Monday, April 30, 2018

Another Visit with Author, Professor, Dylanophile David Pichaske

In 2016 David Pichaske was one of our four featured poets at The Underground. He has been an author of numerous books including several that study the lyrics of contemporary songwriters like The Beatles, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. If there was ever any question about Dylan being a poet, or a poet worthy of the Nobel Prize, Professor Pichaske would have been happy to weigh in and settle this matter.

His book Song of the North Country: A Midwest Framework to the Songs of Bob Dylan examines the manner and degree to which our Northland and the Midwest shaped Dylan's life and work. He will be opening the 2018 Duluth Dylan Fest with the first of two John Bushey Memorial Lectures at Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum in conjunction with the opening of the William Pagel Dylan Archives.

EN: Let's start with Ohio University. What years were you there and what were your biggest Athens take-aways?

David Pichaske: I did my graduate work at O. U., 1965-1969, in part because it was close to my undergraduate alma mater Wittenberg University, in part because O. U. offered me a teaching assistantship and Duke and University of Pennsylvania did not. So the weekly bills got paid, and I usually had $20 left over for a weekend up in Springfield. The activism at O. U. was more focused on local issues than it was on other campuses (plans to cut down trees or redirect funds from the library to construction of a new athletic complex rather than civil rights and the war in Vietnam), but activism was there, as was the music—I remember using Thucydides’ A History of the Peloponnesian Wars at an anti-war teach-in in Athens, and an acid rock concert (Grateful Dead, I think) where the sound waves pumped my chest as much as my ears. And I got to campaign for Gene McCarthy in the Pennsylvania and Ohio primaries. Administration cancelled the 1969 commencement at which I would have received my Ph. D. for fear of student demonstrations.

Ohio University altered my career in two important ways. First, I switched my academic focus from modern (weren’t we all in contemporary literature back then?) to mediaeval as a result of a graduate seminar in mediaeval French Romances, producing a dissertation in mediaeval animal fables (mainly Reynard the Fox), several articles, and a book on Geoffrey Chaucer, and a lifetime of teaching early British Literature.

On a completely different front, my masters thesis on A. E. Housman and, perhaps, my interest in mediaeval lyrics and writing poems of my own had me teaching undergraduate classes not in freshman comp. but in poetry. This was 1968, 1969. All fans of Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Phil Ochs, Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon understood that what they were writing was poetry, and I understood that in the old days (i.e. Before Print) poems had been recited or sung, so Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” was as legitimate a “poem” as, say, “Sumer is Ycomen In” (one of my first publications was a note to the effect that the line in that poem “bucke verteth” meant “buck farts,” not “buck turns” as the anthologies explained it). So I was teaching rock singers as poets in 1968, 1969. Those classes were the basis of the book proposal I sent to Free Press in 1970 and thus of Beowulf to Beatles in 1972. The title is “Beowulf to Beatles,” incidentally, because “Beatles” alliterates with “Beowulf,” and “Dylan,” alas, does not.

EN: You wrote two Beowulf to Beatles books. Which Beatles songs did you discuss in the books?

DP: The original Beowulf to Beatles contains eight Shakespeare poems, eight A. E. Housman poems, seven Robert Frost poems, four Emily Dickinson poems . . . and fourteen Beatles songs, seven Leonard Cohen songs, ten Bob Dylan songs, nine Phil Ochs songs, two Paul Simon songs (the permissions costs on that book were, as I recall, $20,000+). The Beatles songs were “Eleanor Rigby,” “I Am the Walrus,” “Let It Be,” “Norwegian Wood,” and the whole of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (a “sustained performance” to rival John Donne’s “La Coronna” sequence and William Wordsworth’s “Intimations Ode”). The Dylan songs were “All Along the Watchtower,” “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine,” ”I Pity the Poor Immigrant,” ”Lay, Lady, Lay,” “Love Minus Zero/No Limit,” “Mr. Tambourine Man,” ‘Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,” “She Belongs to Me,” and “Subterranean Homesick Blues.”

In Beowulf to Beatles and Beyond (1981) I added the Beatles’ “All You Need Is love,” “Oh, Darling,” “Penny Lane,” and “Strawberry Fields” and Dylan’s “Desolation Row,” “John Wesley Harding,” and “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll.” By that time, I was publisher-editor of Spoon River [Poetry] Quarterly and Spoon River Poetry Press, so I added a small raft of poems by Midwestern poets I had published and/or come to know. B2B2 was a lot less successful than B2B1.

EN: If asked to select a Beatles song to write an essay about, which would it be and why?

DP: I would go for the Sgt. Pepper album (I have in fact gone for that album—the essay was published first in a book printed in Poland, then reprinted in my collection of essays Crying in the Wilderness . . . so you can paraphrase/plagiarize if you want). I see that album as a Beatles’ version of T. S. Eliot’s The Wasteland and in that regard the equivalent of Dylan’s John Wesley Harding album—an extended performance of interwoven poems that begins here, explores options and possibilities there, and finally resolves the journey/argument (that is my analysis of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, incidentally, in Chaucer’s Literary Pilgrimage, so maybe that’s the way I think).

If I had to select only a song, I’d pick “Eleanor Rigby” for structure and images.

EN: How did you first come to take an interest in Bob Dylan? Was it his poetic expression, the themes he addressed or something else?

DP: I have always said that Dylan is the voice of my generation: he has always spoken to/for me (until maybe this digression into fifties swing). That goes for all stages: folk, rock, country, Christian, lost self/country, sense of new impending disaster. Starting (for many) with “Blowin’ in the Wind,” all of us knew Dylan and most of us followed him through thick and thin, right through the “country?--what is this shit” and the “Christian music???!!!” hurricanes. As I said above, I am an oral poet guy, and for me he’s an oral poet. So both—the poetic expression and the themes.

EN: Do you have a handful of favorite Dylan songs that continue to speak to you? What might your "short list" include?

DP: #1, “Forever Young,” which I recited as my father-of-the-bride speech at my daughter’s wedding.*
“A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”
“Subterranean Homesick Blues” (I sometimes show the video of Dylan performing this—with sign “suckess”—to my creative writing students.)
“Mister Tambourine Man”
“Like a Rolling Stone”
“All Along the Watchtower”
“Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts” (In my novel, Harassment, the main character is Jack, his lady is Rosemary, and every chapter in the first section has an allusion to a Dylan song.”
“Gotta Serve Somebody”
“Solid Rock”
“Blind Willie McTell”
“I’m Walkin’” (During my Fulbright year in Riga, Latvia, I played this again and again, because I was walkin’ through dead streets with a girl in my head.)
“Rollin’ and Tumblin” (full volume)
“Ain’t Talkin’”

EN: You make many references to Tarantula, suggesting that perhaps this is an important book. What attracted you to this book and what was its main point?

DP: I think Tarantula is Dylan trying to be what he is not: writing artsy stuff full of allusions and references (okay, I like the references to poets, especially cummings), fragments, typographical inventions (although I’m not sure “a lot” on page 89 is a hip experiment or bad spelling) and mysteries that make no sense—what the postmodernists in New York got him, and America, into during the 1960s and 1970s. It’s hip, but I see no main point other than there is no main point. Admittedly, even the art of writers I discussed in Rooted: Seven Midwest Writers of Place (2006) remains bipolar, an odd fusion of Midwest realism with distant influences: postmodernist fiction, magical realism, surrealism, symbolist poetry, jazz or classical music, philosophy or history. So are many of Dylan’s lyrics. But Tarantula is a good example of the postmodernism he dumped for country and western music.

Talking about Dylan visiting her place in Carmel Valley in the film No Direction Home, Joan Baez remembers, “Bob liked to write there. . . . He would always say, ‘What do you think of this?’ And I didn’t understand the thing at all. But I loved it. So, well, okay, I’m gonna figure this one out. So I read through it and I gave back my interpretation of what I thought. And he said, ‘Uh, that’s pretty fuckin’ good.’ And he said, ‘A bunch of years from now, all these people, these assholes, are gonna be writing about all this shit I write. I don’t know what the fuck it’s about. And they’re gonna write about what it’s about.” Looking back in 1997, he told David Gates that in the late 1980s he was beginning to think his songs were “like what all these people say, just a bunch of surrealistic nonsense” (66).

EN: What are you working on now that has you enthused?

DP: I’m doing a conference in Rome on “Bob Dylan and His Art” come October, and I want to look at his weldings and some of his other art in terms of the junk stashed all over this Minnesota landscape, especially the remains of old threshing machines, tractors, cars, etc. That’s still in the early stages. I have a couple of book chapters on Minnesota writers coming out soon. I’m writing a book chapter on “The Rise and Demise of Rural-Regional Studies at Southwest State.” My own project-in-progress is a text/photo full color book to be titled The Secret [maybe Lost] Places of Southwestern Minnesota: schools, gas stations, and other buildings; whole towns; churches and graveyards; railroads; farms and parks; some buried but successful new businesses; the whole shebang.

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Related Links
David Pichaske's Website
Song of the North Country: A Midwest Framework to the Songs of Bob Dylan
Sumer is Icumen in
Beowulf to Beatles: Approaches to Poetry

*I walked my daughter down the aisle accompanied by "Love Minus Zero/No Limit"
* * The two paintings on this page are by local artist Sue Rauschenfels, submissions for our Dylan Fest Art Show Monday May 21.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Local Art Scene: Goin' Postal Spring Show Touches Stratosphere

John Ulrich had several paintings on display.
It was getting late for me but for many the evening was still young, the afterparty entertainment in full swing at V.I.P Vintage Pizza in Superior. What began as a simple Goin' Postal Art Show eight years ago has evolved into a two venue arts event and after party that knocks your socks off.(1)

There were two other visual arts events Friday as well, which I will share over the next few days. The first was Leah Yellowbird's exhibition in the Dr. Robert Powless Community Center at the AICHO building in Duluth. Ms. Yellowbird continues to produce some astonishing work, and if you have yet taken the time to become familiar with her art then you are missing something. The second is the Illustration Show which has appeared in conjunction with the start of the 2018 Homegrown Music Festival.

Mark Anderson 
The Goin' Postal art shows have clearly found their mojo. (For the uninitiated, Goin' Postal is a shipping store--UPS, FedEx & USPS--located on Tower Avenue in Superior.) About ten years ago the proprietor Andrew Perfetti decided to dress up the white walls with art. A fan of Andy Warhol's Factory concept of unleashed creative energy, it evolved into a place for art happenings, music and community. The first eight years ago show proved successful enough that it seemed a follow-up was necessary. Today the tradition continues to expand, encompassing a second venue featuring fine art photography as well as jewelry and a stellar music menu. This second venue, V.I.P. Vintage Pizza, hosted the afterparty.

Throughout the evening we experienced a steady flow of traffic from all walks of life, old friends and new. Mark Anderson provided ambience at the Goin' Postal location while other acts warmed the Goin' Postal Photography crowd. The weather was suitably inviting for a stroll from one location to the other, and the afterparty entertainment proved that you can't have too much of a good thing. Music, that is. This week is the Homegrown Music celebration with 200 bands and soloists, so we helped kick it off with Woodblind, Theft By Swindle, Revolution Jones and Laura Velvet with the Bookhouse Boys.

Here are a few pictures from the evening. The art and photography will remain on display through the next few months, so stop by, check it out... and celebrate the local scene.

Ashley Marnich brought in some new work.
Another piece by John Ulrich.
Jewels dispensing jewelry.
The night was young, but the energy already palpable.
Glenn Swanson from Oldenburg House with artist Sue Rauschenfels.
Veikko and Jason always put on a great show.

And then there was Laura Velvet and company.
Meantime, art goes on all around you. Engage it!

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(1) Several years ago I learned where the saying "knocks your socks off" no doubt originated. A co-worker was once in a serious car accident in which he was surprised to discover that when his car was collided with and he was nearly decimated, he shoes and socks shivered off his feet. May you never be so lucky as to discover this first hand.

Spotlight on Writer and Expecting Rain Contributor Laura Leivick

Ms. Leivick on her way to a Dylan concert.
When I was a kid growing up in the Cleveland suburb of Maple Heights, my best friends were the kids on my block. Proximity brings people together. So it is that we become friends with classmates at school who likewise are "neighbors" in the sense that our lives intersect at a space in time.

With the advent of the Internet all kinds of horizons opened up for meeting people. Forums on every topic under the sun emerged, and even before the World Wide Web there seemed no end to the possibilities available through America Online and other portals.

The other day I found an "address book" of email addresses for people in the screen print industry back in the early 90's. In my drawer is a file of conversations with a disparate batch of early Usenet users that included a former member of the psychedelic rock band Strawberry Alarm Clock. But if you're a Dylan fan in the 21st century, sooner or later you will eventually discover these two ever-flowing springs: and The former is our hotline to Dylan's schedule and a history of his playlists, with concert reviews, news and more. The latter is something of a mashup of Dylan-related stories, news and other tangentially related themes.

If you follow the latter, you can't help but have noticed that one of the ongoing contributors there in recent years is Laura Leivick. This past week I learned she has been a professional writer among other things. And it is apparent she is a serious Dylan fan.

How long have you contributing to Expecting Rain?

Laura Leivick: I began around 2015, when my friend Lloyd Fonvielle died and his blog pretty much died with him. Like you, he was interested in almost everything of interest. He had posted at least one terrific account of a Dylan concert that ran on Expecting Rain, so I automatically visited.

Somehow, I ended up contributing nearly every day. It makes me happy. I also think it's become kind of a superstitious practice.

EN: You’re obviously a Dylan fan. When did you first take an interest in Dylan’s music?

LL: When his first album came out I was ready--and just succumbed. I was a precocious kid and already knew a million genuine folk songs--and lots of blues, because of Paul Oliver, Sam Charters (books and anthology albums) and the Library of Congress field recordings. I used to go to the LOC some afternoons (when I wasn't at ballet school) and sit trying to transcribe the lyrics of songs like Bukka White's "Parchman Farm."

EN: Do you have a handful of favorite albums you keep returning to?

LL: Just Love and Theft. Usually I get hooked on the last one I loved and play it for months and can't listen to anything else.

EN: How many times have you seen Dylan perform?

LL: No idea. A lot but not enough, never enough. He's always different--he moves so far so fast he don't cast a shadow. (I said that.) Many of his concerts find you changed and change you more.

EN: Do you have a “most memorable” concert experience?

LL: I was especially knocked for a loop by some Radio City shows he did with G.E. Smith (who can be an egregious showboat but at those concerts wasn't). They did "Gates of Eden" and I thought, "I am in the same room as Bob Dylan," and the world fell away.

The most exhilarating show I saw was at Jones Beach in 2000. Here's a link to Lloyd's review "Dylan in the Rain."

EN: I believe there are Dylan celebrations in a lot of places on his birthday each year. Have you ever been to one in New York? Do you think you’ll ever make a Dylan pilgrimage to Duluth and Hibbing?

LL: No to all of the above. (Though I did celebrate some of his birthdays here with Lloyd.) But a public event? I'm not that kind of girl. Concerts, recordings? Yes. Fan activities? No.

EN: Can you briefly share a little about your writing career? How did you come to take an interest in writing?

LL: I was a dead serious ballet student, but I failed at it. On the other hand I have always been an obsessive reader, and a writer/literary critic at heart. At 13 I got hooked by the Literary Horizons column at the Saturday Review of Books. I started publishing in my teens -- first subjects: rock, blues, ballets. Then I went to U.C. Berkeley and got serious about literature--wound up valedictorian of my class and so on. But I tell myself I was more a devotee than a nerd.

I spent the next six or seven years working for San Francisco Ballet, and writing a lot for Bay Area publications.

In New York I worked as a copy editor and did some writing that led to features in the New York Times Magazine and the paper's Arts & Leisure section. I also reviewed top-of-the-line literary fiction for the Wall Street Journal. I also reviewed two Dylan bios for a special music issue of Paper magazine.

I was lucky to freelance copy-edit at the Times and all over town. The best gig I had was at Rolling Stone in the Wenner era. That place had the best and most knowledgeable staff. (It also had a great house band and great parties.) Every day at work you heard a wild range of music coming out of the offices. And I got my first taste of Dylan cred, though it was strictly in-house.

I'm proud to say I made it my business to thank Jann for preserving the history of a great American art form. We were in an elevator.

EN: What did you think of Dylan's Chelsea Hotel door that sold this past week? Have you been in the Chelsea Hotel when it was a nest place for stars?

LL: I was fine with the door sale, who cares? Yep, I stayed at the Chelsea, around 1970. I was so clueless I associated the place most closely with Dylan Thomas, though I heard rumors. "Nest Place"?  More like a rat's nest! The place was famous for being cheap, like Paris in the 20's, and no doubt that's how it drew its on-the-verge clientele. Anyway, the Chelsea was roach-infested and at night there was always bedlam behind the thin doors and walls. My memory is of a demimondaine flophouse with all this art in the lobby. For some reason, it all appealed to me and I never wanted to leave. I wish I never had.

* * * *

Related and Indirectly Related Links
Dylan's latest venture: Heaven's Gate Whiskey

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

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Dylan Trivia: Everything You Know Is Wrong

One of the features of Duluth Dylan Fest each year is the Dylan Trivia event at Carmody's Irish Pub. For 51 Sunday nights throughout the year Carmody's hosts a trivia contest featuring miscellaneous trivial themes. Then there's Dylan Fest in which the questions deal with all things Dylan.

As the author of a few of these Dylan Trivia contests I tend to notice news items with Dylan ties as they cross the ticker. For example, last week I saw a news story that the doors to the historic Chelsea Hotel were auctioned off. Several trivia questions came to mind. Here are two.

1. How many of the following famous people did NOT ever call the Chelsea Hotel "home" at one time or another?
Mark Twain, Andy Warhol, Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Dylan Thomas, Jim Morrison, Leonard Cohen, Arthur C. Clark, Allen Ginsberg, Stanley Kubrick, Dennis Hopper, Robert Crumb, Claes Oldenburg, Cher, Tom Waits, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Grateful Dead, Jane Fonda.

Answer: None. At one time or another all these folks stayed in the Chelsea Hotel.

2. The door to Dylan's room in the Chelsea Hotel went up for auction this past week and sold for how much?
a. $20,000
b. $50,000
c: $100,000
d. $400,000

Answer: You can find the answer here. (If the Vice link fails, try Google.)

* * * *
"Dylan Discovers a New Way of Seeing" 
Originally I planned to have this post yesterday as a FLASHBACK FRIDAY in which I re-posted one of the Dylan trivia blog posts from the past. Thursday's explosion at a refinery in Superior rocked the city and upended my plans here.

In 2016 I shared DO YOU LIKE DYLAN TRIVIA? The aim, of course, was to remind blog readers that Trivia Night is one of the events we have each year at Dylan Fest.

Last year, after DDF was over I received a link to another Dylan Trivia questionnaire titled TANGLED UP IN THE BIBLE: A BOB DYLAN QUIZ. It was fun, and perhaps a prescient preview of Dylan's Bootleg #13: Trouble No More which would be released late last year. You can find David Buckna's original quiz here on Facebook.

* * * *
The main point of Malcolm Gladwell's Blink is that we should learn to trust our instincts and not overthink things. We "think without thinking" he says. Granted, this is an oversimplification, but when it comes to trivia contests with nothing at stake, unless you are super-competitive, then have fun and don't overthink it.

On the other hand, I guess there's always the contrarian view, which Weird Al is happy to provide in this video.

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Related Links
Dylan Fest Schedule can be found here at
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Meantime life goes on all around you. Engage it.

Friday, April 27, 2018

The Explosion at Husky Energy in Superior

The view while driving across the bridge from Duluth.
Yesterday morning I was in Carlton attending a media event at the Oldenburg House in which the new Board of Directors was introduced along with their new website. Shortly before noon, one of the board members commented on a text message from her husband, a doctor at St. Luke's, that stated there had been an explosion at a refinery in Superior. All surgeries for the day were postponed so that doctors would be available attend to casualties, which were fortunately minimal.

Police barricaded this road leading to the refinery. For good reasons.
The worst was yet to come.
Because I had to deliver a couple things to Superior right after the press conference in Carlton, which included a tasty new menu item by Chef Paul called The Oldenburger, I was quickly on the road. I crossed the Bong Bridge into Superior with the aim of seeing how near one could get to what was happening. Nearly all who have worked or lived in Superior for any length of time know where this industrial complex is. 

Thick black smoke produced by burning asphalt.
When I reached Mall Drive there were police barricades, but one could get a close by circling around through a network of neighborhoods in East Superior. I was not the first to reach what appeared to be a good side street for photos and numerous other cell phone wielding photographers were soon on location. (The better picture I should have taken would have been the row of cars behind me with people standing alongside holding up their cell phones.)

From here I began heading back to deliver my package to Goin' Postal and to place one last item on the wall for tonight's 2018 Spring Art Show. On the way I saw another angle to take a good shot from Mall Drive.

At this point in time I was unaware of the additional explosions that were now taking place. It was a little after noon and the plumes of smoke had been growing significantly, pushed south by brisk winds from the North. A helicopter or two could be seen circling the scene all the while I was near.

Once I got to Goin' Postal it became difficult to think of anything else as the TV monitor produced these gripping images of the unfolding disaster. Within a relatively short time the smoke had reached Solon Springs.

I remember my Grandmother once telling how her mother saw smoke drifting over their rural West Virginia home and that five days later they learned that Chicago had burned. Fire can be a fearful thing. 

After an hour of following the live feed online it seemed time to head back across the bridge to Duluth. 

I drove up to Skyline Drive to take this most scenic route home, and found it congested with Duluthians parked and watching the distant drama across the way. In retrospect, I wish I'd taken photos of all the people watching the billowing cloud of smoke. It makes me wonder how many times photojournalists have that same thought about scenes they saw but failed to capture.

The good news is that despite numerous explosions, there were very few injuries. The facility has its break rooms inside safely barricaded structures and the first explosion, shortly after ten a.m., was during the morning break. 

Today's newspaper stories detail what took place yesterday. A lot of damage, but they did not have to shut down the city or turn out the lights.


Thursday, April 26, 2018

Ron Kroutel, Emeritus Professor of Art at Ohio U, Talks About His 50 Year Journey

In January Ron Kroutel, Emeritus Professor of Art at Ohio University’s School of Art + Design, celebrated the opening of a retrospective exhibition titled 50 Year Journey. As one might expect there are a variety of chapters in a journey of any length, and especially one of half a century. Though half the 36-piece show was taken down earlier this week, the other half remains on display till later in May.

Kroutel was thirty-two when he moved from inner city Detroit to rural Athens to teach at O.U. on the fringe of Appalachia. To some extent it proved to be a bit of culture shock. So begins his story in the book that accompanies his retrospective, published by the Kennedy Museum of Art where his work has been made available to the public.

"Red Corner" -- Early abstract painting
EN: In your earliest work you explore a lot of the "new channels" that were emerging, such as Pop, computer art, conceptual art.  At what point did you begin to have a feel for your own voice?

Ron Kroutel: Before I studied at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, I had no formal art training. I just loved to paint and draw. But once in college, I was intimidated by how little I understood of art history and of modern art. Cubism and Abstract Expressionism were a total mystery to me. And my lack of technical knowledge about painting and drawing was scary.

(For example, in my first painting class I had my little tubes of beginners’ oil paint and a 9” x 12” canvas board. The guy next to me made his own stretchers, stretched his own canvas and applied rabbit skin glue and an oil ground. When he began painting, he threw a jar of thick old dirty turp on the canvas and using a rag he wiped out the main structure of the still life. At that moment I began to understand what it meant to paint!)

"Frenzy" -- Oil on linen, 48"x 109", 1975
I continued to chase modern art for twenty years--Gorky, Matta, Larry Rivers, Stella, Heizer, Acconci and Beuys. Finally I caught up to contemporary art and life became art and art became life. In this void I began making nine inch square pencil drawings of possible conceptual ideas. These led to paintings that were not entirely coherent. I felt my journey had begun.

In this period of crisis I had the opportunity in 1973 to teach in Florence, Italy for three months and then to travel afterwards to Munich, Prague, Paris and London. This was my first trip abroad and it changed my life. I came back to my studio and realized that I needed to find something that was challenging and meaningful, something that needed to be painted, something not connected to pop irony or conceptual minimalism. What grew from this in 1974 was “Animus I: Anger.” It portrayed a basic human experience that was present in all human history, yet it was present in a contemporary setting. I truly didn’t care how it was received by others. I felt confident that I had found my own way.

"Falling Woman"-- Oil bar on linen, 60"x 60", 1985
EN: Who have been your biggest influences as far as finding your own path?

RK: Once I began painting my narrative work in 1974, I felt isolated from other like-minded artists. While Acconce and Beuys provided a conceptual stimulus for emotional human performance, painters such as Sidney Tillim, Altoon Sultan and Martha Mayer Erlebacher gave me a sense of community. As a student at Ohio University in the early 1970's, Frank Holmes initially inspired in me a belief in the validity and importance of representational painting. And Hopper and Munch always hovered in the background as a bedrock foundation.

During my first trip to Europe, all the greatest from the past fired me up. From the reliefs of Ashurbanipal in the British Museum to Maso di Banco’s great St. Sylvester 14th c. fresco in Santa Croce to Vitorio Carpaccio’s series The Legend of Saint Ursula in Venice, all made me see that ambitious undertakings like these could be a life-long involvement.

I feel about my art as Herman Melville felt about his writing, “ I would be as free as air but I’m down in the whole world’s books.”

"Rhyme: Hand & Pincers"
Pencil on Arches paper, 30"x 22, 1970
EN: Before you ever pursued a career as an artist, when did you first get the inkling that this was where you were headed? How did it happen?

RK: In grade school and high school, kids thought I would be an artist. Though my first formal education in the arts at nine was in piano studies, art always loomed as a vague goal. My uncle, Frederick D. Ogden, was a painter who supported his family with Constable-like landscapes, and his example subconsciously made a career in art as a real possibility. Also my family, all immigrants from Southern Bohemia, strongly supported education and encouraged my interest in the arts.The first one in the entire family to go to college, I had other opportunities than factory work.

EN: What were you seeking to convey in your floating figures? You seem especially drawn to movement in these.

RK: I showed an early figure painting to Sidney Tillim in New York City in 1975, “Animus III: Athleticism.” It’s of a floating runner chasing a frisbee on a gridiron. He laughed at the word “Athleticism” and said that all floating figures are about sex. There may be truth in that, but I also think they are about freedom, soaring to new possibilities. And there is also the danger of gravity. In general, I put my figures in motion because their actions are a positive statement of emotional reactions to living. They are more fun to do.

EN: In the mid-eighties you turned to horizontal, monochromatic landscapes. What was the driver for this change in subject matter and approach?

"Bridge" -- Oil on linen, 72"x 58"
RK: My turn to landscapes in the mid-eighties was determined by three main factors. First, I was running out of juice on the figure after fifteen years. I needed a new direction. Second, the Central American foreign policy of president Ronald Reagan was so upsetting to me that my figures (see “Falling Woman”) seemed too remote from my sense of life. Third, a series of seminars with will known critics made me aware of postmodern issues. Craig Owens, Robert Incus-Witten, Donald Kuspit and Clement Greenberg created for me a new context for thinking about my art. While I didn’t want to imitate postmodernism, it did give me something to resist.

Two years of blind-alleys, mistakes, false steps and failed experiments finally led to the large erasure drawings that I did from life. Done in the back of my Ford Econoline van, I drove around southeast Ohio until I found an intuitively right subject, went in the back of the van to draw in my mobile studio, and then drove around until I spotted another likely subject to add to the first. These 25 drawings were well-received and were awarded an N.E.A. Midwest Regional Fellowship.

"Athens County--Vines"
EN: Your later landscapes are especially evocative. Can you describe the evolution from your earlier work?

RK: Eventually I wanted to extend the erased charcoal drawings into paintings. A difficult transition, my process became somewhat different. Many small sketches were done in the van but then back in my studio they were combined, cut up, traced, rearranged, rejected painted on and finally assembled in a satisfying combination of images that then formed the general basis for a large painting. Everything in the painting was thus taken from life but distorted and constructed in a dark representation of our times. You can smell that air in these paintings.

EN: Anything I should especially ask at this point? That is, would you like to add anything here?

RK: My current work attempts to synthesize my early figure paintings with the landscapes. This is complicated by my need to understand my new environment in Colorado and to have my figures interact with altitude, wind and the vast space of the west.

While there are many great representational painters today that I greatly admire, I feel a certain connection with Neo Rauch (founder of the new Leipzig school), Jerome Witkin, Steven Campbell and Robert Schwartz. Again, too many to list. I always try to steal from the best!

The artist with wife Pat Wolf.
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Related Links
Ron Kroutel's Website
Article in the Athens Post about his 50 Year Journey

EdNote: Ohio U was my Alma Mater. I have many happy memories of being an aspiring young art student who spent many hours painting in Seigfred Hall. I remember some of his work from my time there. Ron Kroutel was, I believe,  a strong influence on my third-year artist roommate Steve Derrickson

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Local Art Scene: Armory Annex Artisans Actively Apply Themselves to Their Crafts

Paul Webster shows a visitor how to forge iron.
The growth of the "maker scene" has been quite explosive in recent years, perhaps in part as a countertrend to the tech wave that has swept the globe. Hands-on interactions with raw materials, building connections with the real -- not digital -- world.

For those unaware, a number of makers have taken up active residence in the Armory Annex, a former Perkins Restaurant adjacent to the Historic Armory. The Annex was open during Saturday's Art for Earth Day Gallery Hop, but you're actually welcome to visit most any time I believe. This is a quick snapshot. There is are glassblowers, artisans, a piano technician and a forging community here. Check it out. It's a beehive of activity.

The forgers are present every Saturday. 
A few tools of the trade.
Paul Piszczek is the piano man here. These are the innards for
Esther P's Zentangled piano. 
One of the glassblowers at work. Between Duluth and Oulu we have 
a talented and active network of glassblower artisans.
* * * *

All Along the Watchtower All Around the World... with Echoes

Ten years and 1.5 million pageviews ago I wrote a blog post about Dylan's enigmatic All Along the Watchtower. In re-reading it today it dawned on me that the title of the album Love and Theft might even be an echo of these two characters, the Joker and the Thief.

Yesterday a friend sent me a link to the video below, Playing For Change. It's a fascinating way to interweave cultures, to visibly show us -- as well as dramatically and aurally -- how diverse we are as a human family, yet can simultaneously be united through song and through music.

Shortly after Paul Simon released his Graceland album a documentary was produced showing how Simon incorporated South African sounds and other influences into the rich fabric of his music for this production. At one point in the film he is giving a workshop to youth about how to write a song. He said, "Begin with one true thing," and then add another and another.

I can't help but hear this approach to songwriting in many of Dylan's songs, especially this one, which begins, "There must be some way out of here." Which (after introducing the characters) is followed by, "There's too much confusion. I can't get no relief."

Many have called the song apocalyptic. It is certainly enigmatic and like the Joker, it is a perpetual riddle without resolution. "And the win begins to howl." (Does anyone else here see a tie between that line and the opening of Allen Ginsberg's most famous poem,  "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness"? Or a reference to another Dylan classic, "Blowing in the Wind"?)

How many of these layers of connective tissue are intentional and how many serendipitous?

* * * *
An Amusing Anecdote
Two or three years ago we were at Carmody's for Dylan Trivia on the second night of Duluth Dylan Fest. One of the questions pertained to this song All Along The Watchtower. When the scoring was taking place at the end of the contest, as the MC read the answer, someone at the next table said, "I thought Jimi Hendrix wrote that." Our table of Dylan Fest friends laughed.

* * * *
Related Links
The Musicians on Playing for Change
Buy the Album here

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Local Art Seen: Students Show Their Stuff at the Tweed

I've always enjoyed seeing the kind of work young art students are doing. I suppose it's in part because I 'm always about how their work compares to what I was producing when in their shoes. I also wonder what these art students are thinking and how the envision their futures. What kinds of expectations do they have? What kinds of paths will they travel?

Here is some of the artwork I saw at Saturday's Art For Earth Day open house at UMD. If you missed it, it's not too late to see this show at the Tweed, though the open studios will no longer be accessible in the same manner as last weekend, and certainly no one will be making waffles for you in the halls. Thank you to everyone involved in making guests feel welcome. You brought back many memories.

And to Nick Kuvach, who won the Best In Show Award in our own Ohio University senior exhibition 1974... Congratulations. I was jealous at the time, but your award was deserved. You epitomized the times.

* * * *

at the AICHO's Dr. Powless Community Center on Friday

And the two shows that same evening in Superior.
Click links for Details:
816 Tower Avenue, Superior
and V.I.P. Vintage Pizza hosts the
 Afterparty for both shows at Vintage Italian Pizza
1201 Tower Avenue, Superior

Engage It.

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