll want to be sure to check it out. In person it's simply wonderful. Thank you, Robin, for sharing yourself here at the DAI.

The Explanation
My work has undergone major transitions the past two years, from functional ceramics to animal and figurative sculpture. I have always been interested in sculptural work but didn't know where to begin. It's difficult to try something new when you have achieved a certain level of success with your present artistic direction.

The initial animal pieces were simple silhouettes resting in pot-like forms and highly decorated. Once I decided to abandon the pot and just make the animals/figures, a new door opened artistically for me. Function and decoration were no longer the issue, it was now about the animals/figures and how they exist as objects in contemporary society; what are they doing, asking, implying. Those questions became the basis for investigation.

Perplexing Endeavors
Each piece presents a range of didactic possibilities. How the work exists sculpturally as a 3-dimensional piece is layered with the emotional response posture, gaze, surface treatment, etc., suggests. How to marry the particular animal or figurative form with this myriad of possibilities is the challenge. The reward begins at that extraordinary moment of recognition within the clay, whether intended or something surprisingly different, but you see it and work with it to completion; then, give it to the world and begin again.

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Engage it!

Friday, September 20, 2013

I Threw It All Away: Dylan Shows His Scars

“The characteristics that I have pointed out in Dylan’s protest songs continue through the years in his other kinds of songs. Dylan allows no easy-listening bystanders: he draws a listener into a song, often by mean of pronouns and other bland-looking words that acquire meaning in performance.” ~Betsy Bowden, Performed Literature

One of the books I’ve been reading this past several weeks is Betsy Bowden’s Performed Literature while repeatedly absorbing Dylan’s latest Bootleg Series album (#10), Another Self Portrait. Bowden’s premise is that people who consider Dylan a great songwriter and lyricist/poet are missing the true greatness Dylan brought to this generation. Hence the title of the book, Performed Literature. It’s not just the words, but the way he delivers the words that impact listeners so profoundly.

This is not to suggest that the lyrics alone don’t have power. "Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall" is an incredible contribution to literature as well as music history. As has been repeated many times over a whole song could be written about each line in this seismic earth-shaker. But those who have been most attentive recognize something incredible happens each time he performs it and it is in the moment, the performance, that he breathes into the song new life, and sometimes new meanings.

What Bowden so forcefully explains is that the “how” of Dylan’s delivery is what makes the lyrics come so alive. And I fully concur. Yes, the Byrds and other artists translated Dylan’s lyrics for their various pop audiences, but that only served to draw attention to the original source. The lyrics they shared worked for the moment, but Dylan’s heartfelt interpretations of his own, and others', lyrics take these songs to another plane.

For me, what has continually grabbed me deepest is the rawness, the emotionally charged quality he so vividly conveys in the manner he delivers his lyrics in so many of his songs. Whether rage (Idiot Wind), contempt (Positively Fourth Street), longing (Where Are You Tonight) or tenderness (Sign on the Window), Dylan’s great skill is making an emotional connection to his listeners.

Here are three songs that resonate with nearly anyone who has been shattered by a meaningful relationship that has been broken. The last of these, which appears on disc one of Another Self Portrait, serves as a warning, flashing profound and poignant: “Don’t do what I did.”

Listening to this song the past few weeks brought others to mind, as this seems to be a recurring theme with Dylan. Most of the Time, the first cut on Oh Mercy, is delivered with that similar aching regret.

Most of the time
I’m clear focused all around 
Most of the time
I can keep both feet on the ground
I can follow the path, I can read the signs
Stay right with it when the road unwinds
I can handle whatever I stumble upon
I don’t even notice she’s gone
Most of the time

Tangled Up In Blues
When you listen to this song it’s the way he states it that gets you, “Most of the time.” It’s like Neil Young’s “how slow and slow and slow it goes to mend the tear that always shows.” The songwriter is trying to keep a stiff upper lip, project victory, confidence. But underneath it’s a wound that won’t heal.

It’s fascinating how he sings this song in such a low-key manner, not extravagant, playing down the pain so that it’s just a matter-of-fact matter. But when he says that last “most of the time” you know all too well the rest is just a put-on, and he’s not healed but hurting.

The second verse ends with this declaration:

I can survive, I can endure
And I don’t even think about her
Most of the time

The third verse makes this claim at the end:

I can smile in the face of mankind
Don’t even remember what her lips felt like on mine
Most of the time

This sounds very personal to me because Dylan was a performer and though he is famously stoic on stage, he was still a performer and had to “smile in the face of mankind.

The final stanza goes all out:

I don’t cheat on myself, I don’t run and hide
Hide from the feelings that are buried inside
I don’t compromise and I don’t pretend
I don’t even care if I ever see her again
Most of the time 

Aside: Gene Lafond’s performance of this song last spring in Weber Hall excelled at conveying this same wounded anguish. Thank you, Geno, for putting so much of yourself into this great piece.

Another haunting song comes to mind here, from Bootleg #8: Tell Tale Signs... "Born In Time." This one again exemplifies the point Bowden makes. It’s relatively simple as far as the lyrics go, but the manner in which Dylan delivers these lines sears flesh, shatters bone and tears the heart.

The begins with a moment many of us have experienced at one time or another, the lonely night…  But the way he sings it so melds the emotion with the words.

Just when I thought you were gone
you came back
just when I was ready to receive ya
You were smooth, you were rough,
you were more than enough,
oh babe, why did I ever leave ya
or grieve ya?

Dylan failed someone he cared about. 

This leads us directly to "I Threw It All Away," which first appeared on Nashville Skyline (1969) and re-appears here on Another Self Portrait. It’s so basic. I once held her, we made promises, but…

I Threw It All Away

I once held her in my arms
She said that she would always stay
But I was cruel, I treated her like a fool
I threw it all away.

Once I had mountains in the palm of my hand
rivers of grandeur every day
I must have been mad, I never knew what I had
until I threw it all away…..

In the end the scribe offers this word of advice, which to his regret he learned the hard way:

If you find someone who gives you all of her love
take it to your heart, don’t let it stray
One thing for that's certain 
you will surely be a hurtin’ 
if you throw it all away.

Maybe the songs of this period appeared lyrically so simple that a lot of listeners missed how nuanced they were. It's a mistake we all can make at times.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Another Plug for Innovation Institute on North Texas Giving Day

Harrold Andresen (R) fixes both vehicles and broken dreams.
Today is North Texas Giving Day. The Communities Foundation of Texas is is encouraging donors to make a special contribution to their favorite non-profit organization. Since it was email from Innovation Institute that reminded me of this announcement, I decided to simply remind readers here that the training school for wheelchair bound people who want to learn mechanical skills is an amazing project.

What especially amazing to me is that the school was initiated a full ten years ago. Seems like only yesterday that Harrold Andresen, formerly of Duluth here, began converting 15 stalls of his 20 stall auto mechanic shop into a school. (Disclaimer: Harrold is my brother-in-law.) The ambitious project took years of planning and work, and the whole non-profit piece is no piece of cake either. But his vision ultimately became a reality and if you go to the Innovation Institute Facebook page, you will see an amazing array of photos showing guys working on cars and equipment, problem solving on matters such as how to lengthen a golf cart or ride-around lawn mower so that a wheelchair-bound person can roll onto it and drive it.

Here's the link to the Donor Bridge website if you wish to contribute to this life-changing program. I like how they describe what they do: Empowering people, regardless of their disabilities, by creating innovative mechanical devices that increase mobility, self-esteem, and independence.

Who doesn't want more independence?

For what it's worth, if you have a favorite charity -- and there are needs all around -- today might be a good day to write a check, or make a pledge, and give. Whether it's Life House here in Duluth, or one of the many other good causes wherever you are, this is your prompt to move from good intention to doing good.

On another topic: tonight is the Celebration of Clay art opening at the Duluth Art Institute. 5-7 p.m. Maybe I will see you on the scene? Have a great day.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Quiet Heart Music Celebrates Ten Years In Business

Yesterday on the radio I heard an interview with someone who made music for people with Alzheimers or in their declining years. The interviewee made some interesting statements about the healing power of music, but his approach was different from what I usually read in one particular way. He said that he was in the business of creating music that had no attachments to memories of earlier years. That is, it was all original with no connection to memories, though still designed to comfort.

Because of my longtime friendship with Yamaha Recording Artist Henry Wiens, I wasn’t sure how to take this. In  my 2007 interview with Henry I asked why music has such power to reach so deeply into peoples’ hearts. He replied:

Music is like beauty for the ears and mind. The answer to why people are moved by beauty is rooted in what it means to be human. For me, creating and listening to music is linked to expressing love for everything that is beautiful about life. As a listener, I respond to what I "read between the lines"; as a composer-performer, I try to express that love & beauty to others. Any power that music may have to touch others is rooted in the authenticity and depth of the artist's expression.

As people experience music throughout their lives, they build up associations with that music which reinforce each other. Hearing a familiar melody will bring past experiences to life. For example, hearing a song that you danced to when you were 18 and in love will probably elicit some of those good feelings even decades later. Hearing a song that was sung in church while you were held on your mother's lap may bring comfort the rest of your life.

Joan Baez
It may be that the person I heard on the radio is right in some instances, but I’m going to imagine that when we Baby Boomers are in nursing homes or hospice care we’re more likely to be transported to fond memories and beautiful landscapes when we hear "Bridge Over Troubled Water" or "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" than when we hear something unfamiliar. Maybe I’m wrong but I’m guessing that three decades from now our souls will continue to resonate with Bach, the Beatles and "Wind Beneath My Wings."

Ten years ago Henry started a business called Quiet Heart Music based on the widespread response to his CDs as a source of comfort. His primary customers were nursing homes, hospice and funeral homes that purchased personalized CDs, but he’s not averse to individuals purchasing his music. This week he gave his website a facelift and if you’re in need of comfort or a quiet background as you write or draw, I can attest that Henry’s music offers a soothing accompaniment to nearly any activity.

There 's another feature of this kind of "comfort music" that's worth noting. According to many sources the music is not only like a soul-balm for the dying or grieving, but for the caregiver as well. Sherri Snelling's post in this Alheimer's Association blog is titled Music as Therapy: A Five-Note Plan For Caregiver Calm. Snelling explains, "Music as therapy is not just for your loved one. We know caregivers encounter increased stress over caring for a loved one — in fact caregivers who reported their health was impacted by caring for a loved one cite stress as their No. 1 challenge." She goes on to note that our reaction to music is actually physiological in that listening to music releases the hormone melatonin which reduces aggression and depression and can help us sleep.

No wonder we feel so good when we're listening to the music. Let's dance!

Centerville All Stars

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