Monday, October 20, 2014

Ten Minutes with Fatih Benzer: The Artist Discusses His Influences and the Ideas behind His Work

Portions of this article appeared in this week's Reader. 


In 1993, Fatih Benzer left Turkey to study art in the United States. After completing his master’s degree in painting at California State University and his doctoral degree in art education at Arizona State University he decided to stay in U.S. since being here gave him an enormous amount of freedom to express himself and the resources to produce his work. He is currently assistant professor of art, design and art educations at the University of Minnesota, Duluth.

EN: What brought you to the U.S. originally and when?
Fatih Benzer: I came to United States in 1993 to study art. I completed my master’s degree in painting at California State University and my doctoral degree in art education at Arizona State University. And I have decided to stay in US since being here gave me enormous amount of freedom to express myself and plenty of resources to produce my work.

"Signs of the Times"
EN: How did you come to take an interest in art as a career? Who were your early influences?
FB: I had always been interested in the arts since I was a little child. Art, especially drawing and painting, was a way to communicate to people since I was a very introvert kid. Although I am no longer introvert, art still remains as a powerful tool to communicate to people, even more so than before.

As a child, I was intrigued and amazed by the accomplishments of Renaissance and Baroque artists such as Raphael, Greco, and Rembrandt. As I grew up to be a young adult, the number of artists who had impact on me increased; from Mark Rothko to Frank Stella, from Louise Bourgeois to James Turrel who experimented with light in his installations known as "sky-spaces." Those were enclosed spaces open to the sky through an aperture in the roof. They really made me feel like I was looking at the sky and observing how light behaves as if for the first time. In my recent paintings, the sense and role of light plays a similar role, as well. I also was very influenced by the experimental movies and installations by Matthew Barney. I found his way of capturing a world of fantasy within every day life was visually very intriguing.

"The Bee Kingdom"
EN: What is your process for doing a new painting?
FB: The work I produce seems to naturally organize itself into series. Between these series are transitional works that chart the changes from one series to the next. I would like my work and its development to be logical and coherent, but it gets much more complicated throughout the process of making. Working in series gives me chance to create a large body of work that becomes the context in which specific concepts such as co-existence and stigma can reveal themselves as the content. I enjoy working in various styles, developing various methods to deal with various subjects or concepts. The fact that I work in different styles helped me develop multitudes of vantage points to examine, understand, and present a specific concept or subject. When you have the ability to change your vantage point, your approach to your work in contextual sense change, as well.

At times, this appeared to be an obstacle for some curators I worked with in the past. I guess the reason for that was because, traditionally, we expect artists to walk on the same path showing gradual progress towards mastery. During my undergraduate years, reading postmodern authors such as Umberto Eco, Milan Kundera, and Orhan Pamuk really got me interested in creating new possibilities and getting off that single path and moving in a non-linear fashion. About ten years ago, I started developing various techniques, methods, and strategies to deal with different issues that I was interested in exploring in my work. As an artist, you just cannot invent one solution and expect to resolve every single problem you face with it.

"Watcher"
I try to keep myself aware of the major issues we face on the globe. As an artist, I select and focus on some of those issues and create my own reaction and communicate it to the audience. That is to say concepts always come first in my paintings.

Once I decide on a specific concept or subject, I develop sketches using various software such as Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. Once the preliminary studies seem appropriate enough to start a new painting, I implement it on large panels of wood using paint and brush. I use various washes to create abstract spaces where the realistically rendered images become actors and actresses as if in a play. I have never been interested in pure non-objective abstraction though in my work, the forms, perspectives, atmosphere of our natural world are represented in many ways and varying degrees of abstraction.

"Watcher" (detail)
EN: The artist statement for your current show notes that your recent iconographic works are, among other things, “inspired by Ottoman and Persian miniatures, whirling dervishes echoing Rumi’s ecstatic poetry of freedom and devotion.” Can you elaborate on this?
FB: My recent iconographic works are inspired by ancient Greek mythologies, Ottoman and Persian miniatures, whirling dervishes in Sufi belief represented by Rumi’s ecstatic poetry of freedom and devotion, abstracted geometry inspired by antique Ottoman and Byzantine architecture. The main purpose of these works is to build a bridge between East and West. Coming from Turkey-a country influenced by Near Eastern and European cultures, I try to build a world of irony in which all those various influences can co-exist regardless of their diverse backgrounds. Such combination of various images and symbols from different cultures play a very important role to offer the audience a multiplicity of meanings.

The Ottoman and Persian miniatures were almost never signed due to several reasons--one being the rejection of individualism and another having more than one artist working on a piece of painting collectively. My paintings follow the similar tradition of not signing the artwork as a way of expressing one’s selflessness. Similar to miniatures, brilliant and contrasting colors were used side by side to achieve a flat surface that acts as a backdrop for the iconographic symbols to freely travel across the picture plane. The purpose of those eastern miniatures was merely to depict the nature as the artist saw nature. Instead, the purpose was to represent a nature that emerged from the artist’s understanding of nature and his/her imagination. However, unlike in the miniatures, one can notice the realistically rendered symbols/images in my work create a contrast with the flatness of the world that surrounds them.

"Journeys of a Dervish"
Dervish literally means "doorway" and is thought to be an entrance from this material world to the spiritual world. During the ceremony, the dervishes remove black cloaks to reveal the white robes with voluminous skirts. They turn independently, shoulder to shoulder, both around their own axis and around other dervishes, representing the earth revolving on its own axis while orbiting the sun. Symbols and architectural forms in my iconographic paintings refer to the same idea of turning, unifying, creating alternative spaces for their existence.

EN: Though the imagery is beautifully rendered, there is a somewhat horrific quality to some of your subject matter. What’s this about?
FB: On the outside, I want my paintings to be very attractive with their highly saturated colors, large dimensions, contrasting imagery, and intense labor. I want my paintings to “appeal” firs, “reveal” after. In the formalistic sense, this has been the core of my approach to how I executed my recent works for “Signs and Wonders” exhibition. “Appeal” is important to get the attention of the viewer and start a dialogue between the work and the viewer. However, that dialogue should go beyond the mere appearance of the work and should get deeper as one starts digging into multi-layered meanings driven from the familiar symbolism and the context in which this symbolism is presented with a twisted manner. References to religious iconography, political satire, irony of using violence to resolve violence become part of this twisted world I create in my work. Occasionally, the viewer’s encounter with some of my work can be quiet disturbing once they question the existence of this twisted world: Will we ever be able to co-exist despite our differences? Will we ever live in a world that is free of stereotypes and biases? How far can we or should we go to reconcile? When you play the devil’s advocate, life becomes more about contradictions and less about finding or creating a common ground.

"Begotten"
EN: In what ways does teaching art students enrich your approach to your own work?
FB: Teaching is a big part of what I do as an artist. I do not see teaching as a separate component of my artistic career. I also conduct research and write due to my background in the field of art education. All this research and my practice as an artist become my resources to assist my students, be a facilitator, or to help them find their own voice.

EN: What are you currently working on and why?
FB: Now that the “Signs and Wonders” exhibition is up and running, I am doing my research in adapting a very different medium to communicate to my audience. And that medium will evolve digital technologies and processes such as installations as opposed to painting in traditional sense. I am very excited about the possibilities of this new direction to interact with the audience even further. Because in the end, no matter what medium you use, what techniques you invent, or what strategies you develop, it all comes down to expressing the human condition.

* * * *
NOTEWORTHY
This week marks the 5-year anniversary of the Zeitgeist Building in Downtown Duluth. If you're like me, it feels like it has been here for ages. Tonight begins five evenings of celebration as well as awareness-raising and fund-raising for the renamed Zeitgeist Center for Arts & Community. Tonight Mayor Ness and Executive Director Tony Cuneo will be present to talk about the history of the Zeitgeist, among other things. Join us for halfprice appetizers and a silent auction, among other things. Read yesterday's article in the Trib for details.  

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Tony Scaduto's Jagger: Everybody's Lucifer (A Book Review)

In the early Seventies Tony Scaduto, a crime reporter for the New York Post, had the good fortune of landing a contract to do a bio on Dylan. His claim to fame here was writing as a journalist rather than a fan. His background on the mafia and crime reporting may have also been carried over into a jaded, hard-boiled Humphrey Bogart-like approach that makes everyone a suspect.

The results must have been successful because other books followed including books on Marilyn Monroe, Sinatra and the Rolling Stones' Mick Jagger, the topic of this blog post. Keep in mind that this book was written in near forty years ago, so it doesn't cover anything in the 80's, 90's or current century, which is a large swath of territory.

First, this is not a great book and I was surprised to see some rave reviews at Amazon.com, though I should not have been. And then there is the one-star review which begins, "Skip this book, and read Philip Norman's Mick Jagger instead. Also, read Keith Richards' Life or Sam Cutler's You Can't Always Get What You Want."

I picked up the book knowing that even he didn't consider it his best work. Not sure where I'd read that. Nevertheless, in the Sixties I was a Stones fan. I had most if not all of their early albums. Like many, I was attracted to their "bad boy" image, a clear contrast to the squeaky clean cheerfulness of the Fab Four. The Beatles went on Ed Sullivan in matching suits; Jagger performed there in a torn sweatshirt.

From the opening line Jagger surprised me. The first words were "Brian Jones was still alive back then." After decades without Jones the whole Brian Jones story came rushing back. I remember it making the news when he drowned in his pool, heavy-laden with barbituates and alcohol. Images of Jones with Nico in Hollywood, came to mind  along with bits and pieces of recollection. During his time recording with the Stones he played at least seventeen different instruments.

Where Scaduto takes the story, however, is quite different from what I'd expected. The entire first section (Book One) is about Brian Jones. If you go to the two photo sections, it's photos of Brian Jones juxtaposed with Jagger shots.

Tony Scaduto must have disliked Mick Jagger because every story in the book is written in such a way so as to put the singer in the worst light possible. Throughout the book he refers to Keith Richards as Keith, Marianne Faithfull as Marianne, and Brian Jones as Brian, but Jagger is always Jagger.

Those familiar with the story know that Brian Jones created the Rolling Stones. Over time Richards and Jagger, with the help of their young manager Andrew Loog Oldham, pushed forward to be the front men for the group. Jones's skills were weakening due to his drug use excesses among other things and he was ultimately becoming a detriment to the band. In the end Jones was kicked out and replaced with Mick Taylor.

Scaduto the former crime reporter lays out the details that allege that this power play and additional maneuvers by Jagger and Richards were what killed Brian Jones. Keith stole Brian's girl (Anita Pallenberg) and the band was stolen from him as well. Nothing ever seems to be Brian's fault. These sins of commission were not what finally nailed Brian's fate, rather it was Jagger's sins of omission, his failure to make efforts to suture the emotional lacerations to Jones' fragile soul after this massive humiliation (being evicted from "the world's greatest rock and roll band.") This, it seems, is the picture the author aims to produce.

I don't believe Jagger himself was ever interviewed by Scaduto, who does do a good job of painting pictures of some of the Stones concerts, especially the Stones' 1969 U.S. tour, which ended in the disaster called Altamont. Marianne Faithfull's perspective is a primary source throughout, though the Amazon.com reviewer claims much of this came from her autobiography.

Jagger: Everybody's Lucifer ranks #2,311,587 in the book section, Amazon Best Sellers. You can buy it used for a penny and draw your own conclusions.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Five Minutes With Artist Kyle Voigtlander


Kyle Voigtlander is a young, Minneapolis-based artist whose work has been on display at Benchmark Tattoo since his show there in August. The tattoo parlor in located in the new building across from Chester Creek Cafe/Sara's Table on Eighth Street here in Duluth.

EN: When did you get serious about making and showing your work?
Kyle V: It wasn't until a while after I earned my undergrad, maybe two years or so. I made I drawing that I liked and got really good feedback from those who saw it.

After that it was just a matter of making more. I took a few months and really figured out what it was I was trying to do, and did that until I had about six drawings. Then I was able to display in the restaurant I was serving at, and once people started seeing my work it's been a steady stream of sales and new opportunity. About 30 drawings later, I'm now booked for shows for the next six months and don't plan on stopping.

EN: Where were you trained?
Kyle V: I graduated from University Northwestern St. Paul. I was part of the digital media art program there, and took several classes that really helped me develop as an artist.

EN: What are your primary themes?
Kyle V: I'm not sure. When I'm making a drawing I'm really all about that drawing and just having fun with it. There's really no motive in my work other than doing my best work, enjoying it and arriving at the end of my process with a high quality drawing.

EN: Who are your favorite artists?
Kyle V: Kandinsky, Audubon, Com Truise, The Pharcyde, Oliver Vernon, Pat Perry, Conor Nolan, Mickey a.k.a. Loveable Monster, Feng Meng Vue, Shaina Lund, Steven Janowicz.

EN: Where does your inspiration come from?
Kyle V: For me it's more about maintaining a sense of awe and wonder toward creation than actively searching for inspiration. Having the right type of attitude allows just about anything to inspire me, and also allows me to draw inspiration from every aspect of my life experience.

EN: Any up-coming shows?
Kyle V: Blue Moon Cafe in Minneapolis for the month of October. November I'll have my drawings at the Seward Cafe, on Franklin Avenue. December I'll be at Espresso Royale, the official coffee house of St. Katherine's University. Then it's off to Gethsemane Lutheran Church for a two month show during January and February. That's all I've got scheduled for now. It was really great to have my work in Duluth and I hope to be back sometime in the near future.

EN: Do you have a website or somewhere we can see your work online?
Kyle V: I post my work on facebook. You can see them there, otherwise check out my Behance page.

EN: Is there anything especially unique in how you create?
Kyle V: I'm really not sure. My focus is trained so intently on my finished product that my process isn't really something I dwell on. I just draw as much as I can, put in as much time on a drawing as is required, and just keep going. Guess you could say my process is between me and the all knowing God, and the finished drawings What are you working on now that has you jazzed?

I'm jazzed about a drawing of a vulture I've been working on for a while. It's bigger and bolder than a lot of my work, and a showcase of my development over last year. I've got several other projects that I'm excited about, but I think the vulture will be the biggest achievement.

EN: You identify yourself as both a Christian and an existentialist. Can you elaborate on this a little bit? 
Kyle V: I do identify as Christian, but I'm still young, and growing in that. I am fiercely independent and often act on my own without considering what God's will might be, and those natural tendencies of mine fit quite closely to the existentialist approach, so I identify as both.

EN: How does your world view impact your art?
Kyle V: In terms of my art, worldview gives a solid sense of meaning and purpose to my creative process. My worldview shapes my definition of art: human representation of God's creation. I'm convinced that the more I learn about and live out the values and everything else associated with my worldview, the faster my skill as an artist develops.


OTHER TWIN PORTS ART HAPPENINGS
UMD Faculty Biennial at the Tweed, 6-8 p.m. tonight.

Goin' Postal 2014 Fall Art Show this coming Friday the 24th

Zeitgeist 5th Anniversary celebration October 20-24

Friday, October 17, 2014

Ellie Schoenfeld's Barbie Poems (Open Mic Poetry Night @ Beaners)

Last night's Open Mic and Poetry Night at Beaners Central proved to be entertaining and fun this week. Organized by Tina Marie Higgins, the event takes place on the third Thursday of each month.

Featured poet Ellie Schoenfeld was slated to start at eight with the first hour open for anyone who desired to read. The coffeehouse was relatively full of people who'd come out, and there was a lot of respectful appreciation shown to the readers.

Tina welcomed us, serving as master of ceremonies and game show hostess, as she wove trivia questions throughout the evening. With the theme being 1980's sitcoms or something on that order, it seemed silly for me to even compete, but inasmuch as it was multiple choice, the odds were one-in-three for each question, so....

But I was there for the poetry, as well as to read a little, though I was especially interested in hearing Ellie Schoenfeld whose delivery is so natural, her humor wry, her verses pointed and overall effect entertaining.

A tall slender fellow named Jesse (I believe) read a couple pieces. He opened with Robert Frost's Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening. This was followed by something of his own regarding "aborticide" and "abortion." He seemed uncomfortable, but the crowd applauds everyone who makes an effort, so he was able to share from his heart.

Another woman read some very amusing poems that she had written. It's a high stage and she needed assistance making it up, but she'd prepared somethings and the pieces were fun. I especially enjoyed one that ran along these lines, sort of. "They say you may have to kiss a lot of frogs // before you find a prince..." But in the end, you might find out that you simply enjoy kissing frogs. It was a clever twist on a classic fairy tale theme.

I myself read a set of short verses, which some may have found enjoyable, after which I read my short story "Duel of the Poets" from my book Unremembered Histories. It's a personal favorite because after posting it on my website in the mid-90's a poetry site in Croatia contacted me to request using it as the centerpiece for their poetry forum. My first story translated into another language.

After more trivia questions Schoenfeld took the stage and share for perhaps a half hour. She brought a few loose sheets of new work but also read from a couple of her books including, I believe, her award-winning volume titled The Dark Honey (New and Used Poems). Her poems are always lively, often accompanied by plenty of wordplay.

She read poems with titles like Day of the Dead, Pumpkin, The Last Gold, Richard Braughtigan's Teeth, a new untitled poem about our bad poems, Potholes, Papparrazzi, Naming the Stars, Sometimes, and The Hawks. Her Barbie poems have been especially popular so she read a few of those as well including Barbie Disappeared One Day, which you can find at this link sandwiched between two other Barbie poems.

If you see a poetry reading taking place and Ellie is on the bill, you might want to give it a whirl.

Meantime, this is a great town for all kinds of creative expression. Get out there and drink it in.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Opening Reception for UMD Art & Design Faculty Biennial: What We Do

October 18, 2014 - 6 to 8pm

Quick Note: The Tweed Museum of Art is hosting the 2014 Faculty Biennial exhibition, featuring artwork created by the Art & Design faculty, School of Fine Arts, at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

WHAT WE DO is an exhibition of new artworks by UMD art teaching faculty. The exhibition highlights their creative achievements, from traditional to new media. What We Do emphasizes the significance of artistic achievement derived from research, practice and intelligent imagination. For more information, visit our website at www.d.umn.edu/tma

Why I do what I do
"Most design professionals are in a highly complex working environment, both technological and methodological. In many situations the communication challenges are multilayered. Design challenges must be explored from multiple viewpoints; client, user, designer, societal needs, purpose. Yet in the end design communication is often one on one."
- Janice Kmetz, Art & Design Faculty

This exhibit will be on display through March 22, 2015, but if you come to the opening you can meet the artists/faculty in person. Highly recommended.

Opening reception: Saturday, October 18, 2014 from 6 to 8pm - Tweed Museum of Art.

According to their announcement there will be a limited edition of screen printed posters created by John O'Neill on sale at the reception. This event is free and open to the public.

FINE PRINT
The Tweed Museum is a fiscal year 2015 recipient of an operating support grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. This activity is funded, in part, by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund as appropriated by the Minnesota State Legislature with money from the Legacy Amendment vote of the people of Minnesota on November 4, 2008. The Tweed Museum is one of seven units in the School of Fine Arts, UMD. The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer.

ARTISTS FEATURED IN THE EXHIBITION: WHAT WE DO
Art & Design Faculty Biennial 2014, University of Minnesota - Duluth

Alison Aune ● Fatih Benzer ● Steve Bardolph ● David Bowen ● Gloria DeFilipps Brush ● Jen Dietrich ● Darren Houser ● Betsy Hunt ● Elizabeth James ● Jeffrey Kalstrom ● James Klueg ● Janice Kmetz ● Victoria Lehman ● Robin Murphy ● Ryuta Nakajima ● Matthew Olin ● John O'Neill ● Kristin Pless ● Robert Repinski ● Joellyn Rock ● David Short ● Eun-Kyung Suh ● Rob Wittig

Join us!

Throwback Thursday: A Tip For Memoir Writers

"It is a mistake to intend to write only very important things in a journal. That is not its justification." ~ Andre Gide

In seeking a theme for today's blog entry, I came across the quote above in one of my journals from the early nineties. Nobel prize-winning author Andre Gide, once significant and pretty much now forgotten, wrote near eighty books. As editor of The New French Revue he introduced the world to many significant writers in the first half of the twentieth century. As a journal writer myself, who once nurtured the hope of being significant in literature, I read the journals of many writers from Fitzgerald and Gide to Thomas Mann and a number of lesser lights. The experience was instructive, Gide's four volumes being the most instructive and insightful.

The Gide quote above was useful for me in the following manner. If you only permit yourself to write thoughts of world class, earth shattering significance, you will in short order become paralyzed by the effort. Sure, it's good to have high standards, and a journal can be useful in training one to capture ideas and emotions that are indefinite and ambiguous, but if today's journal note or blog entry has to be the most significant thing you have every captured in lines, well... it makes you tired. It can not sap your joy, but also stifle you.

As an artist I find this to be a liberating attitude when you don't have to produce a masterpiece with every canvas. Instead of striving to make masterpieces every time pen touches paper, or brush smears paint on a surface, I can take pleasure in the act of creative discovery. I can even throw some of it in the trash.

All this to say, I don't have much that is really burning to be expressed here other than the desire to share a few photos I have taken. And then, to work my way through my "to do" list.

Have a great one. And let the sun shine in.

* * * *
The above blog entry originally appeared here on Novermber 1, 2008.

PHOTO CAPTIONS
Top: Pottery studio ten miles south of Monterrey, 1981.
Middle: Two trains, Superior railroad yards, Fall 2008.
Bottom: Alphabet stencil over current Hispanic magazine. Stencils purchased in Athens, Ohio, 1974.