Saturday, June 21, 2014

Gretchen Seichrist Talks About Her Art and the Founding of Even Break Gallery in Minneapolis

I met Gretchen Seichrist last Saturday as part of my whirlwind tour of Minneapolis. I'd gone there to hear motivational speaker John Geneen at Even Break Gallery before sliding through the rain to see a fragment of Northern Spark at the Walker. Driving home later that evening I was accompanied by the music on her CD Even Breaks. Tomorrow I will share Part II of this interview where we talk more about her music.

EN: How did you come to take up making art, especially painting?

Gretchen Seichrist: My father was a designer / photographer and I would sit on the floor by him with his markers while he worked at his drawing table. He taught at The Minneapolis College Of Art And Design and I would tag along when he had to go into the school. I was exposed to art, film, and photography all the time. It was the 1970’s, so all these political and social movements were connected to art and the college. He talked to me about interesting people and things going on in the world and showed me things in a visual way. He took me to see things that maybe other parents would have thought were too intellectual for children. He made a point of talking to us about other cultures and the why and how things came to be. I remember he took me along on photo shoots and on some of these shoots I met Roman Polanski, Walter Mondale, and Dennis Banks, Russell Means and Clyde Bellecourt of The American Indian Movement. This is when I was about eight. Then he would explain who they were and what their viewpoints were. I took it to heart. I think he cultivated empathy in me by showing me these things going on in the world whether he intended to do that or not.

I can't remember not being around art, or not making it. It was never a question that it was an important part of life. I gravitated to poetry, music, drawing and painting, and a strong interest in social justice. So, I guess I was born with that tendency, and I was also taught to see things that way. I wouldn’t be able to stop myself from making art. As I grew up and experienced many traumatic events, I held on to being an artist and it gave me that inner life that nobody can take away…

EN: Who have been your influences as a painter?

GS: Probably a lot of the German expressionist painters. I went to an exhibit once in Chicago (I think) as a kid, and the large, wood sculptures of Erich Heckel were being shown. I remember vividly how exciting that was to me. These carved figures were rough, and painted in bold colors and they were more gutsy to me than anything else I’d seen. Plus they were naked and all blue, red, yellow and green.Other painting influences are probably so - called outsider art or folk art.

EN: How did Even Break Gallery come to be?

GS: I had to move fast. I happened to find this place where I could make a small gallery. Prior, I couldn’t find a place where I could show my work, perform my music and other ideas as often as they came to me, so, with help from my friend, Marc Percansky, we just started having coffee together in the mornings at the new place here, then just opened up the door to show my paintings on Saturday mornings. Most of the time it was just the two of us sitting there telling each other jokes or coming up with things we wanted to see done at the gallery, and my band mate Danny Viper would come over and play music when we were doing this, too. Then we put in a stage etc…

My music performances and visual art are intertwined and I was finding that the venues/bars were too limiting. Nobody understood what the hell we were doing. I got a lot of angry reactions. And It seemed like I wasn’t considered a real artist or musician in the community enough to be included in the music events around etc…. Anyway, I just didn’t have it in me to figure out the code or play that game. I was busy raising kids alone while I was making art and music. I was also being harassed at the time and I was just really bewildered by the pettiness and bullying all around at the time… people were bad-mouthing me professionally, sending hate emails and I was getting tons of online misogynistic harassment from the old, rock-and-roll boy-network and their girlfriends in town. The Minneapolis music scene was, to me, so clique & passive aggressive, so I just said screw it, I’ll do it here. So it happened by default, too. I was pretty down, but I couldn’t stop making art and music.

I’ve been put in this sort of freak-novelty-crazy woman category here. My band, Patches and Gretchen got some good press a few albums back when I had local well-liked male musicians playing with me, but still I was always portrayed as sort of a novelty. They’d haul us out on Halloween or whatever... but my songwriting -- composing is integral to me -- and my two band members, Danny Viper and Christopher Thompson can do anything musically, so we just kept going and creating. We released two albums last year while we made the gallery.

Later, we started inviting other musicians to do events. We’ve had musicians of all sorts perform. I purposely didn’t want to just get acts that fit a type of music. Sometimes our band might interact in the performance or not. We did some theatrical stuff here and recently my former band, Patches and Gretchen worked with an improv group weekly on our show, Even Breaks. The shows are always free. We put out the donation can, but for me, it’s more about trying to find open, creative people trying to make life more bearable or making something better for someone. But it’s tough. It’s hard to break through and make those connections. Everybody is all grouped up here and it’s the tendency to call somebody weird or crazy instead of imaginative. Or maybe it’s just me.

* * * *

Tomorrow... A little more about music and dreams.

1 comment:

Michael said...

Knowing Gretchen and loving her music and her art, I really appreciate this. She's the real thing in every way, and deserves both greater exposure and greater appreciation. It's up to the viewer or listener to make the effort to understand her work- something so few are willing or capable of doing these days. Thank you.

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