Monday, September 30, 2019

Local Art Seen: Rachel Hayes at the Joseph Nease Gallery

The title of the current show at Joseph Nease Gallery in Duluth is Affinities. It features the work of Rachel Hayes and Eric Sall (whose work I shared here yesterday.)

"Mirage Panel"--144'x 108"
Rachel Hayes is a nationally recognized artist who creates fabric structures that vibrantly explore painting processes, quilt making, architectural space, light, and shadow. When you check out hr website (link at the end) you'll discover that she has a love of scale. That is, it would appear that no space is to large for her imagination to fill.

Hayes grew up in the Kansas City region, and went to college at the Kansas City Art Institute where she got her BFA.  I'm guessing that she met her husband Eric there because he also got a bachelors there. Later the both got MFAs at the Virginia Commonwealth University.

"Swift"--22.5"x 23.5"
Her love affair with color is self-evident. The brightly colored fabrics sing. 
The title of the show is Affinities and you can definitely see how her
works have an affinity with her husband Eric Sall's paintings.
Check out the black and white stripes in this piece below, and
compare to Eric's Deluge 3.

"Cryptic"--61.5"x 38" 
"Dark Light"--36"x 11"
"Open Vision"--59"x 59"
The materials she selects to work with varies. A straight up list would include fabrics of different kinds, thread, cotton binding, acetate, canvas, fiber, binding, acrylics, wood, chording, paper, ribbon, wire and polyester. In short, whatever feels right for the project at hand.

Sall and Hayes currently reside in Tulsa, Oklahoma with their two children, a son and a daughter.
To see more of their work, visit their websites.

The Joseph Nease Gallery is located at 23 West First Street here in Duluth.
For Gallery Hours or to see work by their other represented artists visit

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Local Art Seen: Eric Sall @ Joseph Nease Gallery

"Citrus Twist"--84"x 60"
Fans of large abstract designs and color will enjoy the new exhibition at Joseph Nease Gallery titled Affinities. The show features work by Rachel Hayes and Eric Sall. Sall is a painter and Hayes a nationally recognized artist who works in fabrics and tapestry.

As with many of the other shows featured at the JNG, Joe & Karen Nease continue to draw upon their well of connections from their Kansas City gallery. Both Hayes and Sall received their MFAs from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA

The paintings featured here are all by Eric Sall. Tomorrow I will share Ms. Hayes' work.

Eric Sall was born and raised in South Dakota, and started oil painting when he was 15. Living in a tiny mountain town in the Black Hills he found solace in the culture of skateboarding and snowboarding which still resonates in his graphic paintings today. He moved to Kansas City when he was 18 to attend the Kansas City Art Institute, and felt as if he moved to the 'big city.

"So Close and Yet So Far"--84"x 60"
Compared to some of the Black Hills communities, KC really is a big city.  When our family did a ten day vacation in the Black Hills of Western South Dakota, I was struck by the numerous small towns within the network of hills. In the Western tip of the Badlands there was a small outpost of cabins and homes with a population of 15. I used to imagine that if I ever wanted to run away from it all, that might be where you'd find me.

Sall's work is energetic and vibrant. Some canvases are 12 feet across, so the effect is quite striking.

"Deluge 3"--60"x 72"

"Temperature Control"--48"x 36"

"Blind Spot"--16"x 20"

"Strange Mirage"--16"x 20"

"Moontides"--16"x 20"

In the back of the gallery you will find a video playing in which Eric Sall shows how he produces his work. For students of art and artists alike these streaming stories can be instructive.

I will be sharing Rachel Hayes' work sometime in the next few days.
Sall and Hayes currently reside in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
To see more of their work, visit their websites.

For Gallery Hours or to see work by other represented artists visit

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Local Art Seen: Jean--The Inspiration Behind The Birkenstein Movement

Small wonder that Robin Washington ended up on the board of the Duluth Art Institute. His mother was an artist. And this fall, through December 3, Jean Birkenstein Washington's work is on display in the Morrison Gallery here at the Duluth Art Institute.

To fully appreciate this show, and by extension Robin Washington, a former editor of the Duluth News Tribune, it's helpful to understand the context of Jean's work.

Jean Birkenstein (1926-2003) was a Jewish artist who in the 1950s and 60s was active in the Civil Rights movement. Married to a black poet and the only non-white household on their block no doubt made for some interesting dynamics. Add to this that her house was a safe place where members of Chicago's leading gangs--the Vice Lords and the Cobras--would meet must have been unettling for the neighbors.

Jean was not only an officer for CORE and the NAACP, she led numerous protests and sit-ins for open housing and against de facto segregation in Chicago's public schools.

Of Jean Birkenstein, Jet Magazine described her as "an artist with a profound respect for human dignity.

"While a teacher at Marshall High School on the city's west side," Washington writes of his mother, "she became an 'ambassador' to the schools for two street gangs, the Cobras and the Vice Lords - the latter signing her on as card-carrying member. She turned her home into a community center for the gangs, an activity noted in a 1961 Jet magazine feature article about her that was illustrated with her paintings of African American and Native American slaves."

She also had a passion for animals, and when she passed was buried in a pet cemetery.

Part of the exhibit includes clippings of Jean's activities outside the studio.

Robin Washington as a youth. (I wasn't the first artist
to paint my children.)
In some ways the DAI show is more of a love tribute to a mom who was more than a mom, a remarkable woman to sought to make a difference in the broken world she saw around her. Washington remembers being five and six years old going to sit-ins with his mother.

Jean's paintings reflect her passions, Robin himself being one of them.

Much more can be said, but I will let some of the paintings do some talking. There is a LOT of work on display and the current show, in conjunction with the Minnesota Black Artists show on the landing, is worth your time to go see. And it's free.

* * * *
Related Links
My Mother’s Fight for Education Rights: The Story of Jean Birkenstein Washington
A brief bio As Remembered by Robin Washington
Renowned storyteller now leads Duluth Arts Institute

Friday, September 27, 2019

Hawk Ridge Hawk Watchers: Science + Entertainment for Children of All Ages, 1 to 100

Birds and bird watchers intersect on a hilltop.
It's an endless sequence of autumn flyovers.
Golden Eagles
Bald Eagles
Hawks of every stripe.
"Cranes," he declares. "31 streaming thru that cloud that looks like a hand."
"I got 34," she replies.

* * * *
It's been too long since I'd been to Hawk Ridge here on Duluth's Skyline Drive. After the Phil Fitzpatrick/Penny Perry book launch a couple weeks back, I decided I'd better rectify this neglect. With an opening in my schedule and a semi-sunny day, I made a decision to make my way to Hawk Ridge.

Birds have been a fascination for generations, for centuries. Leonardo DaVinci studied them, seeking to understand the nature of flight. In college I did some paintings of birds, and loved trying to capture the feeling of birds in flight.

Pro sports teams feature quite a number of bird mascots. Cardinals, Falcons, Eagles, Ravens--we saw a raven today--Seahawks, Orioles, Blue Jays, Angels. (OK, angels have wings, but are probably not birds.)

I like to say Hawk Ridge is for the birds, but it's really for the birders. The birds are just doing their thing, the way they've always done, migrating south for the winter, returning in the spring. It's people who discovered the routes these creatures choose and in recent years strive to document their patterns.

In ancient times birds were omens. Today they really are an oracle of sorts, helping reveal the health of our environment.

My opening notes at the top of this post were from yesterday afternoon. It was fun to see the cranes come into view through the cloud, which brought to mind the poem from Phil Fitzpatrick's Hawks On High, titled Flying Ichabods, a clever word play off Washington Irvings's central character in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

Flying Ichabods
One day I heard the flying Ichabods
Better known as Sandhill Cranes
Long necks in front and longer legs behind
Squawking their way to midwestern plains

You can read the full poem in Phil's book, Hawks On High, available locally at Zenith Books and Hawk Ridge.

Here's my own poetic verse in response to a moment in which a young harrier flew by, shimmering in the sun. I asked how they knew it was a harrier youth.

The Harrier Family
Cinnamon on breast, juveniles.
Adult females, brown.
Silvery white underneath, black tips,
that's a dad.

Grey hair, looking skyward,
squinting through binoculars.
That's me.

* * * *
I'm told there are hundreds of such sites around the country where birders gather, keep tabs on migration activities and bird counts. Even if you know nothing, they make you feel welcome. And if you're here in the Twin Ports, Hawk Ridge is a gift you ought to get to know.

While vacationing in the Black Hills I used my AAA travel book to locate the most scenic of its scenic hiaghways. AAA ranks all the highways in the country with a 1, 2, 3 etc. according to its degree of wonder. Among the list of #1 top highways and byways was our Skyline Drive here in Duluth. Dig it.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Catalyst Documentary Features Great Lakes Academy of Fine Art Founder Jeffrey Larson

Great Lakes Academy--Main hall.
The Catalyst Content Festival is approaching fast, now under three weeks away. In addition to meetings, training workshops and networking, a central feature of events of this type is the screening of films, or in this case, films and podcasts, scripts and pitches. Everything from drama series, short film, documentary and comedy will be showcased.

As I looked through the offerings I noticed there's a short documentary about Jeffrey T. Larson, the artist who with his son co-founded the Great Lakes Academy of Fine Art. (GLAFA) The school has now entered its fourth year and its students have been producing phenomenal work. (Here is link to their third Student/Instructor Exhibition last spring.)

Painting by Larson
The short film is titled, simply Jeffrey T. Larson. You can watch the trailer here.

I believe I first met Jeffrey Larson when he gave a talk at the Tweed Museum of Art the summer before the GLAFA was opened. In retrospect it seemed clearly designed to raise awareness that something big was emerging on the West Hillside here in Duluth. At the end of their first year they held an open house weekend in which their first year students were showcased. This practice has continued each spring.

Detail from larger piece.
Detail from painting "Heidi"
In similar fashion, artist Jeffrey T. Larson has reproduced a passion for painting in his son Brock and together they have undertaken an enterprise that goes far beyond making art. After much deliberation they have undertaken to start a world-class art school here in the Twin Ports on Duluth's West Central Hillside.

The photos on the page feature Larson's painting, the school and students at work. Between the GLAFA, the Homegrown Music Festival, Duluth Dylan Fest, DuSu Film Festival, Grandma's Marathon, Blues Fest, and now the Catalyst Content Festival--not to mention the exceptional beauty of our lake and region--we've got some seriously great foundations being laid to make Duluth a premiere cultural center of sorts.

Thank you to all of the artists and people who have worked to make these things possible. We, the community, are the beneficiaries. How cool is that?

Larson is fascinated with objects....
* * * *

...and Light, and People.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Almost Wordless Wednesday: Bob Boone's West Theater Renovation Is A Pretty Cool Deal

It's here. Finally experienced the resurrected West Theater. 

Brad Pitt as Roy McBride. His aims: to save the world and find his father.
Tommy Lee Jones as H. Clifford McBride

Ad Astra film review another day. 
The theater is comfy, and suitably retro.
Tuesdays are $5.00 and regular prices reasonable.
Do put it on your "to do" list to check it out.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Dylan's "Times Are A-Changing" Vs. "Things Have Changed"--Picasso's Guernica Meets Dali's Hallucinogenic Toreador

One of the Dylan albums I have been listening to a lot lately is his Victoria's Secret Exclusive Lovesick. This 2004 release is a collection of nine great songs spanning the arc of his career. The playlist includes She Belongs to Me, Don't Think Twice,  To Ramona, Boots of Spanish Leather and It's All Over Now, Baby Blue from the first decade of his career. Then closes out with four late career songs from Time Out of Mind to Love & Theft.  "Things Have Changed" is the second to last track and I find myself repeating it each time I play this Lovesick CD.  As a result, the song, its lyrics and the way he delivers those lyrics has really gotten into my head.

As for the lyrics, this really is something of an unusual, even bizarre, song on one level. In a few minutes I will compare it to Salvador's Dali's Hallucinogenic Toreador. Like much of Dali's surrealistic painting, it's also infectious. And when contrasted with "The Times They Are A-Changin'" certain features especially stand out. In this case I will contrast Toreador with Picasso's explosive Guernica.

There are few long-time Dylan fans unfamiliar with this anthem of the Sixties and his third album wearing the same name.

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’

Each verse has a singular aim, the first verse setting the trajectory. "Listen up. You see what's happening. It's time to act."

The second verse is directed to writers and critics. "This is a unique time in history. Pay attention."

Verse three is directed to our political leaders. Each line in the stanza serves that end. "Don't stand in the doorway, don't block up the hall."

Verse four speaks to the mothers and fathers in our land and the widening generation gap.

Finally, we return to the overarching message. Things are changing, with the very last line echoing a passage from the Bible (Matthew 20:16), as if the truths here were a prophetic utterance from on high.

When dissecting "Things Have Changed," Dylan's Oscar-winning contribution to The Wonder Boys, we find a song both similar and dissimilar. The similarity comes in the structure. We get a batch of words, with lines that rhyme, followed by the recurring theme from which the title is extracted. "I used to care, but things have changed."

Whereas with "Times Are A-Changin'" each verse is crystal clear as regards its meaning, "Things Have Changed" is the very definition of ambiguity.

What's more, and this is what has struck me about the song, the lines are interchangeable, and actually have no relationship to one another except inasmuch as they are sung in conjunction with one another.  Watch this.

A worried man with a worried mind
No one in front of me and nothing behind
There’s a woman on my lap and she’s drinking champagne
Got white skin, got assassin’s eyes
I’m looking up into the sapphire-tinted skies
I’m well dressed, waiting on the last train

Standing on the gallows with my head in a noose
Any minute now I’m expecting all hell to break loose

Each of the images is specific, but very few lines are actually related to one another, other than the woman in line three and the suggestion that she's got white skin and assassin's eyes. But even that is only implied. What if he were referring to himself with white skin and assassin's eyes, since the next line is he himself looking into sapphire-tinted skies?

If this is a description of a scene, are they sitting outside. Where? At a train station?

The gallows is a pretty specific image, too, but can plainly be a metaphor. And the statement that any minute all hell could break loose is punchy, captures a sense we've all had at one time or another, but what is happening?

The elements are very specific, but the overall meaning is completely ambiguous. You could change multiple sentences anywhere along the way and not change anything. For example, in the second verse he sings:

Gonna take dancing lessons, do the jitterbug rag
Ain’t no shortcuts, gonna dress in drag
Only a fool in here would think he's got anything to prove

But you can insert anything for some of these lines and it would change nothing. The lines in maroon are my inventions. (Not saying these are good lines, just that I don't think they change the meaning of the song.)

Gonna walk through a storm, gonna fill my bag
I've never been afraid to kiss a hag
Only a fool in here would think he’s got anything to prove

Stick my fingers down my throat, make myself gag
Clean up the dishes with a greasy rag
Only a fool in here would think he’s got anything to prove

I mean it seems almost anything would work because the verses aren't focused on saying anything. But whoa, the way he sings it still floors you.

A lot of these lines could have been borrowed from films he was watching or books he's been reading. That is part of Scott Warmuth's schtick. This Rolling Stone article points to the line "Don't get up, gentlemen, I'm only passing through" as having originally come from the mouth of Vivien Leigh in Streetcar Named Desire.

This is not to suggest the song doesn't make connections with listeners. In point of fact, it continually makes connections, but in a more convoluted way than many of his other songs. The third verse has a set of truisms that connect with the listener, but aren't necessary to connected to each other, except they do make a picture, a Hallucinogenic Toreador.

I’ve been walking forty miles of bad road .    Possibly True
If the Bible is right, the world will explode .    Sort of True
I’ve been trying to get as far away from myself as I can .   Possibly True
Some things are too hot to touch .   True
The human mind can only stand so much .   True
You can’t win with a losing hand .    Possibly True

Then he says he feels like falling in love with the first woman he meets, and putting her in that wheelbarrow to roll her down the street. It's an image that's easy to picture, but where does it go? It affirms the refrain for sure. People are crazy and times are strange.

Guernica. Click to enlarge.
If you've ever seen Picasso's Guernica in real life, it's power is difficult to dismiss. A massive painting written in response to the bombing of a Basque town of the same name during the Spanish Civil War. Like the cover of album The Times They Are A-Changin', Guernica is painted in black, white and greys. And like the song, every element contributes to show the horror of this incident which has become itself a metaphor for modern war in which civilians are the ones who suffer. (cf. The Cold War's Killing Fields)

It was also painted at a significant moment in time. Ultimately a reproduction of this was created for the United Nations. War is a horror, it says.

Dylan's song was likewise "painted" during a significant moment in time. It spoke of an upheaval taking place that would rock the nation. An despite it's reference to a moment in time, it continues to be relevant in its timeless way, the same as so many of Dylan's prophetic songs, and Picasso's Guernica.

"The Hallucinogenic Toreador"
Dali's striking Toreador stands 15 feet high and can be seen at the Dali Museum in St. Augustine. It's absolutely stunning in person, like most of his work. And like many of his paintings, the picture is comprised of optical illusions. In this case, it's a painting of a pair of Venus de Milo statues, which when viewed in an alternative manner become re-assembled as the image of a bullfighter.

Dali combines a number of other elements to produce the effect, including bees, dots of color, shadows. And in the upper left we see Gala, his wife and muse, who is a feature of many Dali paintings.

When all is said and done, you can lose yourself in the elements or come away with the bigger--and in real life it is a much bigger--picture. And like Dylan's Things Have Changed, it makes an impression.

It's noteworthy that neither Dali nor Dylan explained their work and let their works speak for themselves. As a result, critics have endlessly dissected and analyzed the symbols and images in both of their creative contributions.

* * * *
Here's another example of what I'm saying from the song's last verse. Dylan sings:

Mr. Jinx and Miss Lucy, they jumped in the lake
I’m not that eager to make a mistake

Notice that he doesn't link these two, yet they stand side by side. He could have written, "I'm not that eager to make that mistake" or "I'm not that eager to make their mistake." Instead, he just throws in a line that rhymes with lake, so he could have just as easily said, "I'm just diggin' through the fridge looking for something to bake." Or "I'm finished with this garden, gonna hang up my rake." Or "I'm a little too tired to be on the make."

Whatever line you throw down changes nothing because when you finish the refrain it still rings true.

People are crazy, times are strange
I’m locked in tight, I’m out of range
I used to care, but things have changed

What do you think?

* * * *

Picasso's Guernica
Picasso's Guernica Revisited
Dali's The Hallucinogenic Toreador
Dylan and 50 Years of Change
Lyrics: Things Have Changed

Local Arts Seen: Minnesota Black Fine Art Show @ the DAI

Carl Wesley--Temple #7
Last Wednesday the Duluth Art Institute hosted an opening reception for three new exhibitions. The Minnesota Black Fine Art Show is now on display in the John Steffl Gallery on the balcony above the Great Hall. Jean: The Inspiration Behind the Birkenstein Arts Movement is on display in the Morrison Gallery. And Claudia Faith's Family is in the Corridor Gallery.

Minnesota Black will be on display through January 2. The curated show features emerging and established black Minnesota artists of African descent. This is a show that has been traveling around the state with Duluth as its final stop. Many, if not mot most, of the artists were present to discuss their work at the reception. Examples of their work are shared here to give a flavor of what you will find. As I often say, for best results check it out in person.

A few local Duluth artists whom I have been following for many years have a work in this show. Carla Hamilton has several pieces. One of her quotes was used on the show's program. "While nobody's comfort is guaranteed, a new perspective certainly is."

Ivy Vainio--Breaking Free #2
Terresa Moses--Excuse Me Ladies
Carla Hamilton--Triangle Women
Terresa Moses--Gelevolution
Antowon Key--Red, White & Black #8
* * * *
Eyenga Bokamba--Great Migration
* * * *
Vern Northrup studies an artist's dyptich.
I sometimes like to take pictures of people looking at paintings because it provides a sense of scale. In this case it's a little more than that. I found the some abstract color of the paintings to have the feel of fire. Vern Northrup is a photographer who this past couple years has been showing his work, some of which features fire. 

In February last year Vern gave a talk regarding the manner in which traditional Native culture has utilized fire as a tool. The exhibition of Northrup's photographs in the AICHO Gallery was titled Ishkode, which means "Fire" in the native Ojibwe tongue. (See: The Role of Fire In Native Culture.)

Featured Artists
The following artists have work featured in this exhibit. 
Kprecia Ambers, Minneapolis;
Eyenga Bokamba, Minneapolis;
Christopher E. Harrison, Twin Cities;
Carla Hamilton, Duluth
Bill Jeter, Minneapolis;
Antwon Key, Mankato;
Terresa Moses, Duluth;
Theoneste Munyemana, Minneapolis
Ivy Vainio, Duluth
Carl Wesley, Minneapolis

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