Friday, July 14, 2017

Local Artist Eric Dubnicka's New Directions

The cig is a prop. Eric doesn't smoke.
I first noticed Eric Dubnicka's work in 2012, I believe, at a joint show called Cahoots. I've been following his work ever since.

When Russ Gran passed away recently, it was Dubnicka and a friend who stepped up to curate a show of Gran's paintings at an event designed to honor the long-time resident of Washington Studios on the Hillside. Having crossed paths a few times recently made me wish to share more of Eric's story as well as some of the new work he has been doing.

EN: How did you come to take up art as a career?

Eric Dubnicka: I followed the cliched Robert Frost-ian path less traveled. From a small town in NW Wisconsin, being an artist was never a career option and frankly I made attempts to avoid it so as to not muddy up my options... that is until I began failing out of the local college due to the lack of structure. Attempting to avoid a life at the local farm implement business where I worked, I took art classes because I knew I could get A's in attempts to raise my GPA above the 0.81 and 1.80, respectively, of my first two semesters. Don Ruedy was the long time art professor there and he immediately took me under his wing. I was young, untrained, and as is the case with most young male artists, I used my painting substrates as a punching bag for my angst.

Technically my first exhibit was in 1994, but still believing it was not a career option, I ended up in a Wildlife Biology program and subsequently moved to Juneau, AK to run a crew of data collectors on week-long data collecting missions for the Forestry Sciences Lab, a branch of the Forest Service. A close friend and mentor there eventually encouraged me to take a couple of art classes at the local college and he and my two instructors heavily pushed me to attend an art school. Defiant, I did a stint at a brown bear sanctuary in remote SE Alaska before a serendipitous series of events landed me at the College of Visual Arts in St. Paul, MN. It was there I knew I was on the right path and with my kind of people. After graduating I chased a gal to Duluth in 2002 and began making and showing paintings, sculpture and photography and through a long and winding path am still here making and exhibiting, being mentored and mentoring, and curating the occasional show or two. Is that a career? I dunno, but it's my life and I love it. I'm an artist and maker, love other artists and makers and if I don't make a dime doing it, I'm content with that. Making and creating is my lifelong marathon.

EN: You spent ten years at the Tweed. What were the highlights of that experience?

"untitled(connected/grounded series)", acrylic
and latex paint, ink on paper, 22x30"
ED: My time at the Tweed was a remarkable learning experience and critical to my development as an artist. I began there naive, uneducated and driven and though I still could be accused of that, I learned process, materials, teamwork and the business of art. It was like a ten year long masters program. I was allowed to use my ability to visualize space to design unique and creative exhibitions as well as the opportunity to research and curate many exhibitions. The greatest highlight of my tenure there was meeting an incredibly wide spectrum of artists, art enthusiasts and art geeks, many which I'm still in contact with.

EN: Tell us about the Tweed collection and what makes it so special?

"The Moment Two Opposing Views Meet in Understanding"
birch, 28x6x4"
ED: The collection of the Tweed Museum of Art is a real regional gem. The George Tweed's collecting practices of buying works they enjoyed as well as being part of a subscription-like art dealing service in the early 20th century created a unique base of Barbizon and other late 19th century artworks to start the collection from. With time, shifting influences and the generosity of many patrons, the collection has grown to well over 13,000 objects ranging from Glen Nelson ceramics to contemporary South American photography to the late Dick Nelson's gift of Native American baskets to name a few. As a collecting institution it is uniquely positioned to capture a sense of Twin Ports visual artistry on a chronological level, as well as the ability to offer nationally known artworks to our local audience.

EN: There is a lot of talent here in the Twin Ports and a lot of really fine work being produced. How is it that there are so many artists here?

"untitled", plaster, metal strap, aluminum wire, 8x8x12"
ED: It's the perfect storm of the right people, circumstance and all with a bit of a chip on the shoulder. In a nutshell, the Twin Ports art scene is a unique phenomenon driven by a long history of arts patronage originally driven by early 20th century wealth, supported by a robust art and visiting artists program at UMD in the 60s and 70s, and has a new found renaissance in the transition of Duluth's economy from the ending of the blue collar age to an economy driven by the beautiful natural resources surrounding us. Through it all there has been an influx of motivated individuals, diverse pool of talent, an eager and open-minded audience and fortunately venues that offer the opportunity to display a wide variety of artwork. I call us all one big dysfunctional family, although it has or quickly will outgrow that moniker with all the new talent moving to or developing in this area. The greatest strength the community has is artists supporting artists.

EN: What's missing that might help the arts move to yet a higher level?

ED: Expanded patronage and broader community support. We're slowly moving culturally to understanding the impact that artists have on the economy; progress is slow but steady. There are large areas of untapped patronage, grants and business opportunities that could greatly benefit artists, the communities and the overall region if properly done. I site two examples, look at the impact one small motivated group did to create the Lincoln Park arts district. The energy there is amazing and it's just begun. And secondly, the mountain bike group COGGS has raised hundreds of thousands through fundraising and grants, now with city tax money support to create the Traverse Trail and others. A small motivated group can make big changes in this area, and as artists we're actually a very large contingent of business owners and nonprofits, and as that coalesces so too I'm hoping that momentum carries into long term broad support of the Duluth Art Institute as well as local galleries and public arts programming.

EN: What are you working on now?

"bird series", cedar and rock
ED: After a number of years of deadline after exhibition deadline, personally and at the Museum, I've refocused my efforts on painting and drawing and reestablishing a tempo in life that's sustainable, while also attempting to broaden my reach regionally. Currently my artworks are focused on the energy that exists and interacts between two people, which has been a fun challenge to conceptualize. One current piece examines the space within a hollow core door that was kicked in during a domestic dispute. A series I currently exhibited are paintings of ephemeral core bodies with a carved sculptural element demonstrating the connection between them. I'm fascinated by that energy flow and impact we have on each other, knowingly or otherwise. Beyond that I've been working on similar concepts but in wood and other sculptural materials as well has having a little fun carving abstracted birds and developing public art proposals.

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You can see why Eric Dubnicka is one of our local artists whose work I follow, and enjoy sharing. Thanks, Eric, for taking time to share yourself here.

See more of Eric's work at

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Tonight at 5:00 p.m. is the opening reception for the Plein Air Duluth festival that has been taking place this week around the region. The work will be on display at Blacklist Artisan Ales downtown and remain on view through August.

Meantime, art goes on all around us. Engage it. And have a great weekend.

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