Sunday, April 15, 2018

Local Art Seen: Kathryn Lenz Breathes New Life Into Milton's Hell

During the month of April Karpeles Manuscript Museum Library is hosting an interesting set of events with historical roots in John Milton and William Blake, along with a series of paintings by local artist Kathryn Lenz. The exhibition and lecture theme is Milton's Hell: A Prequel to Genesis. Though the opening reception was April 3, there are a pair of events coming later this week with info set at the end of this blog post.

"Flight through Chaos"
In addition to Lenz' paintings there are twelve 8.5"x11" prints of William Blake's so-called Butts Set of Paradise Lost illustrations along one of the walls inside Karpeles. Blake illustrated Paradise Lost three times and the sets are referred to as the Thomas Set (published in 1807), the Butts Set (published in 1808) and the Linnell Set (published in 1822).

Ms. Lenz has also shared prints of five photos she took of plates in the 1762 Howard's edition of the St. James Bible housed in the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Ramseyer-Northern Bible Society Museum Collection. These prints are displayed courtesy of Archives and Special Collections, Kathryn A. Martin Library, University of Minnesota Duluth. They serve both as a reference for the artist's Milton paintings (because Milton drew from the Bible) and as examples, along with the Blake prints, of English art work produced about 100 years after "Paradise Lost" was first published. It's not inconceivable that Milton's work influenced the artists who made these Bible images.

Kathryn Lenz's paintings are evocative, and at times surprisingly complex. For those unable to make the visit to Karpeles during the next few weeks I'm sharing  few select images here, somewhat weaker in impact than what you will find in person.

"The Ptolemaic Universe"
EN: What was it that prompted you to become so involved in Milton's work?

Kathryn Lenz: The project began as an opportunity to collaborate with my sister Karmen Lenz, an English Professor at Middle Georgia State University. Paradise Lost is heavy reading, but conversing with Karmen about various passages made it easier to digest. Additionally, although I've read through the whole work, my studies have mostly focused on only the first two of the twelve books. The work is full of imagery, and I found myself taking notes and making sketches as I read. Several famous artists have illustrated Paradise Lost, most notably William Blake and Gustave Doré, and their illustrations also inspired me. I enjoyed tracking down images on the web of pagan gods mentioned in the epic as well as European artwork that could have influenced Milton's imagination. It seemed that the more I worked on the project the more I was drawn in by both the epic and the images of famous works of art.

EN: How did you choose which passages to illustrate?

Detail from "Pandemonium"... an experession
of futility. Nothing brings satisfaction
KL: I chose passages to illustrate based primarily on their appeal and secondarily on whether or not images of those passages by other artists were available. For example, I did not illustrate Satan holding a council with his top advisors in their palace in Pandemonium because I was satisfied with the John Martin and Gustave Doré depictions of this scene (see attached images).

EN: You mention the influence of Hieronymus Bosch to some extent. What other artists influenced this series of works?

KL: Famous visual artists who I think influenced this series of works include Hieronymus Bosch, John Martin, William Blake, Gustave Doré, Salvador Dali, M.C. Escher, René Magritte, Georgia O’Keefe, Arthur Dove, Odilon Redon, and the cartoonist Gary Larson. I'm sure that this is not an exhaustive list.

EN: What kind of reaction have you had from those who have come to see the exhibition?

KL: Thankfully, anyone who had a bad reaction to this show has kept it to themselves as far as I know. Reactions that people have expressed to me have varied from "great show!" to "What an imagination!" to "I'm impressed with how much work you put into this!" to "I don't understand your paintings and I was confused by the video, too." But let me add that the person who expressed confusion then went on to discuss Milton's perspective on the concept of free will, and that was a great reaction to the show.

"Flight to Earth"
"Satan Presiding at the Infernal Council" by John Martin.
Gustave Dore's interpretation of the scene depicted above. 
* * * * 
Peter Spooner will be giving a talk at 7 p.m. Thursday.
Kevin A. Quamby's talk will be on Friday, also at 7:00.


Noteworthy Trivia
On this day in 1452 Leonardo da Vinci was born.
His father was unable to attend the birth because
he was too busy trying to finish his taxes.

Meantime life goes on...

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