Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Duluth Writers Celebrate Their Authorship

David Beard, UMD professor of rhetoric.
Last night a group of authors with UMD Department of Writing Studies affiliations met at the Zeitgeist to share the joys of achievement. After a meal together in the cafe's upstairs back room, they reconvened in the Zeitgeist Atrium for a special program that included speakers and the sharing of treasures including the publication of Remnants of the Disappeared, Sea/Words, the new issue of the Split Rock Review, Clockwork Rhetoric, and many, many more. Professor David Beard served as master of ceremonies for this informal affair.

The mood was upbeat and speakers during the brief program included Terrance Griep, Ava Francesca Battocchio on behalf of Minerva Zine, and Kate Monson of PRØOF. Griep, aka Spider-Baby in pro wrestling circles, read an article he wrote for Lavender magazine as Spider-Baby, the first openly gay pro wrestler and also a former champion. His motto from the ring is, "Boo me for what I do, don't boo me for what I am." He plays the role of a "bad guy" in his wrestling persona but in real life is quite humorous. He noted that pro wrestlers are not exactly famous for being introspective or sensitive.

Prof. Beard next introduced Ava Francesca Battocchio, a longstanding contributor to Minerva who writes under the name 'afbat' "because even my own mother got sick of taking a breath between my compound Calabrese first name and Venetian last name. Despite it being a aesthetically pleasing on paper, it takes a lot of technological training to narrowly avoid typo tragedies."

Ava, a local clothing magnate (inside joke) has been an active participant and supporter of the arts. After apologizing for how loud she speaks (megaphone-strength vocals) she shared a personal story that showed the power of the written word.

Last winter, I published an article about being a survivor of sexual assault. It was the first time that I took back control and transitioned out of that victim role. I was nervous about telling my story but only for how it would alter others' perceptions of me. Shortly after its release, I was trudging my way down that street, and a woman stopped me. We were loose acquaintances, the kind with whom you huddle together for warmth during a smoke while talking about the endless cold weather. She told me that she had read my article and because of that, she was encouraged to report her sexual assault and seek counseling. I had no idea up until then that my voice could have such an impact. It solidified my decision to be a PAVSA advocate. Minerva is about community, expression and inspiration. We're looking for more voices, meaning contributors and more megaphones, meaning sponsors to help facilitate. Thank you to the University of Minnesota Arts and Humanities Grant, David Beard, Zeitgeist, and you, for attending.

Kate Monson of Prove Collective shared about their own publication PRØOF expressing appreciation for past contributors and future. The magazine will problem remain an online production as print costs have been exorbitant for the time being.

Afterwards the writers and friends circulated, looking at one another's works, and making new acquaintances. A rewarding event for everyone involved.

* * * *

For what it's worth I, too, had a new book to celebrate. Unremembered Histories went into print this spring after three years as an eBook. Within the coming weeks I hope to see my children's book A Remarkable Tale from the Land of Podd appear in print. This link will take you to all my current books and book projects.

* * * *
And don't forget tonight's opening reception at the Tweed. Resurfaced and Reformed: Evolution in Studio Ceramics will be a highlight of the season. 6-8 p.m. Music by the Deja Vu Drifters.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Solzhenitsyn Indictment of the West Still Stands

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” ― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956

In sorting papers from my files I stumbled upon Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's 1978 Harvard Commencement Address titled "A World Split Apart." I remember at the time it created quite a stir as the great author, now four years into his exile from Soviet Russia, shone a fierce light on the status of our own Western culture.

I recall reading one review which stated that he would never get another speaking engagement. It was a harsh indictment of our way of life, through and through. His biggest concern is that we as Americans were not really ready to lead the world, in part because we have never understood the world and how it sees us.

Part of the problem is due to our arrogance, believing in the superiority of our Enlightenment foundations. States Solzhenitsyn:

Today it would be retrogressive to hold on to the ossified formulas of the Enlightenment. Such social dogmatism leaves us helpless before the trials of our times.

Even if we are spared destruction by war, life will have to change in order not to perish on its own. We cannot avoid reassessing the fundamental definitions of human life and society. Is it true that man is above everything? Is there no Superior Spirit above him? Is it right that man's life and society's activities should be ruled by material expansion above all? Is it permissible to promote such expansion to the detriment of our integral spiritual life?

If the world has not approached its end, it has reached a major watershed in history, equal in importance to the turn from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. It will demand from us a spiritual blaze; we shall have to rise to a new height of vision, to a new level of life, where our physical nature will not be cursed, as in the Middle Ages, but even more importantly, our spiritual being will not be trampled upon, as in the Modern Era.

The ascension is similar to climbing onto the next anthropological stage. No one on earth has any other way left but — upward.

But the author of these words appears pessimistic as he goes on to note our cowardice, our compromises and especially the loss of our moral compass which defines right and wrong as whether it is legal or not.

Western society has chosen for itself the organization best suited to its purposes and one I might call legalistic. The limits of human rights and rightness are determined by a system of laws; such limits are very broad. People in the West have acquired considerable skill in using, interpreting, and manipulating law (though laws tend to be too complicated for an average person to understand without the help of an expert). Every conflict is solved according to the letter of the law and this is considered to be the ultimate solution.

If one is risen from a legal point of view, nothing more is required, nobody may mention that one could still not be right, and urge self-restraint or a renunciation of these rights, call for sacrifice and selfless risk: this would simply sound absurd. Voluntary self-restraint is almost unheard of: everybody strives toward further expansion to the extreme limit of the legal frames. (An oil company is legally blameless when it buys up an invention of a new type of energy in order to prevent its use. A food product manufacturer is legally blameless when he poisons his produce to make it last longer: after all, people are free not to purchase it.)

I have spent all my life under a Communist regime and I will tell you that a society without any objective legal scale is a terrible one indeed. But a society based on the letter of the law and never reaching any higher fails to take full advantage of the full range of human possibilities. The letter of the law is too cold and formal to have a beneficial influence on society. Whenever the tissue of life is woven of legalistic relationships, this creates an atmosphere of spiritual mediocrity that paralyzes man's noblest impulses.

And it will be simply impossible to bear up to the trials of this threatening century with nothing but the supports of a legalistic structure.

These words were written during the Cold War, just before Ayatollah Khomeini overthrew the Western-propped Shah of Iran. The collapse of Communism gave us more years to feel self-confident, but the new challenges in our world are harder to fit into neat little explanations to comfort us.

Last night I watched a video about the collapse of our economy. Someone from Germany recently told me that the global economy is propped on our shoulders, but what if that gives? The speaker in this video stated that he anticipates 25 years of global anarchy, which sounds pretty darn scary to me.

When you read the speech in its entirety, it's sobering.

Meantime, "he not busy bein' born is busy dying."  

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Five Qualities Shared by Balzac, Picasso and Dylan

A lot of my spare time during the first months of summer this year was spent preparing a Tweevenings lecture on the theme Picasso, Storytelling and The Unknown Masterpiece. Most teachers and writers are as invigorated by the process of researching their themes as they are ultimately sharing them with others. The lecture or article assignment becomes the catalyst, legitimizing our time investment in the project.

Research is a bit like mining. Usually there is way more information dug up than there is space or time to transmit it. Once collected, you must choose which gems to present and which to set aside for future polishing.

One evening in late July I had an "Aha!" moment. I'd become aware of many parallels between the 19th century author Honore de Balzac's life and the 20th century artist Pablo Picasso and as I lay them side-by-side I noted that Bob Dylan's career has revealed similar characteristics and attributes. Here are five that especially stand out.

Each left home at age 19 to live in the cultural arts center of the world. And within a relatively short time frame each caught the attention of people who had connections and the power to advance their careers.

Picasso arrived in Paris at the turn of the century, having honed his skills as a painter and draftsman in Spain left his home country to be part of the art center of the world. Dylan similarly left Minnesota for the New York, which had now become the world's arts and culture power center as a result of Europe's WW2 talent drain when many leading authors and artists fled the Nazis and the Continent.

Balzac's real situation was just a tad bit different, though similar. His family moved to Paris when he was in his mid-teens. Paris was the bustling center of culture and arts at the time. When he was 19 his family moved away from Paris to a smaller town outside the city. Balzac's ambition to become an author led him to remain in Paris, leaving home as his family moved away.

Interestingly, all three men changed their names. Balzac added stature to his name by adding the "de" between his first and last names; Honore de Balzac. Robert Zimmerman became Bob Dylan. Pablo Ruiz y Picasso was actually baptized Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Martyr Patricio Clito. Shortening to Picasso, however, reflects more practicality than ambition.

Balzac, Picasso and Dylan were all innovators. Balzac re-shaped literary fiction by bringing a new attention to detail to every aspect of life in every aspect of society. Picasso was on the forefront of many avant garde movements, most famously cubism, but also collage, the incorporation of African influences, surrealism and others, ever exploring and redefining classical and cutting edge methods with his own keen sensibilities. Likewise Dylan took the music scene in new directions

Lee Marshall, in his book Bob Dylan: The Never Ending Star, explains. “Dylan is the foundational figure in rock culture. Dylan’s shift to electric music brought to the mainstream the political authority and communal links of his folk past while his song-writing skills offered the exemplar of what could be achieved artistically within the new form.”

Balzac, who died at age 51, wrote 90 novels, novellas and major stories. His masterwork The Human Comedy filled 26 volumes. Picasso was similarly prolific, producing 50,000 works of art in his lifetime, including 1,885 paintings; 1,228 sculptures; 2,880 ceramics; 18,095 engravings; 6,112 lithographs; and approximately 12,000 drawings, as well as numerous linocuts, tapestries, and rugs, not to mention his letters, poetry and plays. Dylan's output has been equally ceaseless, having recorded more than 600 original songs, 34 albums, plus paintings, sculpture. His performances have been an art form in themselves with more than 100 original concerts a year for more than 25 years.

Balzac's influence was extensive. Marcel Proust, Émile Zola, Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, Eça de Queirós, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Gustave Flaubert, Benito Pérez Galdós, Marie Corelli, Henry James, William Faulkner, Jack Kerouac, and Italo Calvino, and philosophers such as Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx all cite Balzac's influence. His simple story The Unknown Masterpiece influence avant garde artists decades later, including Cezanne, Matisse and Picasso, who at one point lived in the house that is the setting for part one of the book, the very studio where Le Guernica was painted, his own masterwork.

Picasso's influence is too pervasive to cite. All modern artists acknowledge a debt to him. A recent retrospective by the Metropolitan Museum of Art reveals the magnitude of Picasso's influence.
Comparing Dylan to Gutenberg as I did in a recent blog entry may have been overstating the case, but there's no denying that Dylan has been an significant force in contemporary culture these past fifty-plus years.

Illustration for The Unknown Masterpiece.
Balzac, Picasso and Dylan found inspiration from their relationships with women. The Muse appears to have been most actively engaged when each was in an enlivening relationship. During his early career Balzac's relationships with society women enabled him to gain a deep understanding of the interior landscape of women, knowledge which was not wasted on the aspiring author. The stories of Picasso's muses are all part of the Picasso legend, woven into modern art history. Much of Dylan's music details the same relational longings and anguish over estranged relationship. Though he's gone to great lengths to keep his private life out of the public eye, he is a high profile person in an intensely media-driven world.

* * * *

A sixth characteristic of the three men is the manner in which their names stand alone, revealing their signatory power. Balzac. Picasso. Dylan.

* * * *

Much more could be said, but the five notions are out there...

How about you? Which of these qualities do you share? As Balzac once wrote,
"It is easy to sit up and take notice, What is difficult is getting up and taking action."

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Insurance Salesman Sketch


The Insurance Salesman

Lily: So, why can’t I just get one policy that covers everything?

Sam: I realize it’s complicated. That’s why you need a salesman who understands your needs. We live in an age of specialization, so nowadays you need multiple policies because no one policy covers all your needs. It’s like shampoo. There used to be dandruff shampoo and regular. Now it’s fine hair, greasy hair, dry hair, with conditioner, and without, with and without aruba oil, gluten free… You know how it is.

Lily: I get it, I think.

Sam: Right. So, I recommend you start with the liability policy from Standard, because that one is required by law. And then you will want the passenger rider.

Lily: You mean liability doesn’t cover passengers?

Sam: Not any more. Only the other people you hit, like pedestrians and passengers in other cars.

Lily: Oh… o.k. What about kids on bikes.

Sam: That’s an add-on, but you should probably do it. And then you’ll want the add-on for people in your own car if you get hit while you’re not driving.

Lily: You mean like when I’m stopped at a light.

Sam: No, no, that’s considered driving. Like when you are parked at the curb. If you get hit, say like by a man who lost control because he was having a heart attack, well, you’ll be liable if someone else in your car gets hurt.

Lily: Do I need coverage for if they get hurt after they get out of my car?

Sam: Haha. That’s funny Miss Kenton.

Lily: Lily.

Sam: And then you’ll naturally want collision insurance, since you’re still making payments on that car, which is…?

Lily: Expensive. It’s an expensive car.

Sam: Yes. And just so you know, you don’t have to get full collision. You can get a reduced rate if you choose city collisions over rural collisions. Will you be doing any rural driving?

Lily: Yes, I…

Sam: You can save quite a bit if you don’t drive out somewhere you might hit a cow, or a deer.

Lily: My mother lives out toward Grand Rapids.

Sam: For sure you don’t want to hit your mother.

Lily: I meant, I’ll want to visit her sometimes… like on her birthday, and for the holidays.

Sam: You can call her. Save quite a bit on gas, too.

Lily: Just put it on there. Anything else?

Sam: Hail damage is extra. Broken windows extra. And if your car gets dinged in a parking lot, that’s extra.

Lily: Why is that extra?

Sam: Why ask why? OK, here’s one more you’ll want. I sell it to everyone because I care about my customers and want them to sleep better at night. Insurance for the insurance policies, just in case you get a policy where they don’t cover you when they say they will.

Lily: Why would you sell me policies for companies that don’t keep their word?

Sam: I didn’t say they don’t keep their word. I’m not permitted to say that. But it’s a good policy. Covers everything, except acts of God.

Lily: What do they consider an act of God?

Sam: Well, you know, if you’re a religious person who believes God is omnipotent and controls everything, everything is an act of God.

Lily: So nothing is covered? You mean, you’re selling a policy that covers nothing?

Sam: I’ve already sold you policies that cover everything else. You might as well have one that covers nothing. All things considered, the price is very reasonable. Should I put you down for one or two?

* * * *
With apologies to my friends who sell insurance. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Nine Books By Ed Newman

Bob Dylan in Minnesota
Although this is not a book I wrote entirely myself, I did contribute seven chapters. Most Dylan fans  know that 
Bob Dylan was born here in Duluth, grew up in Hibbing and cut his musical teeth in the folk scene of Dinkytown in the Twin Cities's Midway.

This travel guide brings together stories from these key locations as well as the roots and early life of Bob Dylan. You will also introduce you to four Minnesota contributors who live in Dylan’s homeland and play an active part in promoting everything Dylan.

Thus far the book has received a number of positive reviews. It is available locally at Zenith Books in Wesy Duluth. Otherwise you can find it here online.

The Red Scorpion
--- My haunted house story with a supernatural twist. Lord of the Flies meets Stephen King. One Amazon reviewer called it "a good mystery/suspense/science fiction thriller... carefully crafted and realistically portrayed." A Nook reader wrote, "This book kept me reading straight through till the end. It kept me guessing and wondering what would happen next."

BEST VALUE: $2.99 here on Kindle

* * * *
A Remarkable Tale from the Land of Podd
The good people of Podd are a strange lot. Everyone in the kingdom thinks himself or herself to be somehow odd or weird—and considers everyone else to be perfectly normal. Some worry they have funny hair; others don’t like the shape of their noses; and still more think their eyes look strange.

When an enemy threatens to march his army into Podd, the king (who thinks he has very odd-looking feet) looks for a hero to defend the country. But everyone he asks refuses to lead Podd’s army, arguing their problems make them too weird to save the kingdom. Will the citizens of Podd learn to accept themselves for who they are and find the courage to defend the realm, or are the land of Podd and its people doomed?

Written by Ed Newman and illustrated by Ian Welshons, A Remarkable Tale from the Land of Podd uses wry Seussian humor, rhyme, and captivating illustrations to teach an important lesson about self-awareness and self-worth. No matter how we perceive ourselves, we can make the most of what we’ve got—and others probably won’t even notice what we don’t like about ourselves anyway.

Ideal for children in 1st through 4th grade, though engaging for all ages. Do you have nieces, nephews, grandchildren or children of your own? Makes a great gift. Is available signed and at a discount if you know me personally. 

Available at Amazon.

Unremembered Histories
This book contains some of my favorite short stories. 
The paranormal becomes the common denominator in these six original tales. An Amazon.com reviewer wrote, "If you value the short-story form, written in a way that entertains, informs, and prompts you to think, then there's a lot to appreciate in this little gem."

In the 1990's one of my favorite stories, Duel of the Poets, was translated into Croatian to be a cornerstone for a poetry site there.

NOW AVAILABLE IN PRINT and as an eBook at Amazon.com

Newmanesque is my second collection of original short fiction. This set of stories includes The M Zone, A Poem About Truth, The Unfinished Stories of Richard Allen Garston, The Nose, and Terrorists Preying, which has been translated into French by Aude Fondard. One reader of these stories wrote, “My very first impression is that there's a certain style in some ways similar to Franz Kafka which is good and intense… very mysterious for one doesn't know where the whole thing is going to go, but it's sure that there's a message to be captured from the many moments stated in the short sentences that are all poignant to the story."

Purchase a Kindle version of the book here.
ONLY $.99 but worth every penny.

The Breaking Point and Other Stories
This, my third collection of short stories, features my winning 1991 Arrowhead Regional Fiction Competition story "The Breaking Point" plus four other stories. The stories here are more conventional, with the usual twists. One reader wrote that the stories "contain insight into relationships" with "subject matter regarding love relationship's emotions, expectations, illusions, and delusions in the most mundane characters." In the midst of their ordinary lives there is a decisive extraordinary event.

Available as an eBook on Amazon.com here.

Especially For Homeschoolers 
Writing Exercises
How to Teach Writing and Prepare Your Favorite Students for College, Life and Everything Else.
Good writing skills are essential to success. This book outlines my philosophy for teaching writing which I nearly guarantee will make a difference in your child’s life. This is a book originally written to help home school teachers but is actually for anyone interested in helping kids improve their writing skills. Essentially the book offers an original teaching approach that helps unstop critical barriers that inhibit young students. The exercises are designed to teach critical skills and tactics, and to make writing fun.


Free STEAMPUNK/SCI FI eBook Intergalactica
In the spring of 2012 I was involved in an exhilarating collaborative art project called Artist Kamikaze IV. This was my second year and I was initially paired with clothing artist Patricia Mahnke. The project we undertook was ambitious so we didn't waste any time meeting to outline a plan. What we decided was to create a character and costume, whom I would then paint. Eventually this evolved into two characters and costumes.

As the project evolved we had the good fortune of being able to obtain a third partner, Kate Dupre, who brought photography and Photoshop skills to the project. I found the completed project so cool that I felt it shouldn't be such a temporary piece. With assistance I had the story and images re-assembled into an eBook which is available Free on iTunes.

You can read the beginning of the story here without downloading.

* * * *

Reflections from the North Country, 2007 – 2015
Notes, observations and impressions about the music, art and life of the Northland’s Bob Dylan

Reflections is a compilation of all my Dylan-themed blog posts from 2007 to December 2015. A reference librarian from the Duluth Public Library asked if I might like to have my blog posts about Bob Dylan bound and placed in the permanent archives. The library routinely collects and preserves books by local authors for posterity, but in this case not only would it be a collection of blog posts by a local author, the subject matter was Dylan and Dylan is, naturally, a Duluth Native Son.

Although this 2-volume set is not for sale, it can be found in the biography section of the Duluth Public Library along with numerous other books on Bob. As time permits, look for volume three sometime within the next year.

* * * *

Meantime, keep reading. Books are  a gateway to life.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Items of Note for the Weekend Ahead

“The person who appreciates a great work of art has the feeling that the work grows in him as he becomes involved in a prolonged capturing of emerging marginal meanings. He feels that he, too, is creative, that he himself is adding to his experience and understanding. Moreover, he wants to confront the work of art many times. He is not easily tired of it, as he would be had he read a purely logical statement. He realizes that the work of art does not merely transmit information; it produces pleasure.” ~ Silvano Arieti

It's that time of year when Mother Nature pulls out he paint brush and begins splashing colors across the landscape. All shades of red, yellow and orange will be predominant, but a few years back I captured a photo with all colors of the rainbow on a single tree.

This weekend is what is often labeled the "peak" for this annual spectacle of color. Our North Shore is such an eyeful of wonder each year that people come fairly long distances to be here at this time of the year, driving that most scenic Highway 61 up the North Shore of Lake Superior from Two Harbors to Grand Portage. Lake views along the way are always breathtaking, but if you get the weather right, it's glorious in all every direction you look.

The region is so beautiful that it is only natural that artists would make their homes here. What's not so common is that many of these artists decided to use the occasion to open their studios and share their work, and sometimes their homes, with people who have already proven they appreciate beauty.

Thus was born the Crossing Borders Studio Tour.

Tomorrow, September 26 through October 5 you're invited not only to drive our beautiful North Shore, but you're also invited to visit some of our many artists along the way. We have printmakers, potters, painters, sculptors and other artisans who not only make wonderful work, they are interesting people as well.

And the weather forecast is looking pretty good. Here's the map to help you along the way.

Saturday evening there will be another multimedia event featuring the St. Paul's Zeitgeist New Music Ensemble, composer Kathy McTavish and poet Sheila Packa in a Duluth performance of the new chamber work: høle in the skY.

The event/installation is being held in the gymnasium at Trepanier Hall, the former YWCA at 202 W. Second Street in Duluth.

Guests are invited to bring their devices to this immersive, live performance & installation ... You'll have the opportunity to wander / drill down / traverse / write to the screen. This is a form of interactive performance art and a Happening.

More information and tickets here.

* * * *

There's really much more to share than I have time here this a.m. Pick up a Transistor or a Reader for more art to see. The Tweed has a great ceramics show now, and you really must see the Duluth Art Institute galleries right now.

Then again, from time to time it's just plain good to get back to nature. Whether you bring a camera or a journal, it's up to you. Just do it.

* * * *

Unremembered Histories, my volume of short stories with a supernatural twist, is available at Goin' Postal in Superior and (soon) Beaners Central in Duluth.  If you live elsewhere, it's getting good reviews and is available everywhere through Amazon.com.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Resurfaced and Reformed: Evolution in Studio Ceramics On Display at the Tweed Museum of Art

Fossil Fish Vase, Frank Boyden
When we moved to Duluth in 1986 I found it quite striking how many potters and ceramic artists and artisans there were in this region. Over time it became apparent that there were several influential teachers a the universities here who inspired a whole generation of students to take this artform seriously.

Next week the Tweed Museum of Art will have an opening reception for this year's feature exhibit, Resurfaced and Reformed: Evolution in Studio Ceramics. The show is curated by former museum curator Joan Slack, and the range of works is astonishing. Pieces by 77 artists will be displayed, many who have achieved both national and international recognition.

Here's an excerpt from the press announcement:

Due in part to the generous legacy of former UMD ceramics professor Glenn C. Nelson, the Tweed Museum of Art owns a diverse and exciting collection of ceramic art, which forms the foundation of this exhibit. The artworks offer historical context, while visually describing the emergence of an American ceramic revolution that occurred mid-20th century. The Bemidji State University in cooperation with the Tweed Museum of Art is loaning a selection of works from the Harlow Collection to add depth and variety to the exhibition.

A distinctive example of Bob Husby's work.
Visitors will be able to appreciate the many themes of influence upon the studio ceramics movement such as; East Meets West, Tradition & Contemporary Style, Europe & the Bauhaus, the Mark of Fire, the Vessel Restructured and Discovery With Glazes. In addition, there will be a story and descriptive narratives to guide visitors through the show. A number of distinguished faculty and community ceramists helped with exhibition planning, including Dorian Beaulieu, Elizabeth James, Bob Husby, Jim Klueg, and Richard Gruchalla.

If you've ever been involved with the ceramic arts scene here you will recognize plenty of familiar names including Karin Kraemer, John Steffl, Bob & Cheryl Husby, Broc Allen, Dave Lynas, Jim Klueg and more. And yes, there is even a Picasso.

The beauty, quantity and variety will surprise you.

Raku, Vase with Female Figures, Paul Soldner
When I stopped by the museum last night to get a preview of the exhibit (which was installed in August) you could feel a high degree of energy among those involved with this show, stimulated in part by last week's announcement of a generous million dollar donation from the Alice Tweed Tuohy Foundation.

There are actually a pair of Tweed Museum events coming up over the next few weeks and worth noting. The first is the opening reception for Resurfaced and Reformed: Evolution in Studio Ceramics, which will be next Tuesday, September 30 from 6 to 8 p.m. with music courtesy of Deja Vu Drifters Band.

And in two weeks the new Tweevenings season will commence, Tuesday, October 7 at 6:30 p.m. Broc Allen will present about the connection of Asian influence in Eastern ceramics. Both of these events are free and open to the public.

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Hope to see you there.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Revisiting Infinity

"To infinity, and beyond!" ~Buzz Lightyear

Every now and then the notion of infinity is an interesting concept to ponder. It's easy to see why mathematicians have had such a troubling time with it. Take, for example, this common conundrum.

You have hotel with an infinite number of rooms. An infinite number of people show up one night because of your Vacancy sign. (Maybe it is Grandma's Marathon weekend.) So, you give them all of your infinite number of even numbered rooms, 2,4,6, ad infinitum. They check in all happy and your clerks are impressed because you still have an infinite number of vacancies, in case you get more business.

Well, obviously, infinity throws a wrinkle in things if you treat it like an absolute number.

Here's one I've toyed with occasionally. Between any two points there are an infinite number of points. If you have a line segment three inches long, and one that is six inches long, why can't you simply say 3 = 6 since both contain the same number of points?

For the Romans, infinity simply meant a very large number. Galileo later suggested that the infinite does not correspond to mathematical rules in the same way as a common integer. Correctamento, Galileo!

When I was young I used to toy with the idea of time being a "duration" like miles of road, and that between two points in time, let's say four o'clock and eight o'clock, there is an infinite amount of time just as in the number of points in a line segment. (I know that waiting can feel that way sometimes, especially when waiting to open Christmas presents.)

And so... if there is an infinity between a few hours, what about a few minutes? Or between two moments? And how long is Now? Is it infinitely small or infinitely something else? Or is Now only an illusion that occurs between the infinite past and infinite future?

This leads naturally into questions about the nature of time itself. Why do some days go fast and others slow when they all have the same number of hours?

What about space? Is outer space infinite? Or does our universe have an "outer wall" or some kind of endpoint? What would the end of the universe look like? How would you know when you got there?

And then, what about inner space? Maybe this is what Blaise Pascal was talking about when he wrote, “There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.”

Now for two bonus questions about infinity.

1. What did Dylan mean in his "Visions of Johanna" when he sang, "Inside the museums infinity goes up on trial"?

2. How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? This latter is answered here.

Meantime life goes on all around you. Seize it.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Joellyn Rock Talks About Her Life in Art and the Amazing Sophronia Project

Joellyn Rock teaches digital art and filmmaking classes for the Department of Art&Design at the University of Minnesota Duluth. She is one of the faculty members who helped establish UMD's new Motion and Media Across Disciplines Lab, a video studio and motion capture lab with options for interdisciplinary research.

Though she has done other work that has caught my attention and fired my imagination, her involvement in The Sophronia Project is what compelled me to follow through with this interview. I consider it a major achievement in the Minnesota arts scene for 2014.

EN: Your creativity is expressed in a range of mediums. Can you briefly describe the various phases of your life as an artist?

Joellyn Rock: My medium of choice has shifted over the past three decades, but one constant has been my desire to tell stories with images. After college, I lived in Seattle for about 15 years, doing drawings (colored pencils, sgraffito) and paintings (oils and acrylics) while working a bunch of day jobs (cook, bookstore clerk, daycare teacher, whatever paid the rent). During those years I did illustrations and designs for posters and print publications, like The Rocket and The Seattle Weekly.

My aesthetic was influenced by the visual culture of that time: punk, comics and outsider art. I also did some collaborative and performance works, installations in gallery windows, experimental theater, shadow puppetry. Duluth actually reminds me of Seattle's art scene at that time… small enough and remote enough to be really friendly, open-minded, and supportive of new-comers. Smaller galleries and cooperative spaces gave young artists the chance to show our work and build community. Eventually I started moving into more mixed-media sculptural works (found objects, glass, clay, wood) and hand-built ceramics. I began to transfer my narrative imagery onto the surface of these ceramic works, stories disguised as decorative paintings in underglazes on clay. I also lived briefly in Paris and New York, where I continued to make art, living hand-to-mouth on part-time teaching gigs and sales of artwork. Then, in 1995 I had a baby and moved to Duluth! Maintaining a ceramic studio proved difficult, so after that I made the leap to digital media. I was drawn to the creative potential of the web and emerging interactive formats that offered diverse ways to tell stories. Since then I have done a range of projects that use tools like photoshop and digital video and web software. Most recently, I am exploring various ways to reintegrate tactile materials and physical interaction into my work with digital narrative. Do you have a primary medium you like to work in?

For me, I switch the medium to accommodate the project, and also in response to contemporary culture. As a digital artist, sometimes I miss working with clay and other tactile materials. I think the culture in general is overwhelmed by ubiquitous technology. My next work will probably try to grapple with that imbalance.

EN: Where were you trained? When did you realize you were going to be serious about art? How did that come about?

JR: I always loved making pictures as a kid and I hung out in the art room at Robbinsdale High School. I chose to study Comparative Literature my first two years at the University of Wisconsin Madison, partly because visual art didn't seem serious enough! But about half-way through college, (It may have been while sitting in an art history class) I began to realize how much I loved paintings… the colors, the formal elements, the ideas, the stories… and I began to feel that fire-in-the-belly for making art. I finished my undergrad degree in visual art at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. Evergreen was a new interdisciplinary innovator in education, and it drew together a mix of radical thinkers and creative risk-takers. I had some wonderful female art professors at Evergreen (Marilyn Frasca, Susan Aurand). I was also lucky to be there with talented student artists who took the creative process very seriously (but not too seriously.) We even held our own student crits outside of class, just to talk about our work!

Some years after college, I was juried into the Washington State Arts Commission's Artist-in-Residence Program. For about 4 years I traveled around the state doing teaching gigs in schools and community centers, presenting my work in lectures and doing workshops. I was actually making my living as an artist, and when I walked into the room, they would introduce me as "the artist". That experience was an important validation for me.

EN: What are your primary themes? Where does your inspiration come from?

JR: I like to tell old stories in new ways. I often work with fairy tales and myths, reinventing characters and settings. I often spend a lot of time at the beginning of a project doing historical research. Visual imagery and literary ideas gleaned from the past are often layered into my work.

EN: How did you become involved with the Sophronia Project and what is your role?

JR: I drafted the original proposal to create the project for Northern Spark this year. Northern Spark is an annual all-night interactive media event presented by Northern Lights and curated by Steven Dietz in the Twin Cities each year. Kathy McTavish and I had been looking for a chance to do some collaborative work in digital media. We were both using digital tools to remix text and image, but in very different ways. The call for Northern Spark proposals gave us the idea to develop this project together. The theme of Northern Spark this year was : Projecting the City, taking inspiration from Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. In the book, Calvino spins a series of tales about imaginary cities. I liked the story about Sophronia, a place made up of two half-cities, part circus and part stone. Our project proposed to create an interactive installation by making use of Kathy's graffiti angel software for projecting text, my digital art and video mash-ups, and netprov writer Rob Wittig's technique of crowd sourced text in twitter.In the multimedia installation, a glowing tent serves as canvas for a mischievous mix of digital video, text, and live silhouettes that disrupt, subvert, and create a playful participatory space. Projections include remixed digital collage, video mashups, and text fragments gleaned from the project database and at #sophroniatwo. What have you found to be the most gratifying facet of Sophronia?

I am especially grateful to have the chance to work with generous collaborators willing to take the risk on something so experimental. At the Walker, we had to change our entire plan overnight because of the forecasted storms. It's both nerve-wracking and exciting to be able to reinvent a complex multimedia work like this, and to allow it to morph to various conditions and spaces. In each location the work took on a different mood, integrating the wildly different architecture and audience each night. It was fun to discover how we could adapt the project to these strange variables, and enjoy the interactive experience it provided at each location. Most gratifying of all, was the fact that the piece was appealing to such a wide range of participants. The glowing, mesmerizing projections seemed to entrance toddlers, teens, moms and grandpas… They all wanted to take a turn and play with their shadows.

And of course, I am Super grateful to work with all these people:
multimedia projections Kathy McTavish,
additional video by Lane Ellis and Lizzy Siemers
soundscape by Kathy McTavish electronic music by Tobin Dack
words by Rob Wittig, Kathleen Roberts, Sheila Packa, Katelynn Monson, Mark Marino, Cathy Podeszwa and #sophroniatwo on twitter
silhouette performances by Cathy Podeszwa, Emma Harvie, Gary Kruchowski, Lizzy Siemers, Jamie Harvie, Jay Sivak, Joellyn Rock, Rob Wittig and the audience participants!
set decorating by Ann Gumpper, Nancy Rogness, Karin Preus
tech support by Ben Harvey

EN: How many locations have you been at with Sophronia and how were they selected?

JR: The work was originally presented at the Walker Art Center for Northern Spark in June 2014. Funding was provided thanks to cooperation between Northern Lights and Walker Art Center. I also wrote an Arrowhead Regional Art Council grant to fund two additional shows which were staged at the Free Range Film Barn in Wrenshall in August and at the Duluth Art Institute in September. The Walker location was made through our Northern Spark application. The barn and depot locations were made possible by the generous curator Annie Dugan at Free Range Film Fest and Duluth Art Institute. I'm so thankful that these funders and venues are open to experimental works like Sophronia!

EN: Is there anything especially unique in how you create?

JR: I seem to be willing and able to ride out the mess of a complex project. I am compelled to make connections between diverse ideas and images. Eventually I am able to mash them together into something colorful and surprising. Since I'm not a perfectionist, and I am comfortable with failure, it doesn't prevent me from trying things I've never done before.

Portions of this interview originally appeared in The Reader.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Local Art Seen: Rodrigo Bello at Trepanier Hall

Friday evening Trepanier Hall hosted a Rodrigo Bello exhibition titled Northland-Southland. Bello's paintings caught my attention the first time I saw a few of his pieces at a PROVE Gallery show titled Transplants which featured artists who have recently moved to our community. Bello is originally from Santiago, Chile where he attended an arts high school, which eventually led to a career as an engineer. Along the way he met and married a Duluth girl. After nine years in Chile together the pair moved here to the Northland. It's my understanding that the Bellos will be moving to Minneapolis next, which I believe will provide excellent opportunities for the artist to showcase his work to a broader audience.

Bello's paintings have a striking, evocative quality. There's a shroud-like mystical sense in much of his work which combines indistinct, moody abstract backgrounds with sharply defined characters or scenes, as illustrated in Fishing Day below. There are also paintings revealing a social conscience, most forcefully his Three Voices which echo the monument to Duluth's infamous lynchings. (May we never forget.)

"Three Voices"
"Fishing Day"
Like many of the art receptions at Trepanier Hall, the evening is orchestrated to be an event as well. In this case Kathy McTavish and Richie Townsend provided a musical accompaniment, Rocky Makes Room shared his spoken word art, Jake Vainio performed with his guitar and Bello himself shared a few words from the heart.

As Bello noted in an interview last October, "Art plays a significant role in any society. It creates a sense of self-awareness. This is essential if we want to pursue a better, peaceful and joyful society."

The walls were crowded with paintings, and some might call that a criticism as it didn't allow enough breathing space between pieces. In point of fact, the abundance of work enabled the Bello to showcase his range. Here are some of the pieces you missed if you were unable to attend.

"The Trapezists"
"Santiago 1973" (detail)
Rodrigo Bello will be an artist to watch over the comping years. 

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

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Free Handbook of Drawing Offers Help for Students of All Ages

Brush and ink drawing by Ennyman.
Sometime this summer I stumbled upon a website that offers a free book every day. These are no ordinary books. The site is called Forgotten Books and that's exactly what they give you, books from long ago that have probably long been out of print for which there may have been high demand at one time but which are no longer in vogue, perhaps considered by our current culture as no longer relevant.

So much of what has been created in the past has been lost because of our perpetual fascination with the new. The newest movies, the latest TV shows, the new fashions. And yet... what wonders have been produced in ages gone by.

As regards these books, the subject matter is as varied as your interests. Books on social science, religion, mathematics, history, medicine, literature and the arts.... forgotten books for every kind of interest. Including this one on how to draw. A book about drawing will always be useful for the beginning artist. If you ever wanted help with regard to improving your technique as an artist, or for your children who are growing up, this book has many practical bits of advice and countless illustrations. It even has a course of study for helping fledgling artists learn the ropes.

When I was a young art student someone gave me this piece of advice. "It takes a thousand bad drawings to make a good drawing." I took it to heart and set about to make as many drawings as possible as fast as I was able.

Now the reality is that those first 999 drawings weren't "bad" drawings. They showed creativity, imagination and promise. But the process of drawing over and over provided me with an awareness of what my pen or pencil would do if I did this or that. I mastered certain aspects of eye-hand coordination, for example. I learned how to fool the eye and create the impression of depth on a flat surface.

In reality, though, a real class on drawing will offer more than that. And it helped that I had some training when I was very young so that I wasn't shooting from the hip.

High school drawing shows effect of varied line strength.
This 1880 volume by William Walker provides nearly 300 pages of useful instruction. In the early part of the book one learns how the eye works, the persistence of impression, the ways we perceive light and color, and how to observe as an artist. We learn about the tools of an artist and the proper way to sharpen pencils. There are insights on drawing lines, both straight and curvilinear. Sections dealing with outlining, shading, sketching, contour, light and shade, and the use of shadows. This is all groundwork for a course of study which forms the next major segment of the book, which included lessons on beauty, variety, proportionality, and composition.

And there is much, much more.

Even if you are not planning to be an artist, there are many occupations where the ability to draw will prove useful. If you are a cabinet maker, or in the trades, it can be useful to have improved your drawing skills so you can convey a concept to a client.

You can't argue with the price. If you don't want to keep it, you can simply hit the delete button.

A Handbook of Drawing can be found here in this section of their online catalog. If drawing is not an interest of yours, then check out the books on philosophy, poetry, ancient history, recreation, home and household, self help or business and economics.


Friday, September 19, 2014

The Ceramic Art of Carolina Niebres

Art fairs are a great way to see a wide range of art in a short amount of time and to meet new artists. I met Carolina Niebres at the Bayfront Art Fair in mid-August. Because I liked her work I asked if I could share it here and she consented to this interview.

EN: How did you get started in ceramics?
CN: I actually started in 7th grade making sculptures. I always wanted to do more but did not get back to it until 1999 after I had a health incident that made me realize that life is too short not to do the things that I want to do.

EN: Where were you trained?
CN: I started and continue to take classes at the Edina Art Center. I had my first Friday night beginner class in January 1999. I still take classes there and also help with firing, glaze mixing and other things. It is a great facility to learn as much as you are ready for. I have also gone to classes and workshops by other potters like Bob Briscoe, Ellen Shankin, Ian Currie, Robin Hopper, Robbie Lobell, Simon Levin, etc.

EN: Where have you been showing your work?
CN: I mainly do art fairs but have a few galleries. Iowa Artisans Gallery - Iowa City, IA; Gallery 319 and Octagon Gallery - Ames, IA; Edina Art Center - Edina, MN; Minnetonka Center for the Arts - Minnetonka, MN. Hopefully more to come.

EN: Where does your inspiration come from?
CN: Some of my designs come from the plants in my yard. I also love tribal tattoos from the Pacific Islands with all their intricate lines following and accentuating the lines of the body. My shapes come from observing natural curves; however, some of my new forms have been more geometric.

EN: Any up-coming shows?
CN: Yes, you can find them at my site: http://healingvessels.com

EN: Do you have a website or somewhere we can see your work online?
CN: My site is listed above. My more current work can be found on my facebook photos and here.

EN: Is there anything especially unique in how you create?
CN: Besides my designs, I do fire my pottery by adding a mixture of baking soda, sawdust, and water for the last few hours of firing. The baking soda circulates in the atmosphere of the kiln and falls on the pots very randomly. This adds additional variation and movement to each piece by possibly changing the glaze color and also flashing and creating a thin glaze which can build up to have an orange peel texture. This required extra work in the preparation, firing and clean up but the effects for me are worth all the extra work!

EN: When did you realize you were going to be serious about art?
CN: About 2 years after my first class, I found that I was making more and more and want to learn more! I knew then that I need to not just give away my work but actually sell it so that I could do more. A group of us decided to have annual holiday sales. I found that I really liked doing shows and interacting with clients and started doing juried shows. It just progressed from there.

EN: What are you working on now that has you jazzed?
CN: I am continuing to explore shapes out of round in all different forms: pitcher, bowls, mugs, tumblers, bottles, etc. I am working on "twisted" square or triangular forms that just have flashing on the exterior. I don't have many yet. I still also love working on new patterns as well as old favorites that are very meditative to create like my spirals and spiral trees.

* * * *

Quick note here: If you are in any way able, be sure to check our Remigio Bello's art opening, Northland-Southland at Trepanier Hall, tonight at 5:30. Trepanier Hall is the former YWCA located at 202 West 2nd Street in downtown Duluth.

Meantime... enjoy your weekend. If able, go out of your way to see or do something creative. 

Popular Posts