Friday, August 18, 2017

Tuesday Artist Talk: Jonathan Thunder @ Duluth Art Institute


Tuesday evening the Duluth Art Institute hosted an artist talk featuring Jonathan Thunder, whose work is currently on display in the Morrison Gallery, Kathy McTavish serving as moderator. Thunder, who hails from the Red Lake Reservation, grew up in an urban Twin Cities setting. His interest in art as a vocation led him to study painting in Santa Fe for three years. After this period of study he proceeded to isolate himself in order to paint without the influence of others and find his voice. What emerged was something of a blend of American cartoons, Southwest art, and a "magical realist" sense of the everyday... though it's evident that there's much more than meets the eye.

Thunder acknowledges that his first paintings were filtered through a Santa Fe lens. When the paintings sold it served as an encouragement to continue in that style, but for an artist it was more important to produce work that was honest. He took an inward journey to find this authentic self.


The artist, who grew up in an urban setting, noted that many stories are tragedies. He cited Shakespeare, who also wrote tragedies, and how the Bard would find light in the darkness. He described the process of chiaroscuro in which one begins with a dark foundation and layers the light over the dark surface, pulling everything forward.

Most of the paintings feature a single character which is often cartoonish, but which has layers of meaning. "I've met with a lot of different responses to my work," he said. Because it doesn't fit the mold of a traditional Southwest style, he added, "It would be hard to get into a Santa Fe gallery. They don't know how to sell it."

"I like to paint truthful pictures," he stated. As a result, his work doesn't perfectly align with a Native or Non-native gallery.

Thunder moved to the Twin Ports four years ago and has appreciated the warmth he's found in this community. He's also begun some collaborative work that has taught him new things about the "beauty of collaboration.


Most of the paintings show strong, defined characters, but two of the pieces in the alcove feature softer imagery. He assented that it was a change of direction, that the softer imagery has become more painterly and is "a reverse of what I normally do," beginning with defined images that he washed over and repainted and washed again. Like many other painters in the room it was evident that he likes paint.

The artist also discussed his interest in animation, which was triggered by his seeing a remarkable black and white film of a shadow boxer at the Walker Museum. Quoting Charles Bukowski he said, "If you're going to try, go all the way."

Nearly all the seats were filled when Kathy McTavish introduced the speaker at the beginning, but as more people arrived, more chairs were brought in. One could tell that everyone was engaged for when the Q&A began. A dialogue commenced between audience and artist for near forty minutes, discussions about every aspect of the work it seemed. One recurring theme was in regards to how far a painting should be explained by the artist. I think a case could be made for taking opposing sides on this, but I did appreciate one observer's remark: "It's like explaining a joke. If they don't get it..."

The impression I was left with afterwards was of an artist whose skills have been honed, as well as his vision. His "voice" has an unrestrained quality, like the singers who accompany the dancers at a powwow: bold, evocative and seriously moving.  It's been good having this voice in Duluth. It will be a worthwhile endeavor to follow him as his career unfolds.

* * * *
EdNote: There will be a September 8 opening for Wendy Rouse, and a September 9 workshop.
Also, Jonathan Thunder will be featured in an exhibition at the All My Relations Gallery on Franklin Avene in Minneapolis.

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Engage it!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Throwback Thursday: So Many Books, So Little Time

THIS POST ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED NOVEMBER 2008


Today... a few gathered quotes on books. There are few greater joys than reading. This week I started Walter Lippman's Public Opinion, a 1921 discussion of propaganda and mass manipulation that preceded the Bernays book I discussed yesterday. Reading is a great way to meet thinkers who live outside the sphere of our social relations. Books are a wonderful thing.

For this reason, I share a few quotes about books here, and will make a few comments to go along with them.

"Show me the books he loves and I shall know the man far better than through mortal friends." ~ Dawn Adams

It is possible to love a book on many levels. Sometimes for the beauty of the language. Sometimes for the richness of the ideas it conveys. Sometimes one is impressed by the power or magical mastery of language, as in Hemingway's collection of short stories In Our Time. Without books we would be paupers.

"Of all the diversions of life, there is none so proper to fill up its empty spaces as the reading of useful and entertaining authors." ~ Joseph Addison

So true. About ten years ago I began listening to books during my commute to and from the office, and on trips to the Cities. I remember listening to Michener's Mexico during a trip to Lake Geneva many years ago. Currently I am finishing A History of England, Volume 3 from 1750 to 2000. Churchill, Orwell, the Irish potato famine, the French Revolution, the descent from world power to has been... it is a history of people and places that speaks much to us today, if we would hear. What a contrast to the repetitive fluff that passes itself off as entertainment or content on the usual airwaves.

"Reading is a basic tool in the living of a good life." ~ Mortimer J. Adler

When the internet first emerged, I created a project to help raise funds for a youth center computer room. I named the project Dandy Yankee Doodles, hoping to obtain doodles from celebrities and other famous folk which could be made into collectibles of some kind. Annie Dillard, author of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, sent a doodle. A couple others also contributed as well. And Mortimer Adler's secretary sent a note saying that Mr. Adler did not doodle. I appreciated its thoughtful warmth. When I read this quote, it is likewise unembellished, true and straight, from a logical, good man.

"To feel most beautifully alive means to be reading something beautiful, ready always to apprehend in the flow of language the sudden flash of poetry." ~ Gaston Bachelard

Speaking of poetry, last night I learned that the poem that begins, "I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree" was not written by a woman. Joyce Kilmer, the author of these memorable lines, was a man who ended up being killed in the trench warfare of World War I. Journalist, literary critic, lecturer and poet... Kilmer died at age 31 in the Second Battle of Marne. I think of Pete Seeger's "Where Have All the Flowers Gone."

"He that loves a book will never want a faithful friend, a wholesome counselor, a cheerful companion, an effectual comforter. By study, by reading, by thinking, one may innocently divert and pleasantly entertain himself, as in all weathers, as in all fortunes." ~ Barrow

Words good and true. Who has not experienced the comforted of a good book at some point in their lives?

"A book is a garden, an orchard, a storehouse, a party, a company by the way, a counselor, a multitude of counselors." ~ Henry Ward Beecher

Similar sentiments from yet another space in time.

"Reading is not a duty, and has consequently no business to be made disagreeable." ~ Augustine Birrell

This quote seems directed to the writers of this world. Remember, writer, that readers are only human. If you are writing to be read, keep it in mind that you've got to keep the customer satisfied. Make it worth our while. Please don't think you're so important that whatever you say is something we need to hear whether we like it or not.

"It is well to read everything of something, and something of everything." ~ Lord Henry P. Brougham

I like this quote because it speaks of a vastness which many people are tempted to disregard. There is value in understanding what a Marx or Nietzsche or even a Hitler has written. I've read Mein Kampf. If you read National Review, try a little Mother Jones or Harper's. If you're reading Rick Warren or Billy Graham, how about tackling Bertrand Russell's Why I Am Not a Christian for something to chew on. If you like postmodern deconstruction, take a stab at Kreeft's Refutation of Modern Relativism.

"After all manner of professors have done their best for us, the place we are to get knowledge is in books. The true university of these days is a collection of books." ~ Thomas Carlyle

Carlyle was a Scots Presbyterian Calvinist who lost his faith, but continued to have keen insights about life and the Brit world in which he found himself. Any serious reader can't help but come across a pithy Carlyle maxim now and then. Seems like I came across quite a few over the years, but never knew who he was till reading this third volume of the history of Britain. Carlyle figures prominently in the section dealing with the Victorian era. I half considered a full blog of Carlyle quotes last week, and will probably save them for a snowy day in the near future.

"A room without books is like a body without a soul. ~ Marcus T. Cicero

Yes, there should be books in every room. My office has a wall of books. But it pales in comparison to the walls of books my grandmother had. Alas...

"The flood of print has turned reading into a process of gulping rather than savoring." ~ Warren Chappell

The same probably applies now to blogging and electronic media..

"The mere brute pleasure of reading --the sort of pleasure a cow must have in grazing." ~ Gilbert K. Chesterton

Ah yes.... Chesterton weighs in with a vivid image that tells all. What lover of books hasn't felt this kind of pleasure?


* * * * 
For what it's worth, I have published a number of books since this post was written in 2008. If interested in more details and you're seeking something new to read, visit my Book Page.

* * * *
If you live in the Twin Ports, you can find at least two of my books at the new Zenith Bookstore on Central Avenue, across the parking lot from Beaners. Stop by their Grand Opening Book Fair on September 16. Make reading a way of life.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Local Art Seen: Sue Rauschenfels' Open House

This past month Sue Rauschenfels hosted an art opening in her home on the South Shore of Pike Lake. Rauschenfels is an artist whom I'd first gotten to know through her contributions to a Duluth Dylan Fest art show in 2014 and a subsequent show of her work at Beaners and Superior's North End Arts Gallery, which led to my interviewing her for  my column in The Reader at that time.

Upon entering her home one is struck by the light cascading off the glistening woodwork, showering into the rooms through an abundance of windows, providing ample light for viewing her work. The lakefront property, quietly poised on the waterfront, has a tidy feeling of warmth as you approach it, much like the paintings and pictures she creates, working in watercolor, acrylic, ink and/or collage.


Here are some photos I took of her paintings. The reflections on the glass and all the light flooding the room resulted in several happy accidents.


The colorations and expressions remind me of Marc Chagall.


I see vibrant pastel flowers dancing.

* * * *
Meantime, art goes on all around you. Engage it.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Artist Shawna Gilmore's Woodlandia

Two years ago when I saw Shawna Gilmore's show at the Kruk Gallery in Superior I was swept away by the personality and vim she put in her paintings. This month Gilmore has an exhibition of new works on display at the Lakeside Gallery, and it's equally fun, her spunk and spirit continuing to run amok. If you get a chance, drop by during the month of August and acquaint yourself with Gilmore's work. I'm sure we'll be seeing more of her paintings around town over the coming years.

EN: Where do your ideas come from?

Shawna Gilmore: I think it wouldn't be a surprise to know I have a very active imagination and vivid dream life. I find a healthy dose of escapism through my work which gives me fortitude to walk through the challenges of life. I read a lot. I laugh a lot. I enjoy playfulness and the bizarre. I love to learn and observe. I enjoy a sense of wonder and perpetual curiosity. All of these things feed into ideas for paintings. I don't really limit myself to reality when I think of images for paintings. There are a lot of what ifs in my world which makes for limitless possibilities and scenarios.


EN: Your colors are vibrant and uplifting. Is this a reflection of your own spirit?

SG: I used to be so afraid of color. My focus in college was drawing and printmaking, color seemed scary. But color is so emotive that it became increasingly difficult to avoid my fear for much longer. So instead of running from it, I decided to try it. I've really learned a lot about color in the few years. I try to use colors I'm drawn to that have a sort of timelessness to them. I don't think I'll ever be a color expert. So much of life is facing your fears and putting aside your insecurities, for me it builds my faith and brings me much joy to overcome even something as common as using color.

I suppose the colors I use reflect my own spirit, I guess I never thought too hard about that. But I can lean towards the optimistic side of life so that makes sense. It's hard to feel glum when you recognize all the blessings you have. I want to enjoy life. I want to find the hidden treasures in it and be filled with gratitude not languish in a pit of despair. When I paint, I want to enjoy what I paint. I want to look at it for years to come and still like it. I want to paint pictures that bring joy, hope, amusement, or wonder.

EN: The word whimsical comes to mind when I look at your work. Is that a fair description of your subject matter? Or are their hidden political messages in your paintings?

SG: Hahaha, no hidden politics in my work, I think you might call me apolitical. I have enough drama and chaos in my own personal life that gives me little margin for the intense emotions of politics. My paintings are for the weary of heart, those who need a moment to breathe, dream or escape the weight of the day.


EN: For example, is that a poisonous snake you have decorated with daisies? 

SG: Well, I do enjoy a little mischief, danger and unknown outcomes in my work. Those more politically passionate might be able to draw conclusions in my work that connect with them and to me that is ok. I'm most interested in providing part of a narrative for the viewer to enter and make their own. I'm not especially fond of snakes, but one with friendly daisy flowers seemed a little less creepy.

EN: I see you have begun painting on panel substrates. Care to comment on this new direction? 

SG:  I've always preferred painting on wood. I've dabbled on plywood, hardboard, paper, never canvas, but I continually return to wood. There is something about the solid, smoothness that makes me happy. Once I discovered deep cradled wood panels, I never turned back. Framing has always been a hang up for me and cradled wood eliminates the need for a frame.


EN: Do you have any local artists whose work has inspired you? 

SG: There are so many excellent creatives in our area, but I am particularly fond of the work of Wendy Rouse, Adam Swanson and Jonathan Thunder.

* * * *
Thanks for sharing, Shawna.

EdNote: You can see more of Shawna Gilmore's paintings next door to Lakeside Gallery at the Amity Coffee Shop (have some java while you're there) and at Art on the Planet on Tower Avenue in Superior, as well as at her website.

Wendy Rouse frequently has work on display at Lizzards Gallery in Downtown Duluth, and Adam Swanson's work will be found there as well.

EdNote: TONIGHT Jonathan Thunder will be giving an Artist Talk at the Duluth Art Institute at 5:30 in conjunction with a book signing. Will I see you there?

* * * *
Meantime art goes on all around you. Get into it.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Kenneth Timm On Choosing the Writer's Life

I met Kenneth Timm this past spring during my third year serving on the Advisory Board for the University of Wisconsin - Superior School of Writing. He was one of several students whose work impressed me at a Senior Capstone Portfolio Presentation this past May. I asked if he might be open to being in the spotlight here sometime, and we finally got to it here. You can find a link to some of his writing at the end of this interview.

EN: How did you come to take an interesting in writing?

Kenneth Timm: I began writing when I was a young boy. At the age of seven or eight, I started jotting thoughts down and organizing them into writings of one kind or another. It was the structure of writing that interested me then, and still does today in much the same way. Like a piece of music or poetry, well written prose must flow. Creating that flow regardless of content is the challenge I enjoy. For what it’s worth, even though I started writing when I was really young, doing it for a living never really seemed like a possibility until the recent past.

EN: What kinds of writing do you specialize in?

KT: I have done and can do a variety of types of writing. Creative nonfiction is by far my favorite genre to write in, but I’ve experimented with and enjoy nature writing, and have also found creative fiction to be an interesting challenge. On the business side of things, I have experience with promotional, informational and technical writing.

EN: What do you enjoy most and what are you currently working on?

KT: As mentioned above, creative nonfiction is my favorite thing to write. There always seems to be something more impactful about true-to-life stories. Perhaps they are more relatable? I enjoy writing short pieces (1,000 words or less) that are perspectives of simple happenings around me that can oftentimes be overlooked. For the moment, though, I’ve taken a short break from that type of writing in an effort to regenerate after an intensive month of writing a blog to capture the daily events of a 600 mile walk. It was most challenging finding the time required to update a blog on a daily basis, and it became something of a thorn in my side. After a few weeks of separation from the end of the walk, I am just now beginning to write again. It was a good lesson in personal limits…

EN: How important is college for writer? That is, why not just write? In what ways did your classes at UWS broaden you or help you move forward in your career?

KT: Where my personal writing is concerned, I cannot possibly overstate the importance of having gotten a college education. There are several reasons for this. First—and most importantly—I was forced to get comfortable with other writers reading and critiquing my work. Workshopping written pieces can be a nerve-racking and humbling experience, but one a writer must get comfortable with. It is also a means of vastly improving on a piece that may or may not exist without the college environment. Secondly, writing classes in college forced me to write, and with each piece I wrote, my skills improved. At the very least, taking college writing classes exposed me to a wide variety of genres, and gave me the confidence required to attempt projects completely outside of my comfort zone.

EN: Can you share three or four tips for people seeking to pursue a writing career?

KT: (1) Write, write, write! Do it as often as possible; make a commitment to doing it daily. Also, experiment with different types of writing. Before college, I had no idea that I could write poetry!

(2) Surround yourself with other writers. The perspectives of others are highly valuable. Oftentimes we are just too close to our own work to see its flaws, shortcomings or potential. Along that same line of thinking, get used to and appreciate the criticism of others, but know when you feel strongly enough about something you’ve written to “just say no” to a suggested change.

(3) Take college writing classes! Especially if it feels uncomfortable to do so. Enough said…

(4) Treat writing like the job it is. Being a professional writer is difficult and time consuming work. Identify one or more physical locations where you write best. Also, find the time(s) of day when you write most effectively. Then combine those things and STICK TO THEM.

EN: Do you have a website or way for people seeking a writer to find you?

KT: I have a writer’s profile page. Here is the link: https://sites.google.com/site/freeinggeorge/

I also created a blog for the 600-mile walk earlier this summer. While I’ not updating it at this point, I will be getting back into it in the near future.

* * * *
Thank you, Ken. Keep it going.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Local Art Seen: Lake Superior Art Festival @ Brighton Beach


What a beautiful day for the artists who shared their work on Brighton Beach yesterday, and for those who came to soak it in. You couldn't have asked for any better. The oceanside setting, I mean our Great Lake which one experiences on a scale comparable to an ocean front, produced a balm-like backdrop for the artists' temporary tent city just above the rocky shore. The lake seemed especially calm, in contrast to its turbulent demeanor a few days earlier.

The sponsors of yesterday's art festival included Republic Bank, Lizzards Art Gallery & Framing, and Paper Hog. Thank you.

44 regional artists participated, from Grand Marais to the Twin Cities, though most hailed from Duluth. Photography, watercolors, stained glass, jewelry, pottery, woodwork, fiber arts and painting were all represented.  What follows are some of my favorite images from a tour of the show.

A small painting from the Art Zoo, by Claudia Faith.
Steer me to the art section, please.
Aaron Kloss has opened a gallery in Lakeside where more of his paintings
can be found. 
I learned that Ryan Tischer will be opening a downtown gallery soon.
Sandra Haff is Steppin' Out with her mixed media assemblages with found objects.
The animalia cutouts were fun. 

Stoneware Pottery by Aaron and Jena Levandowski
One thing that has changed since the first years of the Park Point Art Fair is the advent of the Internet. Nowadays many artists and craftspersons have websites, a social media presence and an Etsy storefront from which they can do business year round. The art fairs provide them an opportunity to instant feedback on new directions and ideas they introduce. 

This particular event appears to have been a bi-product of Lake Superior Artrepreneurs. Perhaps as they grow they will have a website that links to all the individual artists' websites and Etsy stores.  

Next week is the Bayfront Park Art Fair down by the bay. If nothing else, you should go for the food trucks. Let's hope for nice weather. It's another beautiful setting for an art walk. 

* * * *
Meantime, art goes on all around you. Are you a collector? Next time, bring something home with you. :-)

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Brett Whiteley: Art, Dylan and the Other Thing


"An intriguing, absorbing and assured account of Brett Whiteley's life and work." 
--Mark Knopfler, Dire Straits

Brett Whitely was an artist who became a fairly substantial force in the Australian art world, with international recognition, having lived and painted in Italy, Britain, New York and Fiji. Born in 1939, Whitely was the youngest artist to have work acquired by the Tate in London.

After living in Italy and Britain, and looking for the epicenter of the times, he moved to New York for a spell where he took up residence in the famed Chelsea Hotel where he and his family "befriended Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, and the rock and roll royalty of the era."*

After two years in the Big Apple, he became impatient with the amount of time it was taking to get recognition, whereupon he up and left for Fiji, then ultimately returned to Australia where for the rest of his life he pursued his passion for the arts.

The book is called Brett Whiteley: Art, Life and the Other Thing, by Ashleigh Wilson. A central, inescapable thread that runs throughout the book is the music of Bob Dylan. Even his ex-wife's book about their relationship took its name from a Dylan song, Tangled Up In Blue, My Years with Brett Whiteley.

Mark Knopfler, by Brett Whiteley
Though he'd won Australia's most prestigious prizes and great recognition for his art, the final chapter of Whitely's life closed out early when he overdosed in a motel room in June 1992, two years after his wife left him.

The book is a bio that not only tells Whitely's story, it includes many illustrations and photos of his work beginning with his earliest drawings. (His drawing of a cowboy that he drew at age 7 reminds me of a cowboy I drew in second grade.) By the time he was 20 he'd gained recognition as someone to notice.

When I first saw the cover the the book it stylistically brought to mind the art of Britain's Ralph Steadman: the energetic expressiveness, the draftsmanship, the bold distortions of a practiced eye and hand, the confidence with which he approached his work.

To some extent Whiteley was a product of his times, meaning he was immersed in an ethos of drugs, sex and rock 'n roll. Reading about his life journey, one sees echoes of many other artists of his era. From early immersion in LSD and mind-expanding explorations there is a descent into heroin and the cycles of addiction. Jim Morrison and Jerry Garcia come to mind, even Dylan himself had his peaks and valleys.

* * * *
Dylan by Whiteley
Brett Whiteley described Bob Dylan as ''the most satisfactory voice in pop, I think. There's sort of mango and Courvoisier and the best sort of hissing and low gravel Jewishness on it.'' But Dylan's importance for Brett Whiteley went beyond a mere appreciation of the voice.

His sister, Frannie, records in her biography of Brett that ,"He found an intellectual and spiritual brother in this man... Brett was obsessed with poet-musician Dylan... He collected his albums and was intimate with every song as though they were speaking to him directly. He listened to Dylan almost daily for most of his life."

* * * *
Whitely images from the book.
According to artist/blogger Harry Kent, The Chelsea Hotel was also where Bob Dylan lived in the 60's, where he wrote Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands. Brett kept a huge portrait of Dylan on the wall of his modest penthouse apartment there. It was an acquaintance and adoration that would last the rest of his days.

I believe that he discovered in the person of Dylan the kind of intuitive artist, gifted genius even, that he himself aspired to be ... a bringer of gifts from the gods. He saw in Dylan a kindred spirit writ large. In short, he idolized the man and the musician.

* * * * 
Ashleigh Wilson's book is replete with photos of Whiteley's paintings, sculptures and illustrations. It also contains a fairly thorough index so that one is able to find your way through the book back to its various references. Dylan references are sprinkled throughout, and in places come in chunks. 

Those who have long followed Dylan's career remember well his tour in the 1980s with Tom Petty and band. It was during this time that a major event came together in Whiteley's personal life. While in Sidney Whiteley hosted a Bob Dylan press conference in his art studio. This was huge for him personally. Here's an excerpt from this 1986 event:

This was not Dylan's last visit to Whiteley's studio. In 1992 while again in Sidney, Dylan paid a visit to the artist's lair. Artist Harry Kent, whose TACHISME blog is full of insightful commentary on a variety of arts related themes, devoted this 2012 entry to Brett Whiteley, which concludes with Dylan's 1992 visit a month before Whiteley passed on.

Brett had bought tickets to every show and carried with him every night a copy of the catalogue from his recent exhibition in case he got the opportunity to present it to Bob. Dylan's minders were under orders not to admit anyone new to his dressing room. But Brett was not new and the opportunity came. Dylan looked at drawings and asked, "How'd you do that man?" Brett was elated over meeting, "Tastic".

But better was to come. The following day Dylan came to the Brett's studio. They spent a couple of hours together looking at Brett's work and discussing painting. All his life Dylan's student, in those sweet hours he now found himself his hero's teacher.

A month later, Brett Whiteley was dead.

Reading these things leaves me saddened. Life is complicated. It's apparent that even fame and riches come packaged with challenges.

*https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brett_Whiteley
**You can find a copy of the book itself here on Amazon