Monday, March 31, 2014

Personal Observations on the Top Ten Songs of All Time

I was YouTube surfing this weekend when I stumbled upon one of those lists that make you curious. You know how they work. First they are interesting and then you wonder how they picked this one or that one and then you mull over all the other things that were not on the list. I could be top ten places to live, top ten baseball players, top ten party schools, etc. The one that caught my eye last night was Top Ten Songs of All Time.

Evidently this must be the last part of a longer list as it begins with the end of song number eleven on the list, Heroin by Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground. If you don't want to take time to check it out here is the list, posted by someone whose handle reads GlOveCompartment.

10. What a Wonderful World (Louis Armstrong)
9. Born to Run (Springsteen)
8. The End (The Doors)
7. Hurt (Johnny Cash written by Trent Reznor)
6. Sympathy for the Devil (Rolling Stone)
5. Stairway to Heaven (Led Zeppelin)
4. A Day in the Life (Beatles)
3. Like a Rolling Stone (Dylan)
2. Blowin’ in the Wind (Dylan)
1. Imagine (John Lennnon)

I found the selection somewhat interesting, but I had to wonder what the criteria for their selections was. I noticed two things here. First, nearly all the great songs "of all time" were from the Sixties. That seemed to indicate a measure of bias, especially since "All Time" seems pretty inclusive of a long period of time. And second, where are the female vocalists, performers and songwriters? In this group there was nary a one.

So I went looking for another list to compare it to, Rolling Stone Magazine's...

10. What’d I Say (Ray Charles)
9. Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nirvana)
8. Hey Jude (Beatles)
7. Johnny B. Goode (Chuck Berry)
6. Good Vibrations (Beach Boys)
5. Respect (Aretha Franklin) (written by Otis Redding)
4. What’s Goin’ On (Marvin Gaye)
3. Imagine (John Lennon)
2. (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction (Mick Jagger/Rolling Stones)
1. Like a Rolling Stone (Dylan)

Interestingly, both lists have Dylan's Like a Rolling Stone and John Lennon's Imagine in the 1 and 3 positions. Also, both lists have a Beatles song, albeit a different one, in each list. But the Rolling Stone list is not only more racially balanced, it also is the only list with a female vocalist/performer on the list.

To be honest, I would not want to be on a panel that had to make a list like this. There is just so much great music. But I'm curious how the judges of either list established their criteria. For all I know it may be published somewhere, but in an era of women breaking through barricades in so many ways, why are there not more women on these lists?

Here are some of the great female vocalists and songwriters of note that come rather effortlessly to mind for me. If you have time click on the links for some very special performances.

Wind Beneath Wings or From a Distance (Bette Midler)
Both Sides Now (Joni Mitchell)
Diamonds and Rust (Joan Baez)
Billy Holiday
In the Arms of the Angel (Sarah McLachlan)
Piece of My Heart (Janis Joplin)
Midnight Train to Georgia (Gladys Knight)
Judy Collins
Son of a Preacher Man (Dusty Springfield)

Where does Ella Fitzgerald fit? How 'bout Ethel Waters?

Do you have a favorite song of all time?

Alas... life goes on.

EdNote: All illustrations on this blog have been my own creation unless otherwise noted, or implied when I am writing a review of others' work.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Tampa Book Signing: Unremembered Histories and A Yellow Rose

"Myth is the nothing that is all." ~Fernando Pessoa

Today is our double book signing here in Tampa. And just as there is a measure of excitement in all such adventures, I simultaneously experience a second emotion within myself that is best expressed in the story below by Jorge Luis Borges.

When Shakespeare wrote "All the world's a stage" he goes on to say "and one man in his time plays many parts." It's strange when we feel that we are playing those parts simultaneously.

On the one hand I'll be putting on a face today that expresses one part of myself, the personal satisfaction that comes from having created something original to share, something I believe meaningful or entertaining or thought-provoking or maybe even profound.

On the other hand, I can hear another voice, the voice of the Preacher in Ecclesiastes -- "Meaningless, meaningless, all is meaningless" -- and I realize, like Borges, like Pessoa, like Giambattista Marino here in Borges's story A Yellow Rose, that I may have merely added one more thing to the world.

Then again, how meaningless is an apple if it tastes good on the tongue? Or nourishes us? So I share my stories or art in the hopes that it will bring a favorable aesthetic lift to those who experience it.

Borges was one of my chief influences as a writer and several of the stories in Unremembered Histories have been inspired by his unusual way of seeing things, blended with my own personal vision. Borges, over the course of his life, slowly went blind, but he had great vision. I first saw this story, A Yellow Rose, in a 1960's copy of The Antioch Review that I found at a garage sale, along with On Exactitude in Science and four other short thought-stimulants. In fact, the notion contained in this latter story is a recurring one in Borges, which recurs in another form in my story Duel of the Poets, which in the 1990s was translated into Croatian for a poetry website there. Unremembered Histories is a collection of six short stories with a supernatural or paranormal element, of which Duel is a favorite.

This story can now be found in Borges' Dreamtigers.

A Yellow Rose

Neither that afternoon nor the next did the illustrious Giambattista Marino die, he whom the unanimous mouths of Fame — to use an image dear to him — proclaimed as the new Homer and the new Dante. But still, the noiseless fact that took place then was in reality the last event of his life. Laden with years and with glory, he lay dying in a huge Spanish bed with carved bedposts. It is not hard to imagine a serene balcony a few steps away, facing the west, and, below, marble and laurels and a garden whose various levels are duplicated in a rectangle of water. A woman has placed in a goblet a yellow rose. The man murmurs the inevitable lines that now, to tell the truth, bore even him a little:

Purple of the garden, pomp of the meadow,
Gem of the spring, April’s eye . . .

Then the revelation occurred: Marino saw the rose as Adam might have seen it in Paradise, and he thought that the rose was to be found in its own eternity and not in his words; and that we may mention or allude to a thing, but not express it; and that the tall, proud volumes casting a golden shadow in a corner were not — as his vanity had dreamed — a mirror of the world, but rather one thing more added to the world.

Marino achieved this illumination on the eve of his death, and Homer and Dante may have achieved it as well.

Note: If you have time for more, here is an excellent essay on Borges as anti-philosopher
Assuming I will not be seeing you in Tampa this afternoon, you may purchase Unremembered Histories here.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Can Creativity Be Learned? Two Books To Enhance Your Creativity

I'm not sure people can go from non-creative to highly creative, but many authors who write on the topic seem to believe it can be so. In reality you don't really want high degrees of creativity when it comes to accounting, for example. But in the creative professions, it's a major asset. I make a living in advertising.

In 2008 while coveting various books in the gallery store at the Museum of Modern Art, I came across and purchased an excellent book about creativity called IdeaSpotting: How To Find Your Next Great Idea, by Sam Harrison. For some reason, people assign a mystical and mysterious quality to the process of creativity, not recognizing that thinking creatively has very definite steps which can be learned and developed. It is not magic. There is no "muse" whose presence is necessary for us to have an idea.

A second book, which I own and have returned to several times over the years, is A Technique for Producing Ideas, by James Webb Young. Young writes that scientific giants agree that “knowledge is basic to good creative thinking,” but that this is not enough. Rather, “knowledge must be digested and eventually emerge in the form of fresh, new combinations and relationships.”

Later in the book he writes, "An idea is nothing more nor less than a new combination of old elements."

If you need help in this area (developing your intuitive faculties and breaking free creatively) I would endorse A Technique most heartily, and from what I have read thus far of IdeaSpotting, it will also be on my list. Here are some comments from the intro:

“Trainspotter” is British slang for a dull, obsessive guy whose hobby is standing for hours on station platforms, meticulously recording the serial numbers of train cars passing by.

If the British call you a trainspotter, they’re likely calling you a loser.

IdeaSpotters, on the other hand, are surefire winners. The only thing they have in common with trainspotters is a predilection for notebooks.

Rather than record engine numbers, IdeaSpotters capture ideas.

As for me, the key idea for Idea Spotting is to actually take the essential step of recording it on paper before it slips away and is lost. Ideas can be elusive, flutter through your mind much like a butterfly across a field. It doesn't always alight and is thus not easily captured.

* * * * *

For Twin Ports locals, tonight is once again the Diorama-Rama at Sacred Heart. Creativity on display to the max. 8:00 p.m.  Bring it on.

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

Friday, March 28, 2014

Two Nifty Online Tools: A Stopwatch and a Random Number Generator


The internet has created a whole new language. I remember the first time I heard the word app being bandied about at a conference in L.A. Everyone knew what it meant so I just watched and listened. Turns out I knew what apps were from the early days of my first Mac in '87. People passed around discs with shareware on them and in this manner programmers could share what they were doing, little apps that accomplished sometimes entertaining, sometimes meaningful, and often meaningless things. We've gotten so sophisticated today that we now have over one million apps in Apple's App Store.

The two items I wanted to share here may or not be apps in the online store, but they seemed like the kind of thing that couple be. I have been using these two websites for years, long before smartphones became ubiquitous. I have found each of them useful and you might, too.

Online Stopwatch

You don't even have to bookmark this page. Google Online Stopwatch and it's always right there at the top of the first page. This is a remarkably useful tool with all kinds of applications. I primarily use it for timing the length of copy when writing radio commercials, or for timing the length of a story or speech in public speaking. All you do is hit start, start reading aloud your spiel, and then look at the stopwatch when you finish. I've been frequently called upon to write 10 or 15 second public service announcements over the years, and there's no better way to hit your target than with a stopwatch.

Of course you can use it to time other things as well, such as how long it takes to write a morning blog entry. Or how long it takes to run out to the road to grab the newspaper. Or a ten minute routine for open mic comedy night at Dubh Linn's Irish Brew Pub.

Random Number Generator

Here's another free tool that I have used extensively over the years. You'd be surprised how often you need a random number. I've used this website to select dealers to work events when more than one throws his hat in the ring. It's a great way to select the winner in a drawing. Maybe you have been stumped on what you want to write about for a paper that's due. You have four topics and feel indifferent as to what is important. Make a list and use the random number generator.

One could probably even make a list of kind things to do and use this app to truly do a random act of kindness each day.

There's also a random coin flipper so that you can decide who goes first in a game of two. But wait, get this.... You can flip a coin from any period of time or country. Right now I just flipped a
Maximinus - Bronze/Silver Tetradrachm from the Roman Empire. You can flip Irish coins, a Brazillian Real, Euros, a whole host of U.S. coins and even Todd Redden's Decision Maker Coin. Can't decide which coin to flip? Make a list on a spreadsheet and use the random number generator.

Do you have any favorite online tools like this that you use from time to time? I mean, besides Google.

Meantime, life goes on.... all around you. Enjoy your weekend while you can.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Dali, Dylan and the Tombstone Blues

“The lyrics fit the surreal style of the era, while being scathing of society and authority.” ~Wikipedia

In September 2009 I explored the question of whether Salvador Dali was madman or genius. What brought this to mind was the Wiki statement above which I came across while looking for additional insights on Dylan's Tombstone Blue. While I disagree with the statement as regards fitting "the surreal style of the era", I totally agree that many of Dylan's songs of the period were surreal, and therefore can be compared to Dali. First, let's correct the word "fit." The surrealism injected into rock and pop music of the Sixties most likely emerged as a result of Dylan. He wasn't fitting it in. He preceded it. At this point in time, the summer of 1965, it did not yet exist. The Beatles were still recording Help.

But this blog note is more concerned with the comparison between Dylan and Dali.

There are tens of thousands of artists, but very few who become household names, and even fewer who have done it during their lifetimes while still above the sod. Picasso, Dali and Warhol are certainly on the short list. Each of them carefully mapped a path to the fame they craved. Both Warhol and Dali crafted a distinct public face while surrounding themselves with an aura of ambiguity. And though there were countless surrealists in the movement, it is only Dali who became a household name.

Dali's paintings are noteworthy for a variety of features. Besides their masterful execution, the content included grotesque distortions, optical illusions, elongated legs on elephants and other body parts, sensuality, eroticism, flies, grasshoppers, melting watches, historical references, and inexplicable juxtapositions. An in-depth analysis of the three albums that established Dylan as the iconic figure of his time -- Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde -- likewise contain numerous songs that coincide with Dali's oeuvre.

Tombstone Blues, second cut on Highway 61 Revisited, is a suitable example of the surrealistic method of storytelling that would re-appear in various forms over the next forty years. While the Beatles were singing Twist and Shout in Shea Stadium, August 15 1965, Columbia was preparing Dylan's "Shot Heard Round The World" for its August 30 release.

While screaming teen-aged girls drowned out the lyrics of "You make me dizzy Miss Lizzy" other minds were being jolted awake by "Once upon a time you dressed so fine, you threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn't you." Opening cut. Followed by this jangling jam-blast...

The sweet pretty things are in bed now of course
The city fathers they’re trying to endorse
The reincarnation of Paul Revere’s horse
But the town has no need to be nervous

The ghost of Belle Starr she hands down her wits
To Jezebel the nun she violently knits
A bald wig for Jack the Ripper who sits
At the head of the chamber of commerce

Mama’s in the fact’ry
She ain’t got no shoes
Daddy’s in the alley
He’s lookin’ for the fuse
I’m in the streets
With the tombstone blues

Huh? What's this? It's surreal, but not meaningless. It's not dada. This song and many of the others are a mirror of the chaotic subterranean zeitgeist of that moment in time.

Like Dali, the song explodes with images. The images contain strings of historical references, allusions and illusions, literary distortions and eroticism.

The hysterical bride in the penny arcade
Screaming she moans, “I’ve just been made”
Then sends out for the doctor who pulls down the shade
Says, “My advice is to not let the boys in”

Now the medicine man comes and he shuffles inside
He walks with a swagger and he says to the bride
“Stop all this weeping, swallow your pride
You will not die, it’s not poison”

What is it that Dylan is here "laying between the lines"?

Well, John the Baptist after torturing a thief
Looks up at his hero the Commander-in-Chief
Saying, “Tell me great hero, but please make it brief
Is there a hole for me to get sick in?”

The Commander-in-Chief answers him while chasing a fly
Saying, “Death to all those who would whimper and cry”
And dropping a barbell he points to the sky
Saying, “The sun’s not yellow it’s chicken”

The Biblical references add up all throughout, distorted and used to -- at times -- to torpedo sense, yet teasing the mind with promises of meaning. This can't be all nonsense, but there's work involved to gain a handhold. Parents walk away scratching their heads while their young ones hook on to fragments of meaning and catch a bigger picture. In the midst of all this madness, "I'm in the streets with the tombstone blues."

The geometry of innocence flesh on the bone
Causes Galileo’s math book to get thrown
At Delilah who sits worthlessly alone
But the tears on her cheeks are from laughter

Now I wish I could give Brother Bill his great thrill
I would set him in chains at the top of the hill
Then send out for some pillars and Cecil B. DeMille
He could die happily ever after

Something's happening, but you don't know what it is, do you Mr. Jones?

The march of imagery continues and the suggestive geometry of innocence reaches a climax with....

Where Ma Rainey and Beethoven once unwrapped their bedroll
Tuba players now rehearse around the flagpole
And the National Bank at a profit sells road maps for the soul
To the old folks home and the college

Now I wish I could write you a melody so plain
That could hold you dear lady from going insane
That could ease you and cool you and cease the pain
Of your useless and pointless knowledge

Ma Rainey was one of the first recorded blues singers, Beethoven one of the greatest composers at the dawn of the romantic period of classical music. Their passion for making great music has been replaced by an articifice, tuba players around a flagpole. It's madness, but when you see it and understand it, you know why this generation ended up in the streets with the tombstone blues.

Enigmatic is a word that applies equally well to both the art and the man, whether speaking of Dali or Dylan, whether it's the Hallucinogenic Torreador or Tombstone Blues. In both pictures the images are riveting, and add up to something.

Mama’s in the fact’ry
She ain’t got no shoes
Daddy’s in the alley
He’s lookin’ for the fuse
I’m in the streets
With the tombstone blues

* * * * * * *
Saturday May 17 join us for A Salute to the Music of Bob Dylan as we kick off this year's North Country Dylan Days at the Sacred Heart in Duluth. To stay current on the events of Duluth Dylan Fest, visit the Facebook page and Like. Also, be sure to bookmark Hibbing's Dylan Days schedule.

* * * * * * *
For a more comprehensive exploration of this song, read John Hinchey's Like a Complete Unknown. For an entertaining exploration of interpretations of the song's elements, visit Songmeanings.  

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: Latest pictures from A Remarkable Tale from the Land of Podd

The kingdom would be lost if he couldn't find someone to carry out this task...
But there seemed no one else in his land left to ask.
For  though nothing was wrong each thought he was odd.
The kingdom was saved, it turned out in the end....
He flew 'cross the hills to the far other side....

OK, so it is not exactly wordless. The project is moving along. Special thanks to illustrator Ian Welshons. Look for announcements for a release party sometime this fall. Now let's go out and save the world.

Ed Newman is a fiscal year 2014 recipient of a Career Development grant from the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council ( which is funded in part with money from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund as appropriated by the Minnesota State Legislature with money from the vote of the people of Minnesota on November 4, 2008; an appropriation from the Minnesota State Legislature; and The McKnight Foundation.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

From KC to Big Lake Country: Spotlight on Artist Karen Owsley Nease

In late summer of 1994, Karen Nease and her husband made their first trip to the North Country. As they crested Thomson Hill on I-35 and saw Lake Superior spread out before them in the setting sun, her life’s direction changed. She knew instantly that she had to live near the big lake.

EN: How did you become an artist? What kind of work do you do?

KN: To hear my mother tell it, I was born drawing and that need has continued to this day. Both my parents were very encouraging and kept me stocked in art supplies and provided me with painting lessons in grade school and junior high. My first two degrees were in Architectural Engineering and Environmental Design. I worked as an architect for eight years and became disappointed with how little of my creative energy was being used, so I went back to college at the Kansas City Art Institute where I earned my BFA in painting and printmaking. It was a wonderfully rigorous classical education in painting. Since then, my work and exhibitions have included painting, printmaking, drawing, and book arts. I also work with digital arts using both Photoshop and AutoCAD to create complex patterned collaged overlays. Most of my work is nature based and very process oriented. It varies from representational to abstract depending on the focus of that particular exploration. My major paintings have three threads right now. Water, trees and abstractions related to my digital work. When it warms up, I'm going to get my French easel out and start doing plein air paintings of the northland. My printmaking and drawing usually follows whatever I'm painting, and my book arts are just very personal exercises in craftsmanship.

EN: You had an art gallery in Kansas City. What was the name of your gallery and how long did you and your husband run it?

KN: Our art gallery was called Joseph Nease Gallery. My husband, Joe (day job: civil engineer) was the director/curator and I assisted. We showed contemporary art by Kansas City and regional artists. It was a "white box" NY style gallery in the Crossroads art district of Kansas City. Most of the art we showed tended to be more abstract expressionist or minimalist than work I’ve seen here. We had the space from 1998 - 2003. Our gallery was a critical success, but was not sustainable commercially. After we closed the gallery we both went full time into our respective day jobs of civil engineering and architecture. I continued to paint and exhibit some. I did less art for a few years because of work demands.

We have spent the past year moving our art collection and my studio along with our household. We are finally settled and are in the process of buying a building in west Duluth for my studio space and a likely exhibition space for Joe to ply his curatorial skills.

EN: How did you come to move to Duluth? 

KN: For my upcoming show at the Duluth Art Institute (Spring 2015), I am going to have a body of minimalist color studies dealing only with the horizon of Lake Superior. So as not be redundant with the description here I have attached my working artist's statement. My final artist statement will likely change - maybe a lot. The statement also tells a little about how we came to move to Duluth. We came for the outdoor lifestyle and discovered that it is a very civilized little city right up against the wilderness. We love that combination.

EN: You noted how process oriented some of your work seems to be. How did these processes develop over the years?

KN: I suspect it is because of my work in architecture, which is totally process oriented and I became comfortable with a particular way of working. In architecture, there is the idea, the programming, the drawing, and the construction, etc. Within each of those larger phases, there are preliminary through final phases, each with its own distinct considerations. I treat my art in the same way. I plan out what I want to accomplish with a body of work, such as the premise, the appearance, the media, the ground and so on. I narrow the parameters enough to stay on target, leaving enough flexibility just in case something serendipitous occurs - I can use it at the time or maybe it becomes a new direction for a later body of work. It is important to me to really explore an idea to see how far it can be taken. Sometimes an idea will really only support a few pieces in a series while other ideas I work on feel like they can continue to be mined for a long time. I have always worked in this way. I have refined my working process through the years in order to make the most efficient use of my studio time.

EN: Can you describe some of the details that have gone into your recent paisley series?

KN: The Mr. and Mrs. Paisley series are handmade digital collages. The "template" design and geometry is developed in AutoCAD, a commonly used drafting program in architecture. I set that aside, and then begin taking images or snippets of my own paintings, images from the internet, photos I've taken, fabric or things put on a scanner, whatever comes to mind. I take these small images, manipulate and combine them into a repeating pattern in Photoshop and print that out a large sheet. Using the templates I start cutting openings out of the patterned sheets. After I cut the first patterned sheet, I lay it over a different one lining up things to show through the openings of the first cut sheet, and so on. Most of these collages have 5-8 patterned sheets laid over one another. The choice of the patterns can be based on subject matter, color, scale of the pattern. I don't have a preconception of what the finished piece will look like. These works are very much influenced by various folk arts - Appalachian quilting, oriental rugs, Latin American Molas and Ukrainian Pysanky eggs. The Mr. and Mrs. Paisley series is autobiographical because I create patterns showing what my husband and I are interested in or doing at the time I worked on them.

EN: I'm fascinated with the book projects. What inspired you along these lines?

KN: I have always loved books. I am an avid reader. The art school I attended had a strong program in books as art, that is where I became interested in them as art objects. I often make books that are miniaturized versions of my larger paintings, prints and etchings. For me, one of the most important and unique aspects of books as art is how they draw the viewer into the same space and distance as the artist was when making it. Unlike how most paintings and sculptures are exhibited, the viewer holds the book or looks down upon it on a table. I like that. I like that close interaction.

EdNote: The Joseph Nease Gallery was thrice featured in Art In America. Portions of this interview originally appeared in The Reader.

Monday, March 24, 2014

For the Birds: Ravens and Crows at the Zeitgeist

Rain! Rain! by Jan Wise
"Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary..." ~Edgar Allen Poe

On Saturday the Twin Ports Arts Align met for an all day working session to assess where the group has been and what the vision should look like for the future. And like all manner of volunteer organizations, it was a time to reset the lead horses for the next leg of the journey. (A hundred thank yous to Crystal Pelkey and Bill Payne for their leadership efforts on behalf of the Twin Ports community.)

Afterwards those who were able gathered at the Zeitgeist Atrium for a mixer. Though I was not part of Saturday's assembly I did wish to learn how things unfolded and slipped over for the mixer. Arriving early I had the opportunity to peruse the current display of artwork in the cafe. 

At least six artists were represented. (There may have been more as I did not read every tag.) As I'm not sure how much longer it will be up, you should check it out this week if you are downtown. 

The Zeitgeist is another great venue for seeing local artists. Here are some of the paintings I saw, along with a sculpture by Karen Monson. Who doesn't like birds? O.K., maybe if you have a pair of crows who decided to nest near your window one summer, you may have been annoyed with them for a season. On the other hand, there are quite a few of us who have photographed or painted blackbirds at one time or another, including myself

Right at the bottom of the stairs are a pair of pieces by Penny Perry (Rook Makes A Move) and Ann Klefstad (Road Bird.) The latter is a painting of a bird on a plane of wood utilizing the natural grain of the wood to serve as an abstract field of color, breaking up the background so that the image pops forward. 

It appeared to me that the largest quantity of pictures came from the studio of Jan Wise, as well as the widest variety of treatments. Some were straight up paintings of our feathered friends, and others, like this one titled "Raven Clan", applied a different approach to the theme.

Raven Clan by Wise
Mary Beth Downs also had work on display. Her picture titled "The Gathering" reminded me a little of Teresa Kolar's birds. It's whimsical, and probably would make a nice gift for someone who needs something fresh for a newly painted wall.

Thank you to the Zeitgeist for sharing your own walls with local artists. Thank you to the artists for sharing their work with the public, and dressing up our public spaces. 

Just yesterday I saw a pair of enormous crows glistening in the bright sun. They, too, are looking forward to spring, have returned to let us know it's time.

Crow by Karen Monson
Have a great week. Make art... or enjoy it while you can.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Local Art Seen: Ed Newman at The Shack

The Shack in Superior has been remodeled and a section of the restaurant will become a new venue for displaying works by local artists. The renovated restaurant on West Belknap is sandwiched between the Shack Liquor Store and the newly opened Ugly Stick Saloon. In addition to good sandwiches, the restaurant has always had tasty selections on the menu by a first rate chef who on Wednesday evenings cooks entrees out in the restaurant itself. This Wednesday evening special is $12 for dinner and a glass of wine. A steal in my book.

The area designated for artists stretches along the 32-foot wall on the side opposite the bar. The maroon walls make the works pop.

I brought in seven of my most popular pieces for display, including the original of my Dogs of War and a large framed giclee reproduction of Sitting Bull. There are no new recent works here because I am saving those for the group show at Goin' Postal later this spring. Here are a few words about each of the pieces.

Mexico 1981
Acrylic on cardboard, I almost re-titled it "Mexico 1981 (Selfie)" but decided against it. The painting is based on a photograph taken of me in Matehuala. I'm fairly certain it was taken just after I had been swinging on a swingset and jumped off. I probably painted this in the mid-1980s. The piece was framed by Art Dimensions in Carlton and features museum glass to eliminate glare.

Sitting Bull
My portrait of Sitting Bull was created when I first began consciously developing a new approach to painting faces by using Photoshop to break the planes of the face into swaths of light and shadow. I chose this image in part because of Sitting Bull's stature and in part because of the manner in which I felt his features conveyed the grief any seer must have felt as he looked toward the future for his Native people. This is piece was framed by Art Dimensions and also utilizes museum glass to eliminate glare.

A Post-Modern Man
This is the first of the many faces that I have painted using the technique described above using Photoshop. It is actually a deconstruction based on the face of Daniel Craig. The painting is acrylic on canvas paper.

Man with as Puzzled Expression
Ink on paper. Spent a winter doing a lot of painting with colored inks and dyes. Love the effect. Frame by Joelene at Art Dimensions. Museum glass.

For most of my life all my pen and ink drawings were lines on paper. Precision was paramount. In recent years I began experimenting with varying line widths and even line quality. This led to brush and ink drawings, some of which have been quite compelling. Dreamtiger was begun with no goal in mind, but as often happens I see faces emerge. This is the original and I especially love the frame Joelene selected for this piece. Giclee reproductions are available. Museum glass.

Sitting Bull x4
A child of the Sixties, I found myself attracted to the art of Peter Max, much like everyone else, I suspect. I thought it would be interesting to reproduce Sitting Bull in four different color schemes. The print has been mounted and then permitted to become altered through humidity. Depending on the angle at which it is viewed you will see four perfect images or a wrinkled tragic reflection of what once was.

Dogs of War
Background on this original painting: I'd watched a very powerful video about the training of dogs used for war, not as attack animals but for protecting troops, following trails, warning of impending attack. In WW2 and Korean War many dogs served with our armed forces. The documentary included interviews with veterans who told stories of the service dogs who saved soldiers' lives, dogs who gave their lives for the best friends, and the dogs that had to be left behind when the war ended. This picture attempts to capture the haunted feeling I was left with as I reflected on these dogs of war.

The painting is also a metaphor for the end of a meaningful relationship. The dog and the soldier are connected by a leash, but each is peering in different directions. The dog is trusting, and has no clue that the future is going to be very different for each of them. The soldier is looking off into an uncertain horizon. The one certainty is that each will be alone.

4000 dogs were put to death at the end of the Viet Nam War. The army felt it would be risky to bring them home in the event that that had picked up diseases we did not want in our homeland. This project, putting these dogs to death, was immensely painful for the vets who had to carry out this task.

EdNote: The photo here is not the final look, includes minor color distortion, though it captures the essence. The painting should be seen in person to be best appreciated.

* * * * *

No date has been scheduled yet for a reception, but should this happen I will keep you appraised. Meantime here are some other events of note coming soon.

CALL FOR ART -- Dylan Days Celebration at the Red Mug
I deliberately chose not to include any of my Dylan portraits at the Shack so they would be available for the Red Mug Dylan Month (May) in conjunction with North Country Dylan Days. Please note: I would actually love it if we had so many Dylan inspired works that there was no room for any of mine. If you have something or would like to create something for the occasion, please do share.

ROCK, PAPER, SCISSORS -- Ellen Sandbeck Artist Reception at the Red Mug
You have only a few days left to see Brent Kusterman's art and then it's time for Ellen Sandbeck's fascinating cutouts for the month of April. The opening reception will be Friday the 4th. Ellen is a first-rate author, worm-wrangler, gardener and artist. I am sure her new work will be stunning.

THE BREWHOUSE DRAWINGS -- Kenneth Marunowski at Beaners
Live music and art by a black belt plein air painter (I just made up that title) this April 3rd event begins at 6:00 p.m. The new work will get you jazzed. Low, Charlie Parr and the Boomchuks will be there. Expect it to be a packed house and a memorable evening.

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

Saturday, March 22, 2014

A Poem By Pessoa While Waiting for a Callback

While waiting for a callback, thought I would post a poem by Fernando Pessoa.

There's no one who loves me.
Hold on, yes there is;
But it's hard to feel certain
About what you don't believe in.

It isn't out of disbelief
That I don't believe, for I know
I'm well liked. It's my nature
Not to believe, and not to change.

There's no one who loves me.
For this poem to exist
I have no choice
But to suffer this grief.

How sad not to be loved!
My poor, forlorn heart!
Et cetera, and that's the end
Of this poem I thought up.

What I feel is another matter...
                      December 25, 1930

From A Little Larger Than the Entire Universe, Selected Poems of Fernando Pessoa

Sleights of Mind and a Reminder to Get a Ticket

Magic is about entertaining audiences. Young magicians should not focus on methodology at the expense of theatrics.

In Houdini's Right Way To Do Wrong the great escape artist gives attention to the matter of "performance" in the magic arts. It's not just technique, though technique has great value. Presentation is equally important. Though part of the magician's creed is to never share one's secrets with non-magicians, there is a second rule that is part of the creed. Never perform a trick badly. That's paraphrased, but is essentially the nut of it. Don't botch a trick so badly as to give it away.

So, I have been reading a fascinating book about magic, but from a different angle. It's called Sleights of Mind, by Stephen Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde. The book is by scientists, not entertainers and its subtitle is What the Neuroscience of Magic Reveals About Our Everyday Deceptions.

It's a novel approach to brain science. Much of what neuroscientists are now learning has already been learned by magicians more than a century ago. The hand is quicker than the eye? It's much more than that. Now you see it, now you don't.

People who go to magic shows get a thrill from being deceived. But there are reasons the tricks fool us, and the master magicians get away with mental mayhem. Part of the reason is that our brain's ability to take in data has many flaws. Yes, it is a remarkable organ, but it has an amazing variety of shortcomings. The ways in which afterimages, perspective, inattentional blindness and viewers' expectations get manipulated are each demonstrated and spelled out.

In an early part of the book the authors share how scientists were fooled by Uri Geller and his spoon-bending, which they called the Geller Effect. The reason why scientists were so gullible is that scientists are honest people and not aware of how low magicians are willing to stoop to deceive them. The better the scientist, the more gullible.

I am immediately reminded of Houdini's efforts to unmask frauds and especially those who bought into the notion of communicating with the dead through mediums. But another historical moment comes to mind as well. When the duck-billed platypus was discovered, the scientists in England thought it such a bizarre creature that it had to be a hoax. The reason for this incredulity has to do with context. Some international travelers had come home with other strange creatures which indeed had been hoaxes. Sailors were sold miniature "mermaids" in which the upper half of a monkey would be sewn to the lower half of a fish. English scientists assumed the platypus was of similar "creative" origin.

If I were a better magician with words, this would not be such a sloppy segue, but alas, let's cut right to it.

I don't know anyone who doesn't like to be dazzled now and then. That's one reason I look forward to a great evening of entertainment on May 17 for Magic Marc's production of A Salute to the Music of Bob Dylan. Evidently Marc Percansky is a magician in addition to event promoter. Both he and professional magician John Bushey will keep us entertained while musicians change up their sets. A bit like a three ring circus, except it's magicans instead of clowns.

Percansky is an independent concert, music and event promoter based in the Minneapolis / Saint Paul, Minnesota area. His interest in the music of Bob Dylan isn't an isolated phenomenon. President Obama said, when awarding him the Medal of Freedom, "There is not a bigger giant in the history of American music,"  And though his cross generational fame has been cemented by means of his half century career as a performer, it was his songwriting that garnered him a Pulitzer Prize in 2008. (Was that really already six years ago?)

So Percansky has assembled a top-notch crew for another over-the-top kickoff of another North Country Dylan Fest Celebration. At the end of the week's events, on May 24, Bob Dylan will turn 73.

Like the great magicians of old, Magic Marc seems to be a master of entertaining audiences. It should be an event to remember.

Just a quick reminder that tickets are now on sale so join me in snapping them up. It should be another spectacular event.

Friday, March 21, 2014

From Tatts to Wall Art: Spotlight on EJ Arnold

When I was in school, because I was a compulsive doodler (OK, so some things never change) and a good friend of mine would say, "You should do tattoos." As I followed my career, he followed his passion and became a hard-core biker. We remained in touch and each time we saw each other he would say, "You shoulda been a tattoo artist, man."

I thought of Tom when I met EJ Arnold at Washington Galleries in January. Arnold was a contributor to a four-person show the second Friday of that month. His story is as interesting as his work.

EN: How did you come to take an interest in art?
EJA: Art was something that i always did-even as a kid. It was one thing that just came easy to me, but the content always was very dream-like images that sometimes even though they could be seen in mind, sometimes were alittle more difficult to achieve on paper. Had alot of support from my family growing up, too!

EN: How old were you when you moved from Tennessee to Georgia?
EJA: I think I was 8 or something like that. Possibly in 2nd or 3rd grade.

EN: What was your life path from Georgia to tattoo artist in Duluth?
EJA: I began a career in the body piercing and tattoo industry in 1992 in Philadelphia. I always worked in tattoo shops and began tattooing in a shop that I was already working in and started tattooing after I was apprenticed under an artist from Austria. After that I traveled all over the US doing guest appearances at different shops west coast and east coast. Always kept trying to create pieces that are in private collections. I had never been to Duluth, and soon learned it is for sure an artist town. That's what I like about Duluth!

EN: What gave you the feeling that Duluth was an Artist's Town? How did you hear about Duluth?
EJA: I'm use to bigger cities and you can see a lot of creativity in Duluth. A lot of creative people here. And I haven't. even seen the Minneapolis scene yet. I can't wait to go and visit soon.

EN: You've been here four years? Where is your tattoo shop?
EJA: I have semi-retired from the tattoo shop scene. I get asked to do guest appearances at shops on the east coast and there are plans in the works for South Florida again but I want to wait. I'm trying to focus more on the art for now. Some of my clients have traveled from California for a few days to get tattoos and then go back til the next time.

EN: What kind of pen did you use for your Pinto Bean drawings? Do you work in other media besides pen and ink?
EJA: PITT artist pens-India ink are the ones i prefer to use. I've used others, but less the mess the better. Manual ink pens are probably the ones i keep at the bottom of the list of pens to use. I've used them in the past, but prefer the PITT artist pens.

EN: Where do your ideas come from?
EJA: Most of the ideas come from my mind. . . They could be just random thoughts that just appear and then I visualize them on paper and sketch them out in pencil and then slightly erase them and then the inking process begins, so each piece is actually created twice.

EN: Do you always work in series? What did your previous series consist of?
EJA: Most of the other pieces that were done in the past were just random individual pieces, no real order or anything. They were more Dali-ish like pieces. Images that at first were numerous pictures of fried eggs with images and females melting with eggshells, and zippers and kickstands of matchsticks.

* * * * *

I suspect we'll see more of his work sometime in the future. Meantime, tonight there are a wide range of events happening from the World of Wheels Car Show at the DECC (if you like "style" the history of automobiles is full of it) to the Landscapes of Northern Minnesota art show at Trepanier Hall (AICHO) from 5-7. And then there's everything in between. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

What Are Newmanesque Zips?


So I'm sitting there reading art show blurbs in the GOINGS ON ABOUT TOWN section of last week's New Yorker when I come across a description of Pat Steir's show at the Cheim & Read. In the middle of the paragraph it says, Atop huge fields of gold, silver, amber, or orange, Steir pours skeins of paint that sometimes amplify the backgrounds and sometimes obscure them; she then inserts Newmanesque zips down the middle of many, though those serve not as a testament to her bodily presence but as a further displacement of her hand.

Which begs the question, What are Newmanesque zips?

The funny part of it is that it's written as if everyone were well aware of what this means because the writer offers no explanation. I knew what Newmanesque was. I am a Newman. Newmanesque is to Newman as Kafkaesque is to Kafka. I've even got enough life experience to know that the Newman referenced here is not a songwriter (Randy) nor an actor (Paul) nor a character on a sitcom. It was apparent, or seemed so upon reading this, that the zips had something to do with Barnett, the color field painter and abstract expressionist.

I decided to do a Google search to see what more I could learn about the zips.

The first link, after the Steir review, offered this statement: in the middle of a review by Sarah Maline of Joseph Nechvatal's polyALTERITY.
A Barnett Newman with zip.*
There are glowing Barnett Newmanesque zips in several works here (for Newman these signified genesis) and in their relative coherence the lines provide a ...

Only a confirmation that the phrase is not utterly uncommon.

Here's another reference from a 2009 review in White Hot Magazine: "Many of the numerals, or Newman-esque “zips”, have been ferociously slashed, the vinyl allowed to simply collapse into flaccid waves."

Still not quite getting it though.

This one is from a review of a Melvin Moti's film The Black Room:
The frescoes are from the famous Black Room of a villa in Boscotrecase; they are in the so-called third style of Roman wall painting, which abandoned illusionismillusionism, in art, a kind of visual trickery in which painted forms seem to be real. It is sometimes called trompe l'oeil [Fr.,=fool the eye].... As Desnos tells about his life as a sleepwalker, sleepwalker, and potential sleepkiller, the camera travels along a black field which is pierced, near the edges of the video image, by thin and grotesquely elongatede·lon·gate tr. & intr.v. e·lon·gat·ed, e·lon·gat·ing, e·lon·gates To make or grow longer. adj. or elongated 1. Made longer; extended. 2. Having more length than width; slender columns that function like Newmanesque zips.

This description is doubly interesting because the writer assumes readers do not know what the phrase trompe l'oeil means and he explains it, but assumes Newmanesque zips are common knowledge.

Since the reference to Newmanesque zips appears to be widespread, you may as well learn what it means. This Vimeo film, titled On the sCent, also makes a reference and deigns to instruct us on how to think more deeply about it all.

Step one: the meta line followed to ... Step two: the many lines of choice in market consumption.
Traversing from Point A to Point B. Further definition of Point B superimposed upon the first linear action.
A cross-hatching of Newmanesque "zips" shown at a new angle and brought alive with electronic media.
In essence, a traveller seeking results - i.e, his "daily bread" - of his travails (yes, working it).
The hand-powered and the hand-composed improvisation based on the results of a mechanized mediation.
What's the point? In circumspection the point goes to there, the this becomes that.
What is in essence only a relation of comparative values and changing absolutes.
As we travel, we gain a new perspective on our needs.
We sense that beyond another horizon is where we can find what we're looking for.
The visible becomes immaterial becomes invisible becomes new materiel.
What is it you sense when that leads you to what you need?
When the sense becomes scents that become cents for the hunter.
Where is the target of practice for the seeker?
Why for art thou whither?
How has it come to pass that this is where we're at?
Who are you now that things have come to pass?

If you still fail to get exactly what zips are, you can settle for getting acquainted with the Newmanesque part. That's the title of my second short story collection, currently available on Kindle but soon to be available in print.

The one thing I did take away from reading all these reviews by art critics is that, like wow, there are a lot of good writers out there. Even if you're not into art, reading reviews might be a good way to broaden your vocabulary. Something to think about anyways.

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

* source: Wikipedia

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Upcoming Events in the Twin Ports Scene and a Few Remarks About Today's Twitter

"Hey, you. Don't feint on me."
A lot of people made fun of Twitter when it first emerged on the scene. They couldn't grasp how 144 character postings could possibly have any social power. And yet, since that time there are whole countries that have been turned upside down by Twitter. The 2008 Thanksgiving weekend Mumbai Hotel massacre was possibly when the world first took notice of Twitter's potential. I myself first checked into it much earlier after reading about journalists who were using it to follow trends, attitudes and the like.

My first artist interviews were all derived from people I met through Twitter. It wasn't till much later I began to dive into the rich local arts terrain. But Twitter was how that channel first got started as I "met" and interacted with people from around the world.

The "new thing" that just came out on Twitter appeared in my inbox this week. Stats on my Twitter activity. More specifically a precise snapshot of how many people read my tweets, how many re-tweeted them and how many clicked on the links. It's pretty exciting. As the saying goes, you can't manage what you don't measure.

In the meantime, here are some events worth marking on your calendar. Maybe I will see you at one or more of these.


Tonight:  POET SEAN HILL reading tonight at THE UNDERGROUND

The Spirit Lake Poetry Series will present Sean Hill, 7:30 p.m., in The Underground Theater at the Duluth Depot. Music by Professor Hoodoo. Admission is free.

Born and raised in Milledgeville, Georgia, Sean Hill has an MFA from the University of Houston. He has received fellowships and grants from Cave Canem, the Bush Foundation, The MacDowell Colony, the University of Wisconsin, Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, the Jerome Foundation, and Stanford University where he was a Wallace Stegner Fellow in Poetry. Hill's poems have appeared in multiple literary journals and in the anthologies “Blues Poems,” “Gathering Ground,” “The Ringing Ear,” and “Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry”. His first book, “Blood Ties & Brown Liquor,” was published by the University of Georgia Press in 2008. In 2009 Hill became an editor at Broadsided Press. His second collection of poetry, “Dangerous Goods,” is forthcoming from Milkweed Editions. He makes his home in Bemidji, Minnesota, but he has moved to Fairbanks, Alaska, to join the creative writing faculty at UA-Fairbanks as a visiting professor.

Thursday: Usher in the Spring Equinox with a Spoken Word Open Mic at Beaners Central 
This is an ongoing event on the third Thursday of every month. I was able to attend last month on one of those well-below-zero days in February, and the atmosphere was just right. Looks like something good brewing here. Come and share.

Friday: Artist reception for KAREN SAVAGE-BLUE who will be showing her Landscapes of Northern Minnesota at Trepanier Hall, 5:00-7:00 p.m.
There are some really interesting events happening at the American Indian Community Housing Organization (AICHO). I am increasingly impressed at what a special place this has become. Sometime soon it's my hope to write more about the unique manner in which the Native arts culture is blended with the arts community here. There is much to be said on this topic. This exhibit will run through April 4.

At 6:00 Friday AQUEOUS is celebrating its Volume Four Release Party which is simultaneously its Duluth premiere. The event is taking places at Adeline's which has become a hub of arts activity since moving to their new location on 8th Street. Think Paris. Aqueous is a new literary publication from the South Shore region of Northern Wisconsin. When I read their most recent edition I was impressed.

Coming Soon
BatDon... coming soon to an Atrium near you.
There are really too many events to list all. You need to reader the Reader, the DNT Wave, the Transistor and the bulletin boards at Beaners and Pizza Luce to stay current with things and even then you won't get everything. I'm just highlighting a few items I myself would hope not to miss.

March 29 is the Diorama-Rama at Sacred Heart, a community-centered spectacle of art and music. This is a very big deal. I was impressed last time I went.

Tuesday April 1 Broc Allen will be presenting at the Tweed's monthly Tweevenings event, an informative talk and discussion regarding various works in the Tweed collection. Allen will be presenting the work of Peter Voulkos.

Because April is National Poetry Month, the PlayList is kicking off the month with an evening of Fresh Films by Poets + Filmmakers. Details here.

Thursday April 10 is the art opening for Duluth Art Institute's Hero/Villain/Savior/Scoundrel: Portraits of Jim Carlson & Don Ness. Local artists interpret these two local men who have figured so prominently in the news these past few years. I have at least two and maybe three pieces in this show, and i can't wait to see them shared. Join me and a host of other local artists 7:00-9:00 p.m. at the Zeitgeist Atrium.

Let's give them something to Tweet about. 

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